60s Popeye: Gem Jam (it’s more of a jelly)


Before I start, folks who remember the Talkartoon Twenty Legs Under The Sea, starring Bimbo and with a cameo from a proto-Betty-Boop, might like to know something. The Max Fleischer Cartoons channel on YouTube has a cleaned-up version of that cartoon just published. Theirs is a channel worth watching. They’re doing a lot of cleaning-up and posting obscure shorts. If I ever turn to reviewing the Fleischer Color Classics series I’ll likely depend on their versions of the cartoons.

And a spot of trivia. One episode of Let’s Make A Deal this week closed with a Quickie Deal with an audience member dressed as Popeye. The challenge: if he could name when the Popeye series started (to within a decade) he’d get a hundred dollars. 1933, right? Well, he guessed wrong. And they answered wrong, offering 1960 as the start! Have to guess whoever was pulling up trivia for the Quickie Deals didn’t realize how ambiguous asking when “the Popeye series” started was.

Back to the King Features Syndicate Popeye shorts, though. Today’s is another Popeye cartoon from the Paramount Cartoon Studios group. The story’s credited to I Klein. Direction and production are credited to Seymour Kneitel.

The cartoon is set in India. I’m relieved to report that it has no racist or even questionable depictions of Indian persons. This because the budget was too tight to represent any Indian persons at all. It does depict India as a place with strange statues bearing curses, though. If you don’t want that sort of exoticizing South Asia in your recreational reading, you’re right and just skip this piece. You aren’t going to miss anything important in understanding the Popeye canon. This never quite tripped over the line to get me angry. I think because it interacts with the setting so little. The story wouldn’t change if the Sea Hag were trying to get Merlin’s Macguffin from an English castle.

For those who are venturing on, here is 1969’s Gem Jam.

I mean, there’s this episode of Dave the Barbarian where the lead villain has to trick one of Our Heroes into swiping this cursed magic item for him. You could watch that, if you want this premise done with more fun and energy. Dave the Barbarian was a mid-2000s goofy cartoon set in a fantasy magic kingdom, so a cursed item has a subtler set of issues behind it. It also has a more specific curse. The first person to take it will turn into cheese. Dave the Barbarian had that 90s-web-comic style of wacky wacky zany and oddly angry humor. But I’m sure there’s nothing we now notice as regrettable in the series at all.

But this short, mm. Popeye and Olive Oyl are in India, while every Indian person is out of town visiting friends. The Sea Hag is, too, hoping to swipe a gem from a statue. But the gem puts a curse on whoever steals it, so, she whips up a perfume potion to make Olive Oyl steal it for her. I’m sure the Sea Hag would have preferred anybody besides Popeye’s girlfriend to do this, but again, there’s not even people in the distance in background paintings here. She had no choice. Also, apparently, in this cartoon’s continuity Olive Oyl hasn’t met the Sea Hag yet. I suppose this justifies the Sea Hag relying on Olive Oyl instead of, like, training a squirrel. But it’s going to mess up any kids trying to put all the Sea Hag/Popeye/Olive Oyl interactions in a consistent order. Good luck.

The Sea Hag, wearing a turban, holds out her hand expectantly . Olive Oyl, who's fallen on the ground, sits up, looking confused by all this.
“Come with me! We’ll find a better cartoon for you to be in!” “What, like where I’m in the Army with Alice the Goon?” “Eh, maybe skip it.”

Olive Oyl’s tricked into stealing the gem, but the Sea Hag can’t get it from her because the characters are explaining what just happened to each other. And the statue decides its ill-defined curse is going to mess with Popeye more than Olive Oyl. Well, he leaps in to take hole-in-the-earth meant for her. She feeds his spinach into the crack in the Earth, and Popeye remembers he can’t hit a woman even if she is the Sea Hag. So Olive Oyl eats the spinach and beats up the Sea Hag instead, off-screen. This is a rare cartoon where Olive Oyl eats spinach. The others I can think of are the Fleischer Studios Never Kick A Woman and the Famous Studios Some Hillbilly Cartoon, Right? This is because I have no memory of the Famous Studios Firemen’s Brawl. Anyway, Our Heroes return the emerald and we get out of the cartoon.

I always talk about how these Paramount-made cartoons at least always have basic competence, even if they’re dull. This one leans more on the boring side than usual, though. The repetition of explaining how the Sea Hag tricked Olive Oyl sure filled time. The curse wasn’t that interesting. We didn’t even get a good fight cloud between Olive Oyl and the Sea Hag. This would be a story to launch your existentialist fanfic about these characters going through the motions of protagonist and antagonist, except it’s not even an interesting enough routine plot to sustain that. Really, if you like the “trick the hero into stealing the cursed item” premise, try that Dave the Barbarian episode instead. That’s got jokes at least.

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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