60s Popeye: My Fair Olive, a mis-named cartoon

We’re back to 1961, and Paramount Cartoon Studios, today. It’s a story by Joseph Gottlieb, who’d also done Scairdy Cat. The director is Seymour Kneitel, as tradition dictates. My Fair Olive.

What’s the reputation of Famous Studios/Paramount Cartoon Studios Popeye cartoons? At least for the 1950s? Mostly of being boring. Also of sometimes squandering a decent premise. Here I’m calling out Popeye For President, which turns into Popeye and Bluto doing farm chores.

The title made me guess the premise was “try to make a gentleman out of Popeye”. Starting out in the Museum of Antiquities, with Popeye making dumb jokes about the exhibits? Squabbling with Brutus, who’s the museum guard or maybe docent? That reinforced my expectations. The premise has been circled before, in the Fleischer era with Learn Polikeness and It’s The Natural Thing To Do. It’s hardly exhausted, though.

So, inspired by the King Arthur exhibit, the cartoon diverts into Popeye and Brutus jousting for Olive’s hand. And that’s all right, I guess. It sets up some of the obvious jokes. Popeye has to wear a stove because the town Antique Armor Shop hasn’t got anything in his size. He has to ride a mule instead of a horse. Brutus creams him, of course. Olive Oyl, who’d urged them to have this joust in the first place, then feels bad for Popeye. Brutus grabs Olive Oyl, and Popeye eats his spinach. It’s that 1930s pattern of Big Bully/Damsel In Distress/Brave Little Squirt returning.

Popeye, wearing a cast-iron stove as a suit of armor, runs while holding a mule on his shoulders.
The three-legged race has gone horribly wrong.

This is all competent enough. There’s even a couple good moments, such as Brutus on his horse charging at the camera. It does feel very 50s Famous Studios, though. Especially in how Olive Oyl pushes for a joust that leaves Popeye helpless and Brutus getting assault-y. Also in how the title card and the direction of the first couple minutes seem to get tossed away in favor of a stock Popeye-and-Brutus fight. I’m curious whether this started as a possible script for a late-50s cartoon that got shelved. But all Gottlieb’s other story credits are from 1961 too.

I suppose the title “My Fair Olive” parses for a story about joust LARPing. It belongs on a cartoon about making Popeye a gentleman, 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.

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