60s Popeye: I Bin Sculpted, a remake with a difference


Today’s is one of the rare Gerald Ray-produced cartoons. Direction for this 1960 short is credited to Bob Bemiller. There’s no story credit, always a shame. But there’s something interesting in the story. So let’s watch I Bin Sculpted.

There’s a couple genres of Popeye cartoon. One nice reliable one is Popeye and Bluto/Brutus competing at doing some job for Olive Oyl. That frame covers cartoons as diverse as Shoein’ Hosses, Popeye for President, and I Wanna B A Life Guard. There’s an even smaller genre, though, the one where the competition turns perverse. Hospitaliky, from 1937, and its color remake For Better Or Nurse, are the prime examples of that. In those shorts the boys are competing to get injured all the more, in the hopes Olive Oyl will nurse them back to health.

Olive Oyl’s not a nurse here; she’s an artist. She’s doing a sculpture to be titled “Pooped”, and she wants a model as worn-out-looking as possible. And so Brutus and Popeye compete to get themselves as battered as possible. The gimmick’s a good one, and probably could be used even more than it already was. Here, we get that basic structure, with the extra twist that Brutus and Popeye try sabotaging each other’s doom. In Hospitaliky and For Better Or Nurse, they go their separate ways until fighting at the railroad track.

Popeye, painted red all over (you know because of the paint bucket labelled 'red' beside him, even if you're watching this on a black-and-white TV) stands in a bull pasture with his hands comfortably behind his head. He's unaware that he's becoming invisible, and is at about 50% transparency already.
You know, you just don’t see invisible ink gags like you used to. I’m joking but I’m also in earnest.

So it’s an odd cartoon that is so much a remake of some theatrical shorts. Popeye tries to get run over by a steamroller in For Better Or Nurse; in the same short Bluto jumps off a skyscraper. In Hospitaliky Popeye goads a bull into attacking him; in For Better Or Nurse it’s Bluto. in both earlier cartoons Popeye uses an airplane, to jump from or to deliberately crash. But you notice none of these jokes gets done quite the same way here.

The theatrical-short vibe even extends to the introductory segments. Popeye and Brutus crash through Olive Oyl’s door simultaneously. That’s a joke done several times in Popeye-and-Bluto-compete shorts. There’s even a tattoo gag, of the kind I thought was abandoned in the 40s, with Popeye’s destroyer tattoo shooting a torpedo so sink Brutus’s battleship ink.

This is a model for remaking a theatrical short. It’s built on a solid premise. And while it uses joke setups that people might remember, it has different outcomes to them all. The plot complication of Popeye and Brutus foiling each other’s injuries, rather than chance working against them, makes for a fresher story too.

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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