We return to Paramount Cartoon Studios for today’s Popeye short. The story is credited to Irving Dressler. Direction and production, though, are credited to our old friend Seymour Kneitel. Here’s 1960’s The Bathing Beats.
This is another in the long-running string of “Popeye and Bluto/Brutus do feats of strength for Olive Oyl’s attention” cartoons. Paramount — which used to be Famous Studios, which used to be Fleischer Studios — had done about 740 of them at this point. They could probably do them in their sleep. There’s a fair chance nobody planned to make this short, it just appeared, the byproduct of working on other shorts.
The feats-of-strength-for-Olive’s-attention cartoon lives on how inventive the gags are. It should also rely on how interesting the stakes are, but those are almost never interesting. It’s usually who gets a kiss from Olive Oyl, or maybe a date. (In Popeye for President the stakes are becoming President of the United States and yet that doesn’t do anything for the cartoon.) Here it’s … who gets to ride in front in Olive Oyl’s new car.
So the contest is at the local Mister America pageant where whichever wins gets to ride shotgun. The pageant is lucky Olive Oyl bought a car as they’d otherwise have no competitors. And then we get a bunch of basic, easy-to-animate gags. There’s bits of life. I like the pacing of Popeye and Brutus pulling the other out of the front seat. I like Popeye knocking on his head like a xylophone. But, consider the joke where Popeye slaps Brutus’s back to make him swallow his harmonica. Brutus says something unintelligible. It’s funny enough, but it’s also done already, in Symphony in Spinach. Only there it was Bluto slapping Popeye, acting as villain. I’m not sure Popeye stumbles over the line between being mischievous and being the jerk, but it’s closer than I’d like.
Brutus drugs Popeye to sleep, but accidentally drops spinach in his mouth. The big climax is Popeye dead-lifting Brutus and his weight, a feat that’s so ordinary it appears as a pre-spinach warmup feat in The Anvil Chorus Girl. There’s nothing wrong in repeating a good joke. It shows the diminished budget and scope and ambition of these shorts, though, that what used to be a warmup act is now the closer.
The punch line, of course, is that Popeye remembers Olive Oyl is a woman driver and flees into a tree to be safe. It’s not that this genre of jokes can’t be funny, because Bob Newhart’s “Driving School Instructor” routine exists. But this joke doesn’t have any sincerity to it. The cartoon would be better if we ended with Olive Oyl driving Popeye off somewhere.
This isn’t a bad cartoon. But it doesn’t feel like it was made, that is, that no creative decisions went into it. It just animated whatever they had and never thought about why, or what they could do better, or uniquely. And, as mentioned in my essay’s title, nobody in this short titled The Bathing Beasts ever gets wet.
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