60s Popeye: Hag-Way Robbery, and the mystery of how you kidnap a Jeep


There’s no story credit for the 1960 William L Snyder-produced Hag-Way Robbery. I regret this. It is directed by Gene Deitch, and made by his team of Czechoslovakian animators. You all know I like Gene Deitch cartoons. They have a weirdness that I enjoy, starting with how the opening credits fanfare begins early and so Popeye’s pipe-tooting sounds like it comes in late. Let’s see what happens after the credits.

Eugene the Jeep is kidnapped! And it’s the Sea Hag who did it! Popeye has pulled together his trusted regular cast and sails to rescue him! It’s a bold opening, one signalled by rousing music and the camera panning in on his ship moving at an angle.

Olive Oyl, hands clasped together and eyes closed in joy, looking at a room stocked floor to ceiling with cans of olives.
Um … sure, this is a thing that motivates Olive Oyl!

Popeye’s assembled a crew of Olive Oyl, Wimpy, and Swee’Pea because who else are you going to call on? I mean and not seem like you’re being a Popeye Hipster. (Toar, Professor Wotasnozzle, Alice the Goon, and maybe the sheriff from this one story in 1930 would be my selection, though.) He’s stocked up with plenty of canned spinach, canned hamburgers, canned baby food, and … canned olives. I think this is the first and last we’ve ever heard of Olive Oyl caring about olives, but she has to eat something for the gimmick to work. It seems odd to establish these supplies, but the cartoon knows what it’s doing. These are important to the plot.

The Sea Hag’s plot, anyway. From her shark submarine — where Eugene looks adorably cross in his cage — she pipes in a tube to steal all Popeye’s spinach. And to spray in labels so that everything else pretends to be canned spinach. You may ask how she can spray in labels that all land perfectly on their targeted cans. Sea Hag’s magic, you have to give her that. With Popeye unknowingly disarmed she shoots torpedoes, and he goes belowdecks for a can of spinach and finds nothing. He sees no choice but to try everything else. Meanwhile Wimpy, Olive Oyl, and Swee’Pea eat a lot.

The Sea Hag cackles as she connects a cylinder vacuum cleaner to the periscope of her submarine. Eugene the Jeep, caged, looks on angrily.
The Sea Hag woke up this morning figuring that her day would go something like this.

It’s all strongly paced, with the story just not pausing. It’s a good reminder that limited animation does not mean it has to be slow or even dull to look at. Deitch follows Jay Ward’s rule that even if you can’t animate smoothly, you can at least have all the pictures be funny along the way. The strong pace also keeps questions of story logic from cropping up. Like, why doesn’t Popeye have a can of spinach in his shirt like he always does? Or, more importantly, how do you kidnap a Jeep, who can just disappear and reappear anywhere he wants? As, indeed, Eugene does, when Popeye gets to the final can and it’s canned orchids, the Jeep’s particular food. Also, where did the canned orchids come from?

Eugene we can answer at least. He’s a magical being, closer to the fae folk than you see in your average comic strip or cartoon. He’s content to go along with personal inconvenience if it promises some interesting mischief.

Eugene the Jeep sniffs at an opened can labelled spinach and that actually contained orchids. Popeye, desperate, on his knees, throws his arms out in frustration, apparently yelling at the Jeep.
I didn’t mention explicitly but there are a lot of funny expressions and poses this cartoon. Most of them for good effect, like making Popeye look the more desperate as he searches for spinach. Some for arbitrary effect; like, there’s a joke early on (about 18:23) where Popeye tells Wimpy to “keeps a sharp eye out for a ugly dame”, the Sea Hag. Olive Oyl steps in, asking, “did you call me, Popeye?” And he and Wimpy act all abashed, as though they were saying anything about Olive Oyl, let alone anything derogatory about her. It’s like the compulsion to fit a joke in overrode the logic that Popeye hasn’t got anything to be embarrassed about here.

But there’s little time to consider the rest. Sea Hag, low on fuel, tosses Popeye’s spinach into the boilers. The smell is “the next best thing to eating spinach”, and Popeye gets his power-up. One might complain about the logic; I’d ask, is that really less plausible than the time he ate his spinach after being disintegrated? Anyway, Popeye won’t hit the Sea Hag, but he will maroon her, on a beautiful island where the can learn to be good.

So, I like this. A lot. It’s energetic, it’s silly. Sea Hag’s got a pretty good plan. There’s bits of plot that don’t make sense and I don’t care about rationalizing them, which shows how well they did entertaining me.

60s Popeye: The Medicine Man, not a musical-romance, sorry


We’re back at Paramount again today. The story’s from Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer and direction by Seymour Kneitel. Here’s the 1961 short The Medicine Man.

Popeye and Olive Oyl sell a “Spinach Health Juice” this cartoon. They do it in the form of the patent medicine show. At least the pop-culture version of the patent medicine show. It’s an interesting choice since, like, was anyone bothering with this sort of show after it became possible to buy radio time instead? But it’s presented as though the audience knows this kind of thing happens all the time.

Something else interesting in the choice. By doing their patent-medicine show they attract the attention, and ire, of Brutus, who’s got his quack doctor business in town. Never mind that it’s odd Popeye and Olive Oyl would be selling a fraud. It’s a spinach potion, so it works. No; it’s that Popeye and Olive Oyl are the ones disrupting the equilibrium. And not from a motive of foiling Brutus’s deviousness. All they’re doing is looking out for themselves.

