60s Popeye: Popeye’s Service Station, service with a sotto voce chuckling


Jack Kinney gets the story and the producer credits today. Animation direction goes to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. Here fresh from 1960 is Popeye’s Service Station.

Another cartoon, another small business that Popeye’s running. He must go through so much seed capital in-between shorts. This time, no pizza; he’s running a gas station.

The cartoon spends a lot of time establishing what Popeye’s Service Station offers for free. Jackson Beck reads the whole list twice, once in Narrator voice and then later on in Brutus voice. It’s fair to spend the time on this. Half the cartoon is everybody demanding the free stuff, and without the narrator kids who can’t read fast could be confused. Does mean it takes a while for the action to get started. When the action does start, it’s Popeye chuckling odd resigned phrases like “what’s the use?” at how many cars don’t need service right this minute.

Eventually we get Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus together on-screen and things proceed as you’d imagine. Brutus tries wooing Olive Oyl away from Popeye, by having his car eat Popeye. Brutus runs Popeye over, flat, twice. I was shocked by that in the (Paramount) Oil’s Well That Ends Well, but not so bothered here. I don’t know why it plays different this time around. Anyway, Popeye eats his flat spinach, there’s punching, Popeye keeps Brutus trapped on the car elevator for hours upon hours, the end.

Popeye holding a water hose up to the mouth of a camel standing in the back of a truck bed.
Popeye’s lucky he didn’t accidentally grab the air hose and inflate the poor camel out of the picture!

I suspect I’d like this cartoon more if I hadn’t just seen Popeye’s Pizza Palace. By any of the ordinary measures of story this is better-made. At no point do I wonder why a character chose to do that. Nor do I wonder how one action caused the next. I could describe the plot without it sounding like a dream. Popeye’s Pizza Palace throws together so many bizarre choices that the result delights me. Popeye’s Car Wash (from Harmon studios), another short built on a similar theme, has the repeating refrain of Popeye washing a conveyor belt of Very 50s Cars as an image. At Popeye’s Service Station, we have simple competence, the loopiest gag being the fellow who needs his camel refilled as he’s off to a caravan. I’m afraid that’s doomed to be forgotten.

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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