60s Popeye: Go see Sea Serpent, you’ll see it and serpent, I love it


Never mind the subject line. I was referencing this one Saturday Night Live bit from 1989 where they were really laying it on that Gene Shalit guy. They had him say, “Go see Sea of Love, you’ll see it and love it!” For some reason, my brain has decided this is one of the most important things I could ever remember.

Anyway I had good feelings going into this week’s cartoon, Sea Serpent. First, I’m a fan of sea serpents. I support the work they’ve been doing. Second, this is another Famous Studios production. The story’s by Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Director Seymor Kneitel. I could expect the cartoon to be competent in writing and animation. And how did those expectations pan out?

Olive Oyl’s a reporter, a promising start. I wanted to say it’s a new role for her, but I have the nagging feeling there was some Famous Studios cartoon with the same gimmick. I can’t place it, though. The gag of Olive Oyl’s typewriter barrel flying loose and having to be put back in place is standard, but I always like it. Popeye’s expositional lump that he never gets to see her since she took this job seems at odds with her anticipating her first assignment.

Editor Mr Byline — Jackson Beck, showing that he’s got range — sends her to Loch Ness on rumors there’s a Monster there. This reminds us that newspapers used to have travel budgets for their staff. Loch Ness seems like a far place to send a new reporter, especially on rumors. Maybe it’s not the Loch Ness in Scotland, though. Could be it’s a local lake that happens to share the name. This would be consistent with Brutus not affecting any kind of accent, and charging $10 an hour and $5 per picture for visitors.

Popeye protests he’s never seen a sea serpent, and you know, I think that’s right. He’s seen Jeeps, Goons, whiffle hens, and The Rokh, but a sea serpent? … Oh, wait, he has encountered a sea serpent too. Well, the serpent wasn’t the main menace. Maybe it slipped Popeye’s mind. Anyway Popeye agrees to take Olive Oyl to Loch Ness. If this is the one in Scotland, then he managed a long sailing expedition without getting shipwrecked, so his day’s looking up.

Brutus is tour guide, answering my notes’ question about why he wasn’t the newspaper editor. He’s got a nice fake Loch Ness Monster but business is awful, and he sees in Olive Oyl one really good mark. She ought to be counted as a loss leader, good press bringing in good business. But maybe Brutus has been at this a while and knows the attraction is tapped out.

Olive Oyl buys everything Brutus presents. Popeye uses his Columbo-like powers to tell right away who the bad guy is. Granted, if he just guesses “It’s Brutus” he’s going to be right … I think all the time? For the King Features cartoons anyway. But Popeye’s buying none of it, so Brutus kicks him into … the cave where he left the fake Monster foot. Olive Oyl won’t believe Popeye’s discovery and insists he made it, in seconds, without tools or raw materials. In fairness to Olive Oyl, the rules about what a character can and can’t do with a few seconds of work are vague. Especially when it could be Popeye’s eaten his spinach.

Brutus has more evidence: a sea serpent egg. This turns out to be a rock, which is not a pun here. Popeye learns that it’s a rock by Brutus dropping it on his head. This ruins a perfectly good rock. Can’t be easy finding egg-shaped rocks that size. Brutus must be readying to burn the Loch down for the insurance money.

Olive Oyl scolding Popeye, who's smugly holding his hand up to a green door. The green door is the chest panel of a Godzilla-like sea monster. There's a control panel of circles and an analog meter hanging in the center of the black void within the sea monster.
Olive Oyl is having absolutely none of Popeye’s claim that with vacuum tubes you get a warmer, better-rounded analog sea-monster roar.

Brutus has got a great centerpiece, though. An actual remote-control robot sea serpent. Or, well, off-brand Godzilla anyway. This is a heck of an up-front expense for his Loch Ness Monster tour thing. I too am surprised Loch-zilla is not drawing crowds. As it rises from the waters, Popeye races in so fast he doesn’t have time to have his eyes colored white. (Look at about 10:16, a rare, and trivial, animation error for Famous Studios.) Popeye sees the remote control, then swims out to take local control of Loch-zilla. With the creature storming out of control, Brutus out-runs Olive Oyl out of there, and Popeye laughs at all this.

Popeye explains how all this was done. This makes Olive Oyl angry, because she’s a person and that’s how people work. Popeye shrugs it off, saying he came for the laughs and this was funny! The end.

The conclusion’s a little weird. Never mind that Popeye never eats spinach, or comes near it. The end feels unresolved. After confident dismissing of a sea serpent as a possibility, and debunking Brutus’s hoax, it feels like comic logic requires an actual sea serpent. Or at least Olive Oyl getting some final line in. I wonder if they ran out of time for that.

Besides the unfinished resolution, this is about what I expect from a Famous Studios-made cartoon of the era. The story’s quite sensible, if a bit plodding. The animation’s solid, never doing anything great but never being bad. It has a couple of nice small touches, including the camera looking over characters’ shoulders. I’m always impressed when this era of cartoons lines up the characters in anything besides a plane parallel to the screen.

Really it’s all satisfactory. I would like more sea serpent, is all.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

2 thoughts on “60s Popeye: Go see Sea Serpent, you’ll see it and serpent, I love it”

  1. What were your opinions of the sea serpent scene in “Return to Mayberry” and that “Columbo” set in Scotland with the Lieutenant ordering chilli haggis with saltines and ketchup?

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    1. Y’know, strangely, I never got into any part of the Andy Griffith universe. I can’t justify this. Any look at the components says it’s the sort of thing that, logically, I like. Low-stakes mindful character-driven comedy based on close observation of quirky yet only slightly exaggerated personalities? And driven by the need to be the voice of reason in a well-meaning but daft cloud? Sign me up! Only, I just don’t watch. So, I’m afraid I have to defer answering to people who do like the sort of stuff I ought to like.

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