After that nice, morally ambiguous start, the cartoon settles into more normal things. Brutus sabotages the show, giving Popeye an unstoppable hiccough. If you have unstoppable hiccoughs in a cartoon like this, the cartoon becomes about stopping them. Brutus’s first attempt: jumping beans, of course. Next: dive bombing a plane. It’s not the escalation I’d have expected, and Brutus does complain how it’s a “perfectly good plane gone to waste”. Then have Popeye breathe from a paper bag full of pepper. This gives him hiccoughs and sneezes, an escalation of silly noises. Then a sleeping pill makes Popeye start snoring, for a good silly rhythm. Anyway, some violence, spinach juice, more punching, Brutus flees the scene.

Olive Oyl watching over a poor, sickly Popeye. In the foreground Brutus as a doctor pours sneezing powder into a paper bag.
Also, hey, a cartoon where the action doesn’t all take place in the same plane. That’s always nice to see.

Popeye closes with a couplet, this one promising an apple a day keeps the doctor away. It suggests the writers forgot Popeye and Olive Oyl started out selling patent medicines.

I can’t fault the cartoon for going in the unstoppable-hiccoughs direction. It’s a venerable and funny enough physical problem to have. Jack Mercer’s rhythm in hiccoughing, sneezing, and snoring is funny. But I’m more interested in Popeye and Olive Oyl being the instigators of trouble. It’s an unusual role for them and the story shift means that’s irrelevant. Also more could be done with the Spinach Health Juice since it is a thing that works in-universe. I know that’s possible since the 1932 Betty Boop, M.D. has her selling a potion that does work. (In that cartoon, the potion is just water, but it works anyway. A warning about that cartoon, if you decide to watch: Betty Boop’s potion has a name that’s based on a slur. The cartoon might also inspire feelings of body horror.) As with the plane, it’s a waste of a perfectly good premise.

60s Popeye: Duel to the Finish, one of the good ones


Today’s is another Seymour Kneitel festival: he gets credit for the story, direction, and production of this 1960 Paramount Cartoon Studios piece. Here’s Duel to the Finish.

It’s hard to have no sympathy for Wimpy. He’d have taken over Thimble Theatre, if only Popeye hadn’t been there first. He has this great blend of gluttony and larceny. He pairs well against Popeye. There’ve been a couple cartoons that pitted him against Popeye. The most notable was 1939’s Hello, How Am I. In that one Wimpy pretends to be Popeye so he can get hamburgers out of Olive Oyl. Here …

All right, there’s a certain overlap. But it has a different start, and different progression. Here, Olive Oyl is bored with Popeye, and we can see why. She wants to make him jealous, so starts making hamburgers to woo Wimpy. And Popeye sees this for what it is, Olive Oyl and Wimpy using each other. It’s not until Olive Oyl offers a kiss that Popeye cares. Which is a nice dramatic irony as Wimpy couldn’t care about such things as kisses. So it’s a duel.

A contented Wimpy sits at the table, surrounded by dirty plates, with three hamburgers in front of him, a hamburger in his right hand, and a fork holding a chunk of hamburger in his left hand.
Olive Oyl has a lot more plates than I do. Also, Wimpy has the power not just to eat hamburgers with a fork but to single-handedly cut out a slice of hamburger using a fork.

Wimpy makes it an eating duel, challenging to see who can eat the most hamburgers. He’s not a stupid person; it’s just amazing Popeye accepts it. Right away we see Olive Oyl worn out from making burgers, and Popeye struggling to chew. And Wimpy puttering along, happy, even eating burgers with both hands. One of those hands has a fork. I’ve heard of people eating New York-style pizza with a fork, but hamburgers is a new one. And he beats Popeye! This is the rare cartoon where, not only does Bluto/Brutus not appear and not be the antagonist, but Popeye also doesn’t win. You have to appreciate Wimpy’s cunning.

But Popeye has to win anyway, and it comes about by forfeit, again a rare event. Olive Oyl can’t cook another hamburger. This breaks Wimpy’s interest in her, because he’s unaware that she might be able or willing to cook at a later date. The beaten Popeye grumbles at Olive Oyl for having started the whole mess, and that’s the end.

Bedraggled Popeye and Olive Oyl slumping on the couch after being exhausted in the eating contest.
In retrospect, this makes Popeye being boring at the start of the cartoon look like wisdom.

Wimpy goes home. It’s never clear what he thinks about this whole day. That he recognized a chance to eat if he flattered, yes. He had a similar relationship with the Sea Hag, at least in the comic strip. He came in, spotting an advantage he could take, and used it for as much as he could, and wandered out again. It’s as though he barely notices the mortal lives of Popeye and Olive Oyl and drifts in, like a magical creature, while there are rewards to be had.

The whole cartoon’s a story well-established by the characters in place here. And it explores consequences that aren’t obvious from what we already knew of them. Solid stuff. Could have been a quite good theatrical cartoon.

60s Popeye: College of Hard Knocks (please ring doorbell to the left)


Larry Harmon produced today’s cartoon. So that might set some expectations. One is that Paul Fenell would direct, and that the story would be by Charles Shows. These expectations are correct. Here’s 1960’s College of Hard Knocks.

Another thing I expect from a Harmon-produced cartoon is that characters are going to stand around a lot. Thes are the animators who’d create Filmation, for which I have a nostalgic affection.

The premise is solid enough. It’s easy to imagine the classic-era theatrical-short version of this. The idea of Brutus as a fake instructor is even circled around by the 1938 short Learn Polikeness, not so closely that this feels like a remake.

It makes sense Olive Oyl would go to school for something. That immediately casts either Brutus or Popeye as the professor; you then have to decide who’s the authority and who’s undermining it to have a plot. Brutus gets to be the “professor”. So it’s a story of Brutus humiliating or injuring Popeye until he has all he can stands, etc. Solid enough story, even if it is the plotting equivalent of all the characters stand around a lot. But sprinkle in some good quips and at least one fanciful bit of violence and you have a cartoon that works. And there’s some decent quipping, mostly on Popeye’s part, of course. Declaring he’s as couth as the average rowdy, or asking if Olive wants an edjamacated ignoramus. Basic jokes, sure, but good for the audience.

