A bit of fun business ahead of things. Fred Grandinetti was kind enough to let me know about an essay he wrote regarding the King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons. Grandinetti offers some information about the technical aspects of production, things like budgets and how the cartoons were received. Received by audiences, that is; they always attracted negligible interest from critics. Grandinetti also discusses the six studios which got the work, and reviews their characteristic styles. It’s a much higher-level view than what I’m doing here, but the person out there who is interested in the 60s Popeye cartoons is likely to enjoy that.
Now to the regular stuff. It’s another Famous Studios-animated Popeye cartoon this week. Once again Seymour Kneitel is credited for story and for direction. My expectation was that the cartoon would be professionally made, with everybody on model and the movement reasonably smooth, even if the story was a bit dull. So how foiled were my expectations? Let’s watch.
We start with Popeye in the desert again. He spends a lot of time in the desert for a sailor. But he and Olive Oyl are taking over the Puddleburg Splash, newspaper for the laziest town in the world. The cartoon’s set in the Old West, although the era is only vaguely set. Mostly that Popeye writes with a quill pen. We never find out why he wants to run a newspaper, or why he picks a newspaper in a town he knows nothing about. I’m all right with that, though. I think there’s even a Segar storyline where Popeye takes ove a small western town newspaper for vague reasons. Popeye can just do that.
We get a couple jokes about how lazy the townspeople are. Best is probably Olive Oyl having to point different directions, with the local telling her when she’s pointing in the right direction. It’s also got a slick little bit of animation, when Olive Oyl points at the camera. It’s a rare break from the standard police-lineup pose. Also a nice bit of animation is the sheriff lifting his eyebrow to raise his hat. This is all accompanied by some nice languid music. I suppose it’s something from the Famous Studios music library. It’s nice getting some different stock music.
There’s more social commentary than I expect from these cartoons. The first is Popeye working out that he has to open a school, to teach people to read, so there’s demand for his newspaper. It’s a benign example of marketing into existence demand for the thing you want to supply. The second is the revelation that the people in Puddleburg aren’t unable to read out of laziness. The school Popeye builds is demolished by the Bruiser Boys, local thugs who figure an ignorant population is easier to control through terror. It’s a method of control, yeah. And it diffuses some of the conflation of laziness and stupidity that’s been in the cartoon.
Curiously, the Bruiser Boys are not Brutus. Why have original cast for this? In Dead-Eye Popeye, which I once mentioned without reviewing, Brutus and two identical Brutus-oids terrorize the western town. I’m curious if this resulted from the confusion about whether Bluto was a King Features or a Paramount-owned character.
There is an odd moment where newspaper-editor Popeye hires a cartoonist, B Looney Bologna. His panel is the chicken-crossing-the-road gag, used for generations now as the symbol for tired old humor. (I’m persuaded that it’s an anti-joke, myself.) I suppose it builds the direness of Popeye’s plight, that he can’t even use the funny pages to get an audience. Mostly it takes a spot of time for a joke about a bad joke.
In the climax Popeye decides that the townspeople have to learn the Bruiser Boys aren’t that tough. All right. He decides to show them that even a woman can stand up to them. … Why? I suppose they’re a bit more humiliated if a granny in a wheelchair beats them up than if the newspaper editor does it. But it’s not like they won’t be beaten up anyway. If it is important it be a woman, why not have Olive Oyl take her spinach power-up? It stands out to me that Popeye doesn’t eat any spinach this cartoon. I’m curious if Kneitel had some rationale here that got lost in editing. Or if the cartoon started out as an independent thing, or a story meant for another character, that got imperfectly rewritten for Popeye.
Altogether, it’s a decently-made cartoon. The starting point might be odd, but it follows all well enough from there. It’s still odd that Popeye and Olive Oyl would be printing up rooms full of newspapers when nobody was buying them, though. Maybe he was misled about important things by whoever owned the paper before him.
Popeye never reports a specific piece of news in this short.