60s Popeye: Crystal Ball Brawl and a World Series winner


We’re back to another Larry Harmon cartoon this week. The director is again Paul Fennell, and the story by Charles Shows. Here’s 1960’s Crystal Ball Brawl.

You know the difference between the comic strip Popeye and the cartoon adaptation? Yes, yes, that BrutusBluto wasn’t an important figure in the comic strip. Not until the cartoons made him prominent. But the big thing in the comic strip is how much of its stories are driven by avarice. Not Popeye; he’s above greed. But he’s about the only one. Maybe Eugene the Jeep also avoids the struggle for wealth and status. But otherwise, everybody down to Swee’Pea will sell out Popeye for a bit of gold. For the most part, the cartoons avoid that. There’s some cartoons with a Macguffin of a gold mine or whatnot, but that won’t set Olive Oyl against Popeye.

So this cartoon teases a full embrace of the avaricious plot. Popeye’s magical uncle Abra-Ka-Dabra has died. The estate includes a crystal ball which Wimpy quickly discovers is giving stock tips. Also the forecast that The Bums will beat Boston in the World Series next week. Wimpy immediately acts on that and has a late-50s midsized convertible almost before Popeye and Olive Oyl have learned the premise. This is really on-brand for Wimpy. The current Thimble Theatre reruns on Comics Kingdom have been about Wimpy figuring out what he can do with the Sea Hag’s magic flute.

Brutus learns what’s up, finally, 3:11 into a five-and-a-half-minute cartoon. And here we threaten to get a good multi-party conflict going. Wimpy, Olive Oyl, and Brutus each trying to get the crystal ball, and Popeye trying to be the sane moral center? That would work.

We don’t get it, and that’s a disappointment. Brutus and Popeye fight for the crystal ball and that’s fine. Wimpy makes a couple attempts to get the crystal ball, but there’s no hint he’s keeping it to himself. He’s just securing it for its rightful owner. You know. Wimpy, the respectable, upstanding person who isn’t working a selfish angle. Olive Oyl forgets to even be in the cartoon. It’s all adequately played out. It spends way too long (about twenty seconds) on Brutus pranking Wimpy and Popeye into running into each other. But I would accept an argument that the joke is so basic that it only works if the buildup is very short or excessively long.

Wimpy, having delivered the telegram, holds his arms together and tries to look pleading and sad. Meanwhile Popeye's passed out, fallen over, nad has stars circling over his head.
Popeye’s less startled by inheriting his uncle’s estate than he is by Wimpy holding down a job.

The cartoon ends with, theoretically, the world changed: the crystal ball is there and working fine and Popeye has it. Of course it’ll never be seen or heard from again, but it’s interesting they don’t have the crystal ball get smashed or lost or lose its powers. Wimpy ends the cartoon still wealthy, too. Brutus ends the cartoon sitting on a cloud, asking “What did I did wrong?” in a weird French or French-Canadian accent. Why? No idea. I did entertain the possibility that for some unspeakable reason they grabbed an audio clip from a cartoon where Bluto has a French/French-Canadian accent. A quick review of Alpine For You and of Klondike Casanova didn’t seem to have it. I was looking for other cartoons where Bluto was, like, a logger when I realized this was not a good use of my time. It would still be baffling to pull a line from a decade-old cartoon when Beck is recording for the rest of this cartoon anyway. Maybe Jackson Beck was just having fun with a dull line.

And another tiny bit: Dead Uncle Abra-Ka-Dabra’s estate is being handled by Loophope McGraw, Attorney at Law. Popeye and Olive Oyl get the news that next month Loophole McGraw will be elected governor. Did the writer just not noticing he already used the funny name? Or should we suppose McGraw has used the crystal ball long enough to guide his own run for office? But is honest enough not to steal it? Not sure.

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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