Something I was never sure about: was Brutus a legitimate professor here? In Learn Polikeness he’s running a scam and everybody but Olive Oyl sees through him, fine enough. Here? I mean, he’s got a building with the name carved above the entrance. That’s an enormous investment if he’s just trying to get some time with Olive Oyl. But we only ever see him with two pupils and one of them just signed up today.

And, like, what class was this? I guess maybe Brutus was giving some basic physics, or basic science, class, from his demonstrations of “the law of pressure”, the “law of elasticity”, and the “law of gravity”. I realize I’m the only person in the world wondering this, but what would Brutus have done with that toothpaste and anvil if Popeye hadn’t stuck around?

A shocked Popeye, wearing an academic cap, looking at the diploma he's unrolled to discover it's a Marriage License, showing Olive Oyl and Popeye readying to marry.
Oh, yeah, and then the punch line. Olive Oyl gives Popeye a certificate of his being an edjamacated ignoramus; it’s a marriage license with their pictures on it. This because if there’s one thing the kids in the audience know is funny, it’s how THE WIFE THEY SO BAD RIGHT.

But I say that reflects on one of the differences between these and the theatrical shorts. I grant the writer for Learn Polikeness didn’t put any thought into Bluto’s career as a teacher of manners. But you can imagine if Popeye hadn’t intruded that Bluto would have had a day that made sense. Here, if Popeye hadn’t given Olive Oyl a ride to class? So I’ll stand by my controversial declaration that this is a worse cartoon than the 1938 one it echoes.

As he’s punched out of the cartoon Brutus looks to the camera and asks, “What did I did wrong?”, in this silly French accent. It sounds like the closing line from one of the theatrical cartoons, where Bluto’s a French-Canadian lumberjack or something. I don’t know if it’s literally the same line or if Jackson Beck just recorded it in the same accent. There’s no reason to read the line like that, except for fun. The line’s also a bit mysterious unless Brutus has no self-awareness, but he is a cartoon.

I may be giving contrary directions here. I want the cartoon makers to have fun, and to throw stuff in just because it delights them. Why should I complain that “What did I did wrong?” doesn’t make sense? I should at least be consistent in my demands.

Distracted by, you know, That Cartoon


I’m sorry for running late but made me aware of the 1973 Rankin/Bass cartoon That Girl In Wonderland, made for the Saturday Superstar Movie. You know, for all the kids who loved the career-and-boyfriend shenanigans of That Girl but wanted a dose of Goldilocks and the Three Bears mixed in. And everyone voice-acting like they’re sad or tired. And there’s a weird side point about guitar lessons. And I’ve been watching it, trying to figure out whether this is actually happened or if I’m part of a hoax of no discernable purpose. Were there a lot of kids sitting up Saturday mornings hoping they’d get to see That Girl dealing with the petty nastiness of the switchboard operator? Were there many adults who enjoyed Ann Marie trying to establish her life in the city but wished it were a non-fanciful cartoon instead? Who were they expecting would watch?

Anyway, now that I have seen The Animated Adventures of That Girl, I’m finally open to trying out Mary Tyler Moore Show Babies.

If you want to watch, it’s up at Archive.org. It’s also up on YouTube. Just be warned that it is a cartoon based on That Girl. Also that the version Archive.org has is about 32 by 20 pixels. Also that the animation in the first scene of Marlo Thomas blinking is weirdly hypnotic. And, like, I meant to just watch two or three minutes to get the feel for the thing, but I kept going on a little more to see if I could figure out who the audience for this was supposed to be.

And, you know, I’m not a serious Thattie — or Thatster, as the stuffier fans insist on being called — but if Ann Marie and Donald Hollinger get along like this in the real show, they definitely weren’t ready to marry. For how much they refuse to listen to one another they probably shouldn’t even know the other exists.

60s Popeye: Popeye the Lifeguard, and the jealousy that inspires


Fleischer Studios did a cartoon in which Popeye and Bluto competed to be a lifeguard. Famous Studios did one in which that blond off-model Bluto was the lifeguard. Now, it’s Jack Kinney’s turn to do a cartoon in which Popeye’s the lifeguard. The story’s credited to Milt Schaffer and animation direction to Harvey Toombs. Here’s 1960’s Popeye the Lifeguard.

Jealousy drives a lot of Popeye cartoons. The generic plot has Popeye roused to eat his spinach because Bluto/Brutus is taking away Olive Oyl, often by force after charm’s worked inadequately. Here’s a rare cartoon where Olive Oyl gets to be jealous of Popeye. Popeye, the lifeguard, gets all this attention from more realistically-drawn women. She tries to get his attention back by having an accident. This is a good plan since lifeguards love the part of their job where they have to save people. It’s far better than days where nothing much happens. She then has a legitimate accident, knocking out the nozzle of an inflatable horse with a lot of air capacity. Popeye gives chase, and lassoos the horse, only to send Olive Oyl smashing through a whole boat.

Brutus finally enters. I’d been all ready to make notes about the strangeness of a jealousy-driven cartoon without Brutus. Ah well. They team up as beach buddies, which Olive figures will serve Popeye right. And this does get under Popeye’s skin. So the plan may be petty and all, but it’s successful and targeted well. Brutus and Olive Oyl go in a row boat; she paddles, the way women always do in these cartoons. That’s just everybody making the same joke, right? I don’t know how to be romantic myself, but I’d always assumed the practical thing was the guy would row. If nothing else because he’s usually the stronger so you could get where you were going the faster.

