60s Popeye: Popeye’s Corn-Certo (I wonder if Hungarian Rhapsody #2 gets played)


It does not. Today’s King Features Popeye is another Jack Kinney-produced short. The story’s by Joe Siracusa and Cliff Millsap. Both are new names around here, and the Internet Movie Database lists this as the only writing credit of any kind for both. Cliff Milsap was also editor for about two dozen of these shorts and that’s all IMDB knows about him. Joe Siracusa has more of a filmography, although nearly all of it as editor or composer or music editor, all the way up to the 80s G.I.Joe and Transformers. He was also drummer for Spike Jones from 1946 through 1952. Animation direction is credited to our old friend Eddie Rehberg. From 1960 here’s Popeye’s Corn-Certo.

This short has the feel of one of the theatrical Popeye cartoons. It’s a return to the plot line where Popeye and Brutus compete in showing off their expertise. Eventually Brutus incapacitates Popeye and tries making off with Olive Oyl. Popeye eats his spinach, we get some quick fighting, happy ending. The specific of competing by musical instruments calls to mind 1948’s Symphony in Spinach.

There are some structural differences from a theatrical version of this plot. The major one is Popeye and Brutus don’t take turns showing off. Popeye gets several instruments in a row to play the “3rd movement from the 2nd Pizzicato by Mozarella, the big cheese of the musical world”, which sounds like the Popeye the Sailor Man theme. (I like the choice. I imagine it’s for budget reasons. But it also plays as tweaking the artifice of the premise.) That seems like an improvement. It lets us get a bunch of Brutus-sabotages-an-unaware-Popeye jokes in a row. And it doesn’t require Popeye to sabotage Brutus or to find so many ways Brutus’s playing can go wrong. I’m not sure that would work for every challenge cartoon like this, but it works here.

Brutus smiling at the camera and pointing to himself. His index finger is very long and fat, but not to the point it would distract you if I didn't point it out. His mouth is a bit blurry from the next animation cel being a little visible on-screen here. Brutus's eyes are half-open and he looks sleepy.
I couldn’t get a screenshot of this moment that didn’t have a bit of blur in it. They must have decided to animate this moment on the ones, or the YouTube compression worked against it. Anyway you can see how Brutus, even if he did cheat by using a player piano here, is a natural piano player when he has fingers that long.

And the short offers several good little bits. The performing contest being introduced as though it were a boxing match, for example. Or Popeye getting a couple of muttered interjections in, such as saying “Man the lifeboats! I sprung a leak!” or “I should’ve played `Over the Waves`” when his flute produces water. That sort of throwaway joke could have been a muttered 30s gag and fit right in. It’s a good energy to invoke. There’s even a gorgeous throwaway bit. When Popeye says he’s beginning to smell a rat we see a delighted Brutus smiling at the camera and pointing to himself. It’s playful, in a way the best Popeye cartoons are. I got good feelings from watching this.

Given how well this works I don’t know why Siracusa and Millsap didn’t write more shorts. Maybe they didn’t enjoy the writing. Maybe they saw a chance to adapt Symphony in Spinach but didn’t see another theatrical short they were interested in. Too bad. The writing is strong enough to make a good cartoon within the studio’s constraints.

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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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