I’m skipping what would’ve been the next 1960s King Features Popeye cartoon. It’s not that the cartoon is dull. The cartoon would be Azteck Wreck. It has Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Eugene the Jeep tromping around Aztec ruins looking for gold, and being menaced by Bluto Only He’s Mexican. It hits all the plot beats reasonably enough and it actually has good backgrounds. And it opens with Eugene the Jeep riding in a jeep, which seems like a joke somehow. But I don’t feel like expressing an opinion about playing Bluto as a bandito and you know what? I don’t have to.
So instead? Popeye and the Spinach-Stalk. Once again it’s produced and directed by Jack Kinney. Not sure if King Features is just front-loading Kinney for these videos or whether he’s just responsible for that many cartoons.
Jackson Beck narrates. He wasn’t just Bluto’s (main) voice actor. He was also an announcer or narrator for about 85% of old-time radio shows. There are only two things weirder than hearing Bluto’s voice setting up a story, like this one. Those two things are Beck playing super-sleuth Philo Vance on radio, and Arthur Q Bryan — the voice of Elmer Fudd — playing a cop on Richard Diamond, Private Detective. This gives you a feel for how Beck sounded whenever he narrated. (He also did the narration for the Fleischer Superman cartoons.)
The Thimble Theatre characters slot smoothly into the fairy tale. Popeye makes a decent Jack, well-meaning but easily bamboozled. Olive, the Sea Hag, and Bluto are all well-placed and Eugene is a good substitue for the Goose That Lays The Golden Eggs. I guess shifting things from Olive selling off the family cow to trying to sell pies saves the trouble of designing a cow or making the cow’s fate something to worry about. Pies are easy to draw and can be funny too. Switching out magic beans for spinach, too, makes sense.
Where things don’t make sense are little plot holes. Like, Popeye seems to sell one pie for a can of spinach, and all right, that’s a problem. But what about the rest? The giant Bluto has captured Olive Oyl; when, and how? Yeah, it doesn’t matter. It does allow some fun business of Olive Oyl protesting she can’t play the harp, and doesn’t really sing, and that going on until Bluto agrees. Popeye-as-Jack knows Eugene the Jeep by name; how? Like, was Eugene his and Olive’s pet that Bluto also abducted? Bluto demands to know what makes Popeye so tough, but all he’s seen at that point is Popeye talking big. Told that it’s spinach, why does Bluto feed Popeye spinach? It makes sense for Bluto’s hubris to lead to his downfall, but hubris usually works better when it’s built up.
I know that as a kid I never noticed any of this. There’s not a lot of time, and it’d be dumb wasting time on questions like “why does Bluto want Olive Oyl rather than someone else to make pies?” This is probably also why they set up the premise with a quick Jackson Beck narration rather than reusing the bit of Swee’Pea asking Popeye to tell him a story. It saves a good half-minute or so.
It’s hard to film a giant, even in illustration. It’s hard to compose a scene so you can really see the size. There’s a couple of angles on Giant Bluto that work, though, a good view pointing up that makes him look large. This particularly in Bluto doing his Fee-Fi-Fo-Fan rhyme, and then later as he’s running after the escaping heroes. It’s good seeing such moments done well.