Lifeguard Popeye playing the ukulele. Surrounding him on the beach are several women with slightly too-wide and fixed grins with unblinking eyes.
I admit not really knowing what fun looks like, but do those women look like they’re having it? I feel like they’re hoping Popeye will set that ukulele down for one blessed minute of peace.

But Olive Oyl resists kissing Brutus, so he ties her to a post, as one will. Popeye gets into the action and there’s the fight you’d expect. Mostly expect, anyway: I was surprised Brutus came back after being knocked into the garbage heap that he came back to be knocked into the garbage heap again. I’d expect him to need to be punched only the one time, for these shorter and less violent cartoons. Or that if he needs to be punched again, that the second time is a really big hit that sends Brutus way out of action. To be punched into the same place twice makes me ask why he stopped then.

What strikes me about this is the cartoon seems almost ready to be a Paramount Cartoon Studios production. The setup is quite close to things they’d already done. The building of story beats, too, has the sort of steady pace and linearity I expect from Paramount. I expect a bit more loopiness from a Kinney cartoon. That’s not calling this bad or even disappointing. I’m just surprised it isn’t quirkier.

60s Popeye: Robot Popeye, because everybody gets a robot cartoon


Today’s is a 1961 Paramount Cartoon Studios cartoon. So you know that means the direction is by Seymour Kneitel. It’s also a story by Seymour Kneitel. That’s been a weird combination before. Here’s Robot Popeye.

I once asked whether every major cartoon character in the 60s built a robot. That in the Jack Kinney short where Popeye builds a robot. Popeye has also, in a Larry Harmon cartoon, fought against a robot. And, in a Gene Deitch cartoon, has had to face a robot duplicate Olive Oyl. It’s only ringing the changes to have a Paramount-made cartoon where Brutus builds a robot Popeye.

Brutus makes a mechanical man with a model of simple user interface design. The control offers the actions to stop – walk – run – sit; and there’s a dail for his voice. Robeye talks in a bit lower voice than Popeye does in, I guess, a cue to the audience. He’s using Robeye to mess up Popeye’s good name, much like he’d done with a simple marionette in 1944’s Puppet Love. Robeye meets the actual Popeye, sending Popeye into a fit of self-doubt we haven’t seen since 1939’s Hello, How Am I, when Wimpy impersonated Popeye. There have been a lot of duplicates and robots in Popeye, who, let’s not forget, is a rough-and-tumble sailor who likes a good fight. It’s surprising there haven’t been more Popeye robots before. The would do it again.

Brutus and Robeye’s first steps are pretty low-key ones. Confusing Popeye. Going to Roughhouse’s Diner to put Wimpy’s meal on his tab. Also, I guess Popeye has a charge account at the diner. It gets serious when Robeye shows up early for Popeye’s dinner with Olive Oyl and does the usual sorts of tricks. Calling her food poison. Yanking a chair out from under her. Throwing water in his face. You’d think Olive Oyl would recognize when she’s in another duplicates cartoon. But these patterns are always more obvious to outsiders.

Popeye meeting Robeye, a robot duplicate, walking the other way up the street. Robeye is drawn with more angular, straight lines all over, and bolts at his wrists and elbows and hips. Also importantly horizontally across the middle of his shirt is a straight line with bolts underneath the seam.
I recognize that bots and flat panels are important to indicating something’s a robot to the audience, and that they want things that fit over the stock footage well. But do you suppose Robeye’s lower shirt there is just a metal panel bolted to his torso or what?

Speaking of patterns. Once again Brutus sabotages his own successful scheme. Not, for once, by getting grabby at Olive Oyl. By showing Robeye off so Popeye understands what’s going on. It’s common enough that a villain’s hubris wrecks them. And the cartoon only has like five minutes of screen time for the whole plot, so you have to get to the climax somehow. Here, Popeye grabs the remote control and switches it to ‘Get Brutus’. I hate to cut a Roughhouse appearance but Brutus fighting Popeye for the control could have used the time better.

And we close with Olive Oyl recognizing she should have known. Popeye explaining Brutus “wanted to quiz me with you”, a use of the word quiz I did not know was out there. And Robeye eating the cans of spinach. All fair enough, the sort of competent if unexceptional cartoon you expect from Paramount.

I bet Brutus is so embarrassed he put a “Get Brutus” option on the control.

60s Popeye: Timber Toppers, another lumberjack cartoon


We’re back at Jack Kinney studios for today’s 1960 Popeye cartoon. This one’s got Noel Tucker credited for the story. We’ve seen his name before, for Popeye Revere and for Popeye and the Giant. The animation direction’s credited to Osmond Evans, of Popeye’s Picnic and Popeye the Fireman. Here’s Timber Toppers.

The four cartoons I mentioned, in which Noel Tucker or Osmond Evans did stuff, were all weird ones. Stories that more riffed around an idea, or that turned dreamlike in the flow of events. This continues that tradition. The premise is that Popeye’s a lumberjack, something done in like 84 cartoons in the Fleischer or Famous Studios runs. He seems to be in it for himself, or at least to show off for Olive Oyl. Brutus comes in stealing the trees Popeye fells. And then they get into fighting. Less fighting than you’d figure, since Popeye spends about three hours of the cartoon stuffed into a hollow log, with Olive Oyl tied to the outside. Brutus gets stuck too. Once that’s sorted, he ties Popeye and Olive Oyl to a log moving into a circular saw and we get the ending you’d expect. Apart from the reference to nose cones, because 1960 was a good time to fit rocket stuff into your story.

Brutus, this short, doesn’t seem to know Popeye, possibly because Popeye’s out of his sailor suit. That’s all right. Popeye seems unable to see Brutus pulling the log that he’s clinging to, possibly because Brutus is out of camera frame. I’ve joked that cartoons which get the characters in non-standard clothing have to cut costs somewhere. I’m not sure it’s a joke. I haven’t added up all the time this five-and-a-half-minute cartoon spends just showing stock footage of Brutus laughing, but I believe it’s over eighteen minutes. Also we see a lot of that one shot of Popeye chopping down a tree, although at least it’s mirrored some to look different. Same with the trees falling.

