60s Popeye: Lighthouse Keeping, a title I like more than I like the cartoon


It’s 1960 again and Jack Kinney’s producing. The story and the animation direction are credited to our friend Eddie Rehberg this time. Here’s Lighthouse Keeping for our consideration.

My love’s a Popeye aficionado. And also a lighthouse enthusiast. Logic tells us then that the only way this cartoon could be more perfectly targeted is if the top of the lighthouse had an antique carousel on it. There is no carousel, and the rest of the cartoon is, eh.

This isn’t calling it bad. Lighthouse Keeping has the nastiest problem for a reviewer. It’s competent without having any really great bits. Or any inexplicably bad or weird bits. There’s little for me to talk about that isn’t recapping the plot. And that’s mostly a string of gags set on a lighthouse. Brutus getting vertigo at the top of a 226-foot-tall tower. Olive Oyl trying to take a photograph and directing Popeye to step back until he falls off, spoiling her shot.

Brutus at least starts off reasonable this cartoon. It’s another in the string of cartoons where you wonder if the cartoonists are on his side. I mean, maybe he’s flirting with an uninterested Olive Oyl, but if “Nice day for fishing, if you’re not a fish” then I’ve grossly misunderstood human contact. Olive Oyl sinks her boat, somehow, and Brutus brings her to Popeye’s lighthouse. Popeye being a lighthouse keeper is a new thing; I’m surprised the gimmick hasn’t been done before. I can imagine a Fleischer cartoon where he goes off doing a string of preposterous feats of strength saving ships against various little fiascos. Or explaining to a reluctant kid how he can do all that because of his spinach-eating.

Scene of a lighthouse and the dock outside it. There are multiple Popeye figures visible, different steps in the run along that path. The last one, at the dock, is completely opaque. The Popeyes leading up to that are more and more transparent, until the most distant one, at the lighthouse, is barely visible. It almost looks like an example of how to animate the key frames in a movement.
Popeye’s speedrunning his own cartoon! Can he do that?

But that all gives us reason to have Popeye, Brutus, and Olive Oyl (urging peace) together, and we go through a couple of bits. These all go fine; there’s nothing too weird or bizarre in it. Eventually Brutus takes the hint and goes motoring off in his boat, with a rope that’s somehow tangled around Olive Oyl’s foot. Brutus is happy to feed her to the shark, so the animators aren’t skipping his heel turn. There’s the oddest animation bit this short here, with the ocean waves represented by Olive Oyl and the shark oscillating side to side, instead of up and down. Popeye punches the shark into Brutus’s boat, and then gets a boat from somewhere to bring Olive Oyl back to shore.

Oh, there is one bit of neat animation that I like. Popeye rushing down the lighthouse to the dock, to meet Olive Oyl, is done by making a succession of still pictures of him more opaque and transparent. It’s a neat trick, one worthy of a 1980s video game. But that’s as much ambition as the cartoon shows. It’s a cartoon that won’t convince anyone the King Features run was unappreciated genius, nor that it was a disaster.

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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