60s Popeye: Uranium on the Cranium, because Popeye cartoons are where you say things like ‘cranium’


We’re back to a Larry Harmon-produced cartoon this week. The director on record is Paul Fennell and the story is by the ever-reliable Charles Shows. Back to 1960 and Uranium on the Cranium.

My first problem with this cartoon is that I know the history of Popeye too well. There’s a better version of this cartoon. Of course there is; by the time we reached this cartoon there were … I don’t know, three hundred Popeye shorts out there? A lot of premise was covered. But the Fleischer Stealin’ Ain’t Honest covers a lot of the same territory, including BlutoBrutus stealing the map through a periscope and racing to an island. Between the 1940 predecessor and this 1960 version the gold mine has turned into a uranium mine. That’s nice and timely. Updating the Macguffin doesn’t affect things any, of course. But it’s curious we don’t see any use of radioactive materials as magic, capable of any sort of weird fun story event. Or at least giant glowing monsters. Yes, I know uranium doens’t really do that. Who could possibly care?

The most interesting change is Brutus putting on a gorilla suit to mess with Popeye. This is a danged good idea. Popeye has an aversion to beating up “dumb aminals”. He’s not as consistent with this as we’d wish from our heroes. But it takes more to get him to beat up a gorilla than to beat up Brutus. A good costume shop would let Brutus get away with murder.

A gorilla facing off against Brutus, who's left the head off of his own gorilla costume.
Well, you got me: this one isn’t from my DeviantArt account anyway.

Of course there ends up being a real gorilla in the mix, and Popeye thinks the real gorilla is Brutus and then Brutus thinks the real gorilla is Popeye stealing his gimmick. That’s a fair enough use of the gimmick. It seems like it could have been better.

There’s a writing tick that I noticed here and now I’m curious whether it’s a Harmon-studios specialty. That’s one of forming a joke by repeating a word, maybe in different contexts. Asked if he’s sure nobody can see the map at sea, Popeye says, “Sure I’m sure.” Shown the Geiger counter, Olive Oyl says, “I can hardly wait for the buzzer to buzz”. As Brutus ties her up Olive Oyl tells Brutus “you are a crooked crook!” Brutus answers “this mine is mine, all mine!” Any one of these is unremarkable. They even fit the language pattern of Popeye’s immortal declarations about how he yam what he yam and that’s all what he yam. Or how he’s had all the can stands, he can’t stands no more. I suspect if I were more intersted in the cartoon I wouldn’t notice these things. But there you go.

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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