I don’t draw many conclusions from the readership figures around here. But I know a few things. One is that people really want to read recaps of the story comics. Another is that they absolutely do not want to read about the 1960s King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons. So why am I reviewing some again? Because I’m not going to stop until I’ve made this blog a failure, that’s why. This week, it’s the Jack Kinney-directed Blinkin Beacon, fourth of a set of shorts some of which I’ll get to in future weeks.
I’ve learned to expect some things from these old cartoons looked at with adult eyes. That the music will cycle through four tunes, each of them three bars long. That the animation will be implied rather than shown. That the voice actors aren’t going to great lengths to differentiate characters. There are installments that break out of one or more of these, but I don’t remember one that broke out far enough to produce a really great cartoon.
I do expect the stories to be quite linear. Even a bit dull. This expectation gets beaten sometimes. Often enough that I stay interested in the series, even if I’m the only one who is. But Blinkin Beacon is one of them and I’ll try defending that claim.
The story starts in media res: the Sea Hag’s already kidnapped Swee’Pea and demands lighthousekeeper Popeye turn off the light. That’s surprising. It’s not a complicated setup, but for once, a thing has happened right away. The Sea Hag even has good reasons to want the light out. We learn why when we first see the Hag and the chained Swee’Pea. It’s a suspenseful opening. I grant it’s not a lot of suspense. But it stands out when the norm is for the villain to declare they’re going to do something and then do it.
Except the story doesn’t quite start in media res. It starts with Popeye looking to camera and saying he’s supposed to hear a knocking now. It’s not like Popeye hasn’t spoken to the camera before. But this feels different. It’s a playful comment about how he knows how this cartoon is going to play out. The tone is one that I associate with stuff like The Muppet Show, where the characters know they’re actors and don’t mind breaking the scene.
And it puts this playful energy on the cartoon. Even personality. At 20:22, the Sea Hag orders her vulture to drop the depth bombs on Popeye’s submarine. (The story’s a little absurd here.) Swee’Pea begs for mercy, crying out, “Do what you want with me, but spare good old honest Popeye the sailor”. It’s a melodramatic gesture. More precisely it’s the kind of thing I remember from spoofs of melodramas. It would fit in a Dudley Do-Right cartoon. It would fit in those Betty Boop cartoons with Fearless Fred. It’s certainly a much more interesting line, and line read, and animation of the line, than the story needed. Similarly, Popeye’s response to the Sea Hag’s demand that the lighthouse turn off is a note “No, no, a thousand times no”. Similarly melodramatic. I believe even cried out by Betty Boop to whoever her captor was that cartoon.
So I like this, and I think I’m reasonable in doing so. The story has more structure than usual. It’s got a healthy number of fun side bits, like Popeye supposing a message in a bottle “must be another light bill”. Or the Sea Hag listening to Music to Sink Ships By. Sea Hag addressing Popeye as “Poopsie-boy”. It of course has editing weirdness, like Swee’Pea asking “How mean can you get?”, interrupted by Popeye taking a look outside the lighthouse, and then the Sea Hag answering that “I enjoy being mean”. And a line that sure feels like it’s a reference to something forgotten since 1960, Captain Wimpy boasting how he’s sailed the seven seas, “or is it eight?”. And some animation weirdness, where Sea Hag’s vulture (Bernard, at least in the comic strip) is momentarily twins. Or the vulture just hovering nearby the open hatch of Popeye’s submarine instead of letting him have it, as per the Sea Hag’s direction. But it’s all cheery and silly stuff. It’s got more personality than I’d expected. I’m happy with the result.