There’s a lot of small, strange moments. I like small, strange moments, generally. Popeye looking for a missing tree underneath a leaf, for example. Or just how long Popeye walks around stuck in the tree log. I understand Brutus laughing at this. The freed Olive Oyl, at the end, saying how the saw almost ruined her coiffure. Popeye pointing to the bump he somewhere got on his head saying he almost wrecked his.

Brutus and Popeye stuck to opposite sides of a long hollow log. Olive Oyl's tied around the midsection. Brutus is standing up, swinging the log around his body. It's already knocked down one tree, although an animation error had them forget to include the just-knocked-down tree trunk. The Brutus-log-Olive-Oyl-Popeye contraption is swinging into the camera so it's a bit more three-dimensional than necessary.
You’d think this is an inefficient way of cutting down trees but notice they cut that rightmost tree down so well it won’t even appear for another quarter-second after this shot.

There is also a lot of this cartoon where I can’t tell you just what happened. (Other parts where I could only barely make it out; it was my fourth watching, I think, when I finally saw just how Popeye got unstuck from the log.) Like, when they first fight, Brutus punches a tree. Then he’s far enough away to throw a boulder at Popeye. How did Brutus get there? It doesn’t much matter; we can imagine his escaping Popeye’s counter-punch and getting to the rock. But I’m confident that if this were a fully-animated short, we’d see that on-screen. Part of what makes limited-animation work is moving complex actions off-camera. They happen either physically out of frame, or temporally, happening during a cut between reactions. Telling those moments in the story becomes the viewer’s job, not the creator’s.

That’s not all bad. For one, it does engage the viewer, whose narrative sense now has to explain how these things happened. I wonder if part of the appeal of limited-animation shows is how kids are encouraged to fill in parts but still enjoy the whole cartoon. And whatever someone interpolates will be satisfying, at least. Certainly well-timed.

Did Noel Tucker have an idea how Brutus got off to the boulder? My guess is no, just because that would demand fleshing out the story more than was needed to make the cartoon. It’s enough to have the major points. I’m curious whether the Kinney studio writers were encouraged to set out big points and let exact details slide. It would explain the dreamlike nature of so many of their shorts, where we go from one scenario to another without a clear transition.

When he has Popeye and Olive Oyl in front of the circular saw, Brutus recites “Two for the show … and off we go!” What happened to one-for-the-money and three-to-get-ready? Of many weird moments this short, this is one of them.

60s Popeye: Motor Knocks, where Popeye loses his car inside a covered bridge


Here’s a 1960 Paramount Cartoon Studios short. As usual the director is Seymour Kneitel. The story’s credited to Al Pross, a name I don’t see mentioned before. Pross is credited as an animator for nine shorts, but has story credits only for this and for a 1963 short called Harry Happy. And a quick warning before getting seriously intoMotor Knocks. Popeye’s rhyming couplet at the end includes a verb derived from a slur against Romani people.

Is Brutus a songwriter? This cartoon, I mean; I embrace how his background is whatever the premise of a short needs. But he presents himself as a service station owner whose real ambition is songwriting. He reels off funny bad titles to an impressed Olive Oyl. Is it all a line to impress her, or is this a bit more personality than Brutus needs for the cartoon?

Steve Bierly, author of a delightful Popeye fan page, wrote a book extolling the Famous Studios cartoons. He includes some mentions of the Paramount-produced King Features Syndicate cartoons, this one among them. It’s a nice change to be in dialogue with another critic. One of Bierly’s themes — writing about this cartoon and others — is how often Famous/Paramount cartoons have Olive Oyl be genuinely interested in Bluto/Brutus. She’s at least listening to his flirting here. She stands up for Brutus when Popeye’s ready to slug him. When Brutus is towing the car, she accepts the logic that it’s safer for her to ride in the tow truck cab while Popeye rides in the car.

I’m not sure how to evaluate that, though. I suspect Olive Oyl’s just impressed, as many of us are, with people who know how to Do Things. And Brutus does present himself as knowing how to Do Things, at least with cars. Could be anyone … except that Brutus/Bluto ends up being the guy who (seems to) know how to Do Things a lot. Some of that because if anything’s going to come between Olive Oyl and Popeye, well, who else you cast? Wimpy? (Watch this space.)

Olive Oyl, in the car, sits with her eyes fluttering and her hands held up together to her chin, dainty and flattered by the attention. Brutus is leaning way over the door of the car and smiling while talking to her.
So, gas station mechanic who plays guitar and composes silly songs that woo the ladies … if this short were made three years later I’d say it was starting to spoof Elvis Movies. How is Brutus somehow anticipating a Generic Elvis Movie role?

Bierly also points out this is one where Popeye is, first, doing something with Olive Oyl and, second, jealous of Brutus’s attention on her. Often Popeye seems barely interested in her and doesn’t notice the wooing until Olive Oyl tells him off. Plot requirements — that Popeye has to wait until he’s all he can stands before swallowing his spinach — tend to make Popeye look passive. That’s avoided, but at the cost of making him look more like a patsy. But he can’t be blamed for taking Olive Oyl’s advice to pretend Brutus’s shenanigans were an accident, for example. Or respecting her desire to ride in the tow truck cabin.

Much of this cartoon is what you’d expect from Paramount. The story’s all reasonable, reasonably constructed throughout. The animation’s all smooth and steady enough. There seem to be more jokes than usual, or at least they land better. There’s even sign jokes too, like Brutus’s garage offering “expert windshield wiping”. Brutus’s song titles, whether or not Brutus means them in earnest. Or Brutus claiming he ran across the stranded motorists while he was “just going mushroom-picking”. Also, wow, gas was a dollar a gallon back when this cartoon was made in 1960. Imagine that!

