60s Popeye: Madame Salami, not the fortune-telling cartoon I expected


It’s another Jack Kinney-produced and directed cartoon today. The story’s by Tony Benedict and the animation direction Harvey Toombs. Here from 1960 is Madame Salami.

Yesterday’s was a Jack Kinney cartoon that presented a standard enough plot done well. Today’s is not done as well. Olive Oyl visits the fortune-teller at the worst-attended carnival on record. The fortune-teller is Brutus in disguise, and sees a chance to break up Popeye and Olive Oyl.

From this setup I did expect a clip cartoon. That Brutus would show a bunch of scenes where Popeye had been a jerk. And Popeye would answer by showing how nuh uh, it was Brutus was the jerk all along. It would have been a cheap cartoon, but it would’ve worked. This is still a cheap cartoon. But it’s all original material. But consider: it manages to use the same footage for both Popeye and Brutus being knocked into the air to land halfway across the park. That’s some economical use of footage.

I don’t know why Brutus is working as Madame Salami, but allow that he has his reasons. He gets Olive Oyl to test Popeye’s love by commanding him to do things liable to get him killed. Bit grim but in character. Popeye has to go do unspeakable things with a lion. I mean, yes, context tells us he must be trying to stick his head in the lion’s mouth. But we never even see the lion on-screen. And all we hear is Popeye confirming that she wants “this” done. Like I say, a very cheap cartoon. Since he’s not dead yet, the next challenge is … to … walk off the edge of a downtown building? And since he’s still not killed — Brutus gets in a good quick crack about that — the next challenge is Popeye going off in a rocket. You know, in those extraterrestrial rockets that badly underattended carnivals of the 60s have. Finally Madame Salami orders Olive Oyl to marry Brutus, today, and she resigns herself to her fate. When Popeye gets back he sees Brutus running back to Madame Salami’s tent and eats his spinach, I have to suppose because he guesses that’ll help. It usually will, but why did he think this particular problem needed super-punching?

Popeye beaten and scratched up, flopped forward on his face, in front of the sign pointing to the Lion's Den.
The worst part is the Lions Den wasn’t for the animals, it was for the service organization that, like, fundraises for people who have vision impairments. Something went wrong.

I lay the plot out like that and it’s a little wacky but within reasonable bounds. It doesn’t make Olive Oyl look good, but being petty or jealous or insecure is part of her personality. And it’s not like Popeye is so reliable an attentive, involved boyfriend that the idea of testing him is obviously unreasonable. But there is something mean in her ordering Popeye to risk death over and over. We’re supposed to take it that she’s convinced by Madame Salami that Popeye needs more testing. But it also looks like Olive Oyl doesn’t understand carnival fortune tellers. The tests are odd, too. Fine to have Popeye do unspeakable things with a lion. That’s close enough to sensible that I’ll allow it. Walking off a building? That hardly seems to be from the same cartoon, never mind the same carnival. And the rocket? I guess it can be a carnival attraction but it’s still weird.

A plot doesn’t need to make sense if it’s presented well. But I don’t care for most of the jokes. The ones I do care for are side effects of the animation cheapness. For example, Brutus walking over Popeye like he’s not even there is funny but I also recognize that’s using a stock walking cycle. Being cheap doesn’t make a cartoon inherently bad. But there is something slipshod in the whole production. Consider the early exchange where Brutus asks, “What is it you would ask of me?” Olive Oyl answers, “And how will I know whether Popeye really loves me or not?” What is that “And” doing there? It makes sense if Olive Oyl had a line that got cut, but why not cut the “And” also?

An interesting bit of character, though, is that Brutus seems eager to marry Olive Oyl. When does comedy writing of this era show the man as wanting to get married? It’s refreshing, but I wonder how that got through production.

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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