60s Popeye: Hair Cut-Ups, part of Seymour Kneitel-Mania here


Seymour Kneitel-Mania continues here at King Features Popeye review headquarters. 1960’s Hair Cut-Ups credits Max Fleischer’s son-in-law for story, direction, and production of this Paramount Cartoon Studios short. Let’s watch.

In form, this is another of the tell-Swee’Pea-a-story cartoons. It’s got a more interesting framing device, since it’s not Popeye reading from a book. The frame, of Swee’Pea being afraid of his first haircut, even has a thematic resonance with the story told. That story is some riff on the tale of Samson and Delilah, casting Popeye as Samson and Brutus as an unnamed bad guy who disguises himself as Delilah.

This kind of setup, Popeye recast as a figure of legend, they’ve done before. Greek Mirthology, from 1954, has Popeye cast himself as Hercules to talk his nephews into eating their spinach. The stories are different enough I can’t call this is a remake of that Isadore-Klein-written cartoon. It’s a variation, though, especially in how the Popeye-figure switches his source of might to spinach. 1948’s Popeye Meets Hercules has a similar “ancient origins” theme, but that Popeye is already hep to the spinach deal.

Popeye, as Samson, holds some of his long, dark, thick hair against his cheek and smiles, so very happy with the feeling and the texture.
Now, if I were an actual critic, I’d have some thoughts about the cartoon having “Brutus” assume a — the — female role in the story. What does it signify that after years trying to beat Samson, “Brutus” is able to win when he abandons the male role altogether? And that his win is immediately destroyed when he sheds the Delilah persona, taking on his male identity again? No, I don’t believe Seymour Kneitel was thinking of investigating gender roles in the Popeye universe this way. But why did Kneitel feel it right to have “Brutus” shed his face covering and Delilah voice before punching out Popeye? Anyway, since I’m not a critic, I won’t think about that instead and will instead giggle about “Popeye” here loving his hair.

As I’d expect from the Paramount studios the cartoon’s competent, even efficient. The modern-day cast is as tiny as it could have, giving Brutus a rare non-antagonistic role so his double can be the villain. Ancient times have an even smaller population, only Samson and his rival fighting over who’s strongest. This opens to a couple of feats-of-strength jokes of the kind the Popeye animators could likely do in their sleep.

There’s a neat little bit when ‘Delilah’ invites Samson into the barber shop. Smoke from Samnson’s pipe threads underneath Delilah’s face covering. It seems like a good visual joke showing Samson’s attraction to Delilah. ‘Delilah’ sneezes, though, revealing that Brutus face. It explains the plan ‘Brutus’ concocted without him having to say it to the viewer. Good bit of work and I imagine a fair number of kids giggling as they worked it out. One strength of a Kneitel production is getting simple things like that done well. When the same element can serve two roles without drawing attention it’s doing well.

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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