Today’s Popeye short continues the journey into Jack Kinney-produced weird ones. It’s from 1960 and the credits — well, the credits have a different style from what we’ve seen already. The credits give Ken Hultgren the story, though, and animation direction. Kinney’s the producer. So here is Sea Hagracy, a title I believe wants to riff on “sea piracy”, which says a lot about how it’s going.
When I at last read Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre comics I came to appreciate something about Popeye. That is that Elzie Segar never began a story with any idea where he was going. Some stories he finished with no idea where he was going. This is not to deny his skill or charm. Just that the stories often wander around instead of having any narrative thread.
My sources don’t indicate that Sea Hagracy is based on a comic strip storyline. It has the feel, though. In particular, it has several momentary thrusts of plot logic. Any one thrust makes sense. How they fit together is a mystery. It would make sense if this were a 16-week storyline condensed. That much time allows for the characters to reconsider what they’re doing. In five minutes? That’s a greater challenge.
The story starts well, with the title card dissolving right into the tax man taking the Sea Hag’s fortune. She hasn’t kept up her ill-gotten gains tax. Good inciting incident and some good lines, like the Sea Hag having stolen these chests by honest piracy. But she needs money, and figures to return to piracy. Popeye won’t let her. So she decides to make him a partner.
Popeye’s having none of it, and one can wonder why the Sea Hag thought that might work. I can imagine the sequence where she makes a more plausible case and gets shut down. Popeye “hates piracey worse’n poison,” and The Phantom argues that’s his line, and we’re done with that thread.
Stave the Third. Sea Hag bribes Wimpy into knocking Popeye out. Wimpy won’t betray his dear friend, of course, not for less than two hamburgers. Solid idea, and if the negotiations go on forever that’s all right. It’s some fun patter. Wimpy sneaks in with the mallet, but can’t bring himself to clobber Popeye. Popeye, by the way, has spent the whole short looking annoyed to be in the short when he wants to read the paper. And once Popeye gets wind of this he decides his rule against hitting women doesn’t mean he can’t spank the Sea Hag. I don’t follow this logic, but I grew up in an era where we noticed spanking was, you know, battery.
That seems like a logical end for the story, so the story goes on again. The Sea Hag decides she should just destroy Popeye, and use magic, since she remembered what she is. This involves sending lightning out to destroy Popeye’s house, which works, and which doesn’t get undone by the end of the short. Popeye eats the tiny can of spinach he keeps in bed, next to his feet. And then absorbs a bunch of the Sea Hag’s lightning bolts, then comes back as a half-human, half-lightning-bolt to zap the Sea Hag. This all is an idea so exciting as to overcome the limited animation. Think what it would have been like in a Fleischer two-reel color feature. And now we’ve got the end of a shorter but more superhuman story.
And one that ends with the inciting incident — the Sea Hag is broke — not just unresolved, but forgotten. Which is again true to the comic strip, and plots written day-to-day.