Bierly’s book, by the way, is Stronger Than Spinach: The Secret Appeal of the Famous Studios Popeye. Much of it overlaps Bierly’s web site, but they are different creatures. And I do quite like Bierly’s web site and its enthusiastic writing.

60s Popeye: Who’s Kidding Zoo, a title that needs some baby goats to really land


Who’s Kidding Zoo is a 1961 Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced short. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer, and the direction to Seymour Kneitel. This is not the same credit given to every Paramount Popeye cartoon of the era. It just feels like it.

This is an example of a particular stock Popeye cartoon plot: Popeye and Bluto/Brutus battle each other for the chance to work for Olive Oyl. It’s a solid story. I’m surprised they had never competed for a job at the zoo before. You’d expect the setting to offer a lot of chances for good animal jokes. They’d done cartoons at the zoo before, like 1944’s Pitchin’ Woo at the Zoo, where Bluto was the zookeeper. He doesn’t bring up the experience here. I suppose it’s important to mention how annoying society makes changing one’s name.

The cartoon follows the structure well. Popeye and Brutus are hanging out at the zoo. They overhear zookeeper Olive Oyl phoning in an advertisement for an assistant. Mae Questel performs Olive Oyl with this odd tone, a more formal voice than usual. I’m not sure why. I suppose to underscore how in this cartoon she’s unfamiliar with Popeye and Brutus. Or that she’s in a high-class position at the zoo. She sets the two competing, here, to see who can cheer up Gloomy the hyena by telling one joke each. I suppose it’s important to mention that back then credentials weren’t as important a thing as they are now.

Since he lost the job, Brutus switches to sabotage, volunteering to help Popeye carry water to elephants. Brutus pours in weight reducer, which deflates Hannibal, Olive Oyl’s “best elephant”. Popeye blows into Hannibal’s trunk, inflating him to “better than before”. I suppose it’s important to mention that back then zoos had no idea how to keep elephants healthy. (It turns out it’s by not putting elephants in zoos. I’m sorry but it’s so.)

The next attempted sabotage is putting springs on a baby kangaroo’s feet, so he can’t help jumping into a lion’s mouth. Popeye rescues him and Olive Oyl is impressed that Popeye doesn’t want baby kangaroos to jump into lion mouths. So we can make inferences about why the last assistant zookeeper left.

Popeye looks startled that the kangaroo joey he's brought a carrot to is hopping off, past him, thanks to springs stuck to the joey's feet. The mother kangaroo stands over all this, looking asleep.
Why the surprised look, Popeye? Everyone knows a kangaroo’s favorite food is … uh … carrots … I guess?

With sabotage not working Brutus turns to costumes. He puts on one of those gorilla costumes that looks like a perfect gorilla to a we-have-assumed-trained zookeeper. He uses it to abduct Olive Oyl and knock out Popeye. The costume works until Brutus nods. Hannibal remembers Brutus’s part in the weight-reducer thing. And somehow intuits that Popeye needs spinach. A quick punch and Brutus, in costume, is put in a cage as the Half-Man Half-Ape, “Only One In Captivity”. This is a funny scene when you’re a white guy who doesn’t know about the history of zoos putting people on exhibit.

The story, particularly, hangs together well. Brutus shrinks the elephant; the elephant remembers this and acts to foil Brutus. Brutus’s kangaroo stunt lets Popeye impress Olive Oyl. Upset that they’re going to lunch, Brutus pretends to be an animal. I understand if the cartoon doesn’t work for you. It’s Paramount, so everything’s paced a little slow (although that likely helps kids understand and anticipate what’s going on). Exactly one thing moves at a time, although it moves smoothly. (I exaggerate, but not much.) But it’s a well-crafted cartoon, throughout. The viewer’s not stuck wondering what something is supposed to mean, or why it’s in there. It’s comfortable and easy to watch.

60s Popeye: Bird Watcher Popeye, for Popeye watchers


Jack Kinney produced today’s short. It’s from 1960 and has a story by Ed Nofziger. Animation direction’s credited to Harvey Toombs. Here’s Bird Watcher Popeye.

It seems like earlier this week I was writing something about the good Popeye cartoons being more about mood than story. Here’s one that’s all mood — all little scenes, really. Maybe you can call what it has a story, but it’s trying to not be one. What it most feels like it’s trying to do is sit on my head. Or it’s trying to be a dream. I know I call on this metaphor a lot. Let me make the case for the dream logic.

Popeye’s pushed into Olive Oyl’s obsession du jour, bird watching. The bird in Olive Oyl’s backyard bites Popeye’s face. So they go to the zoo. At the zoo there’s a penguin who looks like Popeye that punches a penguin that looks like Brutus. There’s a parrot singing the Popeye the Sailor Man song. So a disgusted Olive Oyl sends Popeye into the woods, watching him by telescope. There, Popeye’s punched by a hummingbird who’s also singing the Popeye the Sailor Man tune. And then he’s punched by an owl. Brutus, who’s got a nest on top a chimney, sends a vulture — the Sea Hag’s Bernard, perhaps? — to kidnap Olive Oyl. Popeye spots this, spinach, punching, there we go. We close with Olive Oyl talking how she doesn’t want Popeye to change. Meanwhile the weird “Popeye, You’ve Done It Again” music from that baffling Popeye’s Testimonial Dinner plays. And so, evoking the Beatnik cartoon (Coffee House), Popeye says, “Like, I am what I am”.

Two penguins, with builds and stances which evoke Brutus and Popeye. The Popeye penguin is rolling his arm up, about to slug the Brutus penguin.
Ooh. I like this alternate-universe take.

