60s Popeye: Sure, I heard of a Sheepish Sheep-Herder


This week’s King Features Popeye takes us back to Larry Harmon’s studio. So, you know, the future Filmation crew. The story is by Charles Shows, of Muskels Shmuskels, of Foola-Foola Bird, and of Childhood Daze. The director here, as in the three already mentioned, is Paul Fennell. Here’s Sheepish Sheep-Herder.

So, first continuity error: Popeye isn’t a sheepish character. He might go reluctantly into something if he doesn’t see why it’s his business, but that’s not sheepish.

Popeye’s interrupted watching his Western show by Olive Oyl, bringing a telegram that I guess Western Onion trusted her with. Poopdeck Pappy needs help with rustlers. Plus, hey, Poopdeck Pappy! He disappeared after Fleischer Studios became Famous Studios, to fit Paramount’s vision of their cartoons being “not so interesting”. (There were a couple cartoons in 1952 and 1953 with him, one a cameo, one disappointing, and one a remake of Goonland too racist to put on TV.) King Features, though, was glad to use everything they had a trademark on.

Popeye heads out, in the engine of a small train; is it his? Anyway, Pappy meets him with a shotgun. Pappy is, as traditional, a twin to Popeye, except with a beard. And, here, a red cap. And, another continuity error: Poopdeck Pappy is also never sheepish.

Poopdeck Pappy, clean-shaven so he looks like Popeye, standing in cave with both eyes half-opened and looking off-screen. He's supposed to look devious, but the pose could also be read as sultry.
Sultry, yes, I’ll grant you Poopdeck Pappy is sultry sometimes. But not sheepish.

Brutus comes in, wearing a long coat, to swipe some sheep and I am childishly delighted that his plan is “sneak sheep out under his trenchcoat”. It’s the joke you’d make if you were a podcast host joking about the premise. The sheep are cute in this vaguely UPA style tool. Brutus goes in with a helicopter, too, having abandoned the trenchcoat plan because … I don’t know. This one outright fails.

Brutus orders Popeye out of town at gunpoint. Popeye uses the countdown to twist the gun barrel and, in a joke I like, ends up pointing it at himself and getting blasted anyway. He asks what he did wrong. It’s not only a good cartoon joke; it’s a joke building on decades of confident cartoon protagonists twisting the barrels of hunters’ guns.

Poopdeck Pappy, shaving, overhears the gunshots. Did you notice that he’s shaving? Because that’s important. But it’s also a good plant for what’s to come, and I imagine seven-year-olds who figure this out feel really clever. Anyway Brutus has tied up Popeye and shoots at his feet until he hops off the cliff. This seems like extra work to go to throw him off a cliff. But, confident he’ll never see Popeye again, who walks in but Popeye? In a red hat this time. Did you notice it was a red hat? … Not that it would be bizarre if Popeye were to be back on top of the cliff. That kind of thing happens in cartoons.

Brutus ties up Pappy with a stick of lit dynamite, and runs off. Popeye runs in, extinguishes the fuse and frees Pappy, and doesn’t say anything to his father. Nor does his father say anything back. I’m surprised by how much the animators are trusting the audience to follow what’s going on. I don’t think they’re wrong to, but I’d expected a reassurance line to emphasize that Pappy looks like Popeye now.

Oyl family reunion; Castor Oyl, Nana Oil, and less familiar relations are standing around. Popeye: 'I don't understands it. How can you be related to these people not look like any of 'em?' Olive Oyl: "I think there's a family resemblance.' Popeye: 'Resemblance sure, but why ain't ya all identical? Takes me family, f'rinstance! I yam the spittin' image of e'ryone in me family. If ya compares me to Pappy, or even me great grandpappy Patcheye we is practically clones o'each other. [ Pictures of Poopdeck Pappy and Patcheye, who look like redraws of Popeye ] Even peoples what marries into the family, like me dear old Ma or sainted Granny. Sure, they looked diff'rent before [ pictures of Popeye's mother and granmother, normal-looking figures ] but after gettin' hitched in, they started lookin' jus' like the rest of us. That's how you know they is family! That's how family works!' [ Pictures of Popeye's mom and grandmom, who look like redraws of Popeye.] Olive Oyl: 'I suddenly don't mind that we've never gotten married.' Popeye: 'It's just as well. This old world can only handle so much beauty.'
Popeye’s Cartoon Club made a reappearance this week, with a bunch of strips from Randy Milholland. This one, from the 30th of May, talks a little about everybody in the Popeye clan looking like Popeye. By the way members of the Oyl family include her brothers Castor and Crude Oyl, her parents Cole Oyl and Nana Oyl [ “Banana Oil” was a slangy way to call something “nonsense” in the 1920s ], Castor’s estranged wife Cylinda Oyl; nieces Diesel Oyl (we’ll see her) and Violet Oyl; uncles Otto Oyl and Lubry Kent Oyl. And, when Bobby London was doing his thing, a sultry blonde cousin Sutra Oyl and corporate-magnate Standard Oyl. Wikipedia figures “Violet Oyl” is a play on “volatile oils”. I guess maybe that’s what they were going for? It’s a tough name, anyway.

Brutus, not having heard the dynamite explode, goes into the mine where he had tied up Pappy. I admit I’m cowardly around fireworks and such. My college summer job was in a nitrocellulose plant. Still, I would not go in to investigate a stick of dynamite that isn’t exploded yet. Popeye appears to encourage him to go in and look, which makes good cartoon logic but: why would you do that, Brutus? Think out what things could follow from the information you have. How many of them are good for you?

Going on inside is Pappy re-lighting the dynamite so it’ll go off when Brutus arrives. And he walks past Brutus, again raising the question whether Brutus is paying attention to what he’s looking at. The blast throws him out the cave, and on seeing two Popeyes he goes bouncing off the cliff. He’s caught by what seems like an excessively deep tree root, right where a sheep can kick him over and over.

This is a pleasant cartoon. Solid enough story. Between the trenchcoat, Popeye asking “what did I do wrong” at twisting Brutus’s gunbarrel, and the way we get into the duplicate Popeye stuff, there’s decent comedy here.

The animation is pretty solid. Not so solid that, like, we ever see a character’s legs when they walk. We instead pull tighter in while the figure bounces up and down. But we do get tight focus on people’s faces, which gives us something to look at. Also to wonder at how everybody’s leaning so far over all the time. Their backs have to hurt so. It’s not a great cartoon; there’s not a moment of great delightful surprise to it. But it’s pretty good throughout.

Author: Joseph Nebus

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

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