60s Popeye: Strange Things Are Happening, and I have questions about them


We’re back in the hands of Paramount Cartoon Studios this week. Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer have credit for the story. Seymour Kneitel’s the director and the producer. It’s a group that I trust to be competent, if nothing else. From 1960 here’s Strange Things Are Happening. Popeye is in a boring house, but it’s not his usual Boring Suburbs house, and it’s not clear that he’s even in the suburbs. He might be in the actual woods, if you go by the initial shot.

One compulsive habit, watching these, is thinking of improvements. It’s a little game, one unfair to the people who made the cartoon. They were working under constraints of time and budget and other obligations. Me, I’ve had forty years to see these things and let them settle into my mind. And, if I can’t think of a fix, I don’t have to let on that I was trying to repair it.

Still, I watch this cartoon and try to think how to make it better. The starting gimmick is fine: a mysterious figure is suborning all of Popeye’s acquaintances to get him to a mysterious place. But we get this structural problem. Who the person is and why he wants Popeye is supposed to be a punch line. This is fine, but then: does it make sense that he would go to the Sea Hag, and her Goons, to beat up Popeye first? The sensible thing is to try to have Olive Oyl get him to the designated place first. If that doesn’t work, then try less-close friends like Wimpy or O G Wotasnozzle. Go to his actual enemies like Brutus or the Sea Hag as last resorts.

But then that order wrecks the suspense. Could someone bribe Olive Oyl into putting Popeye in real harm? … All right, yes, since disloyalty and shallow, selfish greed is core to every Thimble Theatre character besides Popeye and maybe Eugene the Jeep. This isn’t really Thimble Theatre, though. This is the characters as a sitcom cast in the back half of the tenth season. You know the mood. It’s when all the actors have been friends enjoying a good thing so long that all the sharp edges are worn off their characters’ interactions. It doesn’t make sense for the King Features animated Olive Oyl to sell out Popeye. It makes a little more sense for Wimpy to do so, but still not much.

(It is interesting Wimpy lures Popeye in with the promise of repaying him for a past hamburger. I guess Seer-Ring is Believer-Ring was right about how he keeps his line of credit going.)

Brutus and the Sea Hag, eyes closed, mouths smiling wide, and clapping. Both have quite large hands; the Sea Hag's are definitely larger han her head and her fingers seem to be leaning backwards.
Well, it’s nice that Brutus and the Sea Hag will put aside their villainy for the sake of celebrating — holy cow what is with the Sea Hag’s hands? I know we don’t look at Elzie Segar designs for anatomical realism but yipe? When she got up today did she accidentally put on a koala’s hand? Backwards?

I can’t remember what it was like watching this as a kid. Someone who hasn’t seen as many shows as I have wouldn’t expect they’re just trying to trick Popeye onto a version of This Is Your Life. (The trick needed because Popeye would never choose to go to something hagiographic like that.) So the lack of suspense is my “fault” for being the wrong kind of audience. But I can still be bothered by the internal logic. Granted the TV producer has all Popeye’s friends on board with getting him to the studio. What is his in-universe reason for making hushed, last-minute whispers to Popeye’s acquaintances to kidnap him? Why talk about getting him to “this address”, that they seem to not know, instead of “the studio” or at least “the place”? What were they going to do if Popeye didn’t decide to take the day off (from what?) and go fishing?

I was going to ask why the Sea Hag would go along with getting Popeye to the TV studio. But her plan did involve getting two Goons to beat him up, and then had it succeeded, would land him in a situation he found humiliating. So that actually hangs together, except again, this is the Sea Hag as worn down by season ten of the sitcom. (This even though she’d never been animated before 1960!).

I want to fix this cartoon but I don’t see a way to do it.


If Popeye’s Boring House is in the woods, why does he walk from there into the city to go fishing?

Wotasnozzle had all but succeeded. If he hadn’t started that foolish talk about surgery Popeye would have drunk the knockout drops and the cartoon would have ended there. This isn’t a plot hole. Characters making mistakes is not by itself a flaw.

We get another diner, but no mention of Roughhouse.

Also, without giving too much away … let’s just say the next cartoon is a companion piece.

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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