So which sentence in that previous paragraph could you not reasonably append “for some reason” to? I don’t mind a flimsy story. These are characters I like and I’m happy to see them hang out and do silly stuff. But if Popeye can’t watch birds at the zoo successfully why send him off in the woods on his own? Whether the cartoon works likely depends on how well you tolerate characters doing things without a clear motive.

There’s some fun stuff here. I like the Popeye-and-Brutus penguins. The parrot is a good bit too. Popeye has a bunch of great facial expressions, too. Irritation at the start, as that bird swoops at him. Abashedness when Olive Oyl scolds him. General grouchy looks all around. A laughing cycle where his head is kept still and his body shakes up and down, which does a good job making it look like richer movement.

But, boy, if you are not exactly on this cartoon’s wavelength it’s a disaster to you.

60s Popeye: Spinach Shortage and so is Brutus just a food tycoon this cartoon?


We have many things to thank Jack Kinney for, this cartoon. One is producing and directing it. Another is the story. Animation direction’s credited to Alan Zaslove, though. Here’s the 1960 short Spinach Shortage.

Ask someone to describe a Popeye cartoon and they’ll give you a plot-driven summary. Popeye and Olive are doing something, Bluto/Brutus horns in, Popeye eats his spinach, beats up the bad guy. But ask what makes a Popeye cartoon interesting, especially the black-and-white ones. You get a response more useful to making lasting cartoons: it’s the mood. Popeye facing a silly or perilous situation and muttering silly comments. If you want a good Popeye cartoon, get a premise and a couple solid scenes riffing on it.

Spinach Shortage isn’t quite there. It’s got a good premise. Bluto/Brutus has tried to deny Popeye spinach before (see the inspired How Green Is My Spinach) but the idea is sound. And it takes a different angle here: Brutus has cornered the world spinach market and just won’t sell to … well, there’s a mystery.

Is this cartoon’s Brutus trying to get Popeye? Or just to get rich? He spends a lot more time chuckling about the rise of spinach prices than about what this is doing to Popeye. At one point he says how spinach has gone up to 10.25 per ton, and later to 50 per ton. That seems low, even for 60-year-old prices. But what do I know the price-per-ton of spinach? This brought me to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service report on spinach commodity pricing. This brought me to learn I don’t know how to read a USDA Agricultural Marketing Service report on spinach commodity pricing. I can see where most every market is “steady” or “about steady”, which seems nice. Another site says that in 2014 spinach for canning was about $68 per ton, so I guess Brutus’s quotations were in line.

Sign reading 'SOLD OUT!'
Yeah, I remember when spinach was something you ate for the music. Now? It’s all about affecting a consumerist pose. Total sellouts.

Back on point, though. The cartoon has this dreamlike flow to it. Popeye stocked up his spinach supply last week. It evaporates as he walks over to it. Popeye searches and finds nothing but store signs about there being no spinach. Popeye tries to break in to Brutus’s warehouses. The scenes feel like when Speedy Gonzales is trying to break into the cheese factory past Sylvester or Daffy Duck. Except the plot demands Popeye fail in ways Speedy can’t. Popeye tries riding a balloon into the warehouse, and falls into the sewer, to climb into the warehouse, and find he can’t pry open a box. It’s almost a nightmare logic of obstacles temporarily overcome and then renewed.

Reel out the events and I guess there’s a thread of action that makes sense. The cartoon’s most interesting, though, when it’s being strange. Popeye’s spinach stock disappearing. The progression of signs telling Popeye there’s no spinach. Good, strong, weird scenes.

So why don’t I call this is a good cartoon? I’m not sure. I’m near to reasoning myself into calling this good. But then I have to explain why I more enjoyed writing about it than watching it. I notice the strongest scenes are all front-loaded. Popeye trying to break into the spinach warehouse is a bit pathetic for one of the first generation of superheros. There’s some nice silliness in the ways Popeye tries to break in, like trying a fishing pole to snag a can, or riding a balloon. But they’re also mundane, at least for a cartoon world. Too plot-driven a way to break in, and to have the attempts fail.

Heap of spinach spilled over a box. Sitting up is a silhouette of Popeye in spinach; just his pipe is clear and not covered in the leafy green vegetables.
So if this cartoon’s Brutus doesn’t know who Popeye is, then he just went and tried to kill a guy who was just trespassing. If this cartoon’s Brutus does know who Popeye is, then he just went and dropped a heap of spinach on him. I don’t insist that characters never take actions against their own interests but it seems like Brutus should have thought through what he wanted to accomplish a bit more.

The cartoon ends with Popeye punching Brutus into an Eat More Spinach billboard. There’s no hint that Brutus’s corner of the spinach market will end, or that spinach supplies will return to normal. This isn’t the first cartoon to not bother establishing the status quo will return. And goodness knows we don’t need reassurance that in the future Popeye will eat spinach. It does feel like an unresolved chord, though. I can defend this. We don’t need the central premise of a nightmare resolved to finish the nightmare. It could be the cartoon needs to lean more into the nightmare feeling.

60s Popeye: The Baby Contest (nb, ‘contest’ is a noun here, not a verb)


I had thought that all these Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced shorts were from 1961 anymore. Nope. This is a 1960 production. So as much as I did not understand how King Features’s YouTube page was bundling these shorts together, I now understand them even less. Or I don’t understand them more. Whichever. As usual for a Paramount-made cartoon, Seymour Kneitel’s listed as director. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Now to think something about The Baby Contest.

I have no idea where Brutus got this kid, either.

The title promises, and the cartoon gets around to, a string of contest jokes. A bunch of small stunts, the bad guy cheating to win all or most all of them, and then the good guy pulling out a last-second win. Here, the bad guy is Bully Boy, I guess. I think we only hear his name from the egg-rolling-race announcer. Also they have an egg-rolling-race announcer. Of course it’s Jackson Beck, who did this sort of narrator-type work for every old-time-radio show ever. It might confuse the casual viewer that Brutus is narrating the race. I don’t remember ever finding this confusing when I was a kid, though.

It takes its sweet time getting there, though. We don’t even get to the contest until two minutes in, and it’s another half-minute before the events start. The start of the cartoon’s filled instead with Swee’Pea moping. Olive Oyl and Popeye try to lift his spirits and that’s a reliable cartoon premise in itself.

Swee'Pea sits up in the living room, looking sad. Olive Oyl and Popeye watch; Popeye is pointing to Swee'Pea and in the midst of saying something.
“Ahoy, Swee’Pea! I knows ya is feelin’ the aliennagration of the atomiskized mod’rn sock-siety likes that, and ya has gots ta find yer own ways ta handle the crushing weights of existentikalistical dread an’ all, but I hopes ya will cornsider what’s almost allus worked fer me: polka!”

Wimpy introduces the contest as a best-two-of-three affair. The contest organizers are lucky only two babies entered. There’s three activities: a potato-sack race, an egg-rolling contest, and a crawling contest. The egg-rolling contest and the crawling contest look suspiciously similar. I’m surprised they didn’t swap the egg-rolling and the potato-sack race so the reused animation would be less obvious. I’m surprised they couldn’t think of a fourth and fifth event, but maybe the trouble is thinking of ones that would not need much new footage. I also wonder if only having the three events is why they spent so much time establishing Swee’Pea’s unhappiness.

We get the expected cheating on Brutus’s part (Bully Boy seems completely innocent) and counter-cheating on Popeye’s. At least in the potato-sack race. In the crawl, we see Popeye notice that Brutus is using a lollipop on a fishing rod to lure Swee’Pea away. It’s Bully Boy that Brutus brings in, though. The implication is that Popeye did something, but what? And when?

After losing, Brutus offers Wimpy a huge plate of hamburgers for the trophy. His plan fails, maybe because he tries in the open after all the contests have been judged. I mean, Wimpy is a supremely bribable judge. Two burgers before the start of the match and it wouldn’t even matter what the contest was. Also, Brutus is unaware that you can just buy trophies. Seriously. They’re cheaper than you’d think.

In this cartoon, Popeye does not eat spinach, but Swee’Pea does. Swee’Pea also gives a rhyming couplet to close things off.

60s Popeye: Oil’s Well That Ends Well, and how is that not Oyl’s Well?


We’re back on Paramount Cartoon Studios territory here. Oil’s Well That Ends Well, from 1961, is credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer for the story and Seymour Kneitel for direction.

My favorite old-time-radio podcast last week ran an episode of The Saint, starring the beloved Vincent Price as Leslie Charteris’s beloved-I’m-told rogue adventurer. It was some stuff about a silver mine that the assayer was very clear was worthless. Well, turns out, it’s worthless if you don’t count the cinnabar (mercury) deposits. Was the assayer in on the scheme? Or was he somehow unaware that cinnabar was a thing also mined? The plot’s wrapping-up here’s-why-stuff-happened scene never explained.

So this is a cartoon about Brutus selling Olive Oyl a fake oil well. Except the punch line is that it’s a gusher. Brutus told us the viewers that the oil field had been dry for fifty years. That seems like a big mistake for whoever owned the field to make. This can all probably be rationalized but it says something that I’m wondering about it. What it says is there were reasons they treated me like that in middle school. These are not reasonable responses to the cartoon.

The story’s all reasonable enough. Olive Oyl wins $10,000 on the Get Rich Quick show. Brutus, watching at home, needs a good honest swindle to get that money. This cartoon it feels like Brutus doesn’t know Olive Oyl, but then why does he bother shaving to put on the persona of Sumner J Farnsworth? But if he does know Olive Oyl why is there never a moment of shocked recognition? Well, there’s a nice joke where Brutus discards the shell game as “not too good” and armed robbery as “too dishonest”. He settles on oil stocks which he thought were worthless. Which leaves another nagging thought for me: did Brutus legitimately own the oil field? Or did he buy worthless stocks from someone else? Or did he just figure the time he’d spent making fake oil stocks was wasted but never got around to throwing them out?

At an oil field, an angry Popeye holds up a barrel labelled 'OIL' and the hand pump squeezing oil out of it. Olive Oyl looks shocked and horrified by this.
Well of course she’s offended. The barrel should read OYL, or at least OYL OIL.

Brutus rigs up some oil to spurt on command; salting mines is a respectable enough way to pull off this kind of scam. But Olive Oyl also says she can go pick out any oil well she wants. How’d she pick the right one? This isn’t a plot hole, though; it’s reasonable to suppose Brutus is nudging her to the one he’d prepared. Forcing (in the stage magician’s sense) a choice is a skill of the con artist. I’m intrigued that this is something that would be taken without question, by a naive enough viewer. Then doubted as implausibly by a more skeptical viewer. And then accepted as self-explanatory by a sophisticated enough viewer. There’s some lesson about how people engage with their stories in there.

Brutus runs his car over Popeye, twice. It’s a startling moment and I can’t say why. Maybe it lacks the absurdity of most Popeye-versus-Brutus violence.

After Popeye punches Brutus into the oil well it starts gushing again. Assuming Olive Oyl’s title is good and the oil doesn’t run out in ten minutes that’s great for her. She showers Popeye with a flurry of kisses drawn from the 1954 Fright to the Finish. Why have stock footage if you’re not using it?

While pitching Olive Oyl on the oil well Brutus talks about doubling, tripling, even quadripling he “mazuma”, a reminