We continue in the wilderness of shorts for which King Features’s YouTube collection includes no credits. The style of the title card gives away that it’s a Paramount Cartoon Studios production, from 1961. Seymour Kneitel is the producer and, per the Internet Movie Database, director as well. Irving Dressler has a story credit. He seems to have gone without mention here before. Here, now, learn the mystery of The Mark of Zero.
Zero, here, is the hero of a bedtime story Popeye tells. He’s a dashing, sword-wielding force standing against Brutus and his gang. There’s a good bit to like in Zero’s story. For one, he’s got a lighthearted tone. Zero quipping about how he’s kind of a cut-up is the sort of joke Jack Mercer would mumble if this short were made in the 30s. And that includes some nice cleverness, such as by disarming Brutus’s band of thugs by using a magnet.
Also, Brutus’s band of thugs is well-populated, especially for this era, and by more than one character model and voice. And his battle of wits with Zero develops. It’s got a proper introduction, build, and climax. Brutus declares “dames is Zero’s weakness,” on grounds not evidenced on-screen, and puts on a dress to catch Zero by surprise. The framing device excuses Brutus giving Zero the precious bit of spinach. This is the rare bit of suspense where you know how things are going to go the hero’s way.
It’s all done in the lumbering, steady pace of a Paramount cartoon, of course. Look at when Zero’s caught in a barrel with Brutus sitting on top. We get a good solid reminder that Zero has a sword, before he swipes Brutus’s rear end. The joke setup is sound. Set up the action and pay it off. What it’s not is fast. With better pacing the cartoon could be twice as good.
So the mystery. It’s not why frame this as a bedtime tale. It’s why tell the tale to Deezil Oyl? Why not Swee’Pea? Deezil was a character created for the 60s cartoons, I think to have a kid who could be more rambunctious and chaotic than Swee’Pea could be. (Also to be a companion in case the plot needed two kids.) The closing scene, with Deezil having zero-swiped her whole bedroom, would be unusual for Swee’Pea, but I don’t feel it’s out of character. There’s no need to set up telling Swee’Pea a bedtime story either.
She never got to be a regular in the cartoons, and as far as I know never appeared in the comic strip proper or another Popeye series. So I don’t want to cheat her of her few appearances. I’d like to know why she got this, though. Maybe they were looking for things to do with Deezil? But you get a lasting character when they do something someone else in your cast can’t, and “hear a bedtime story” is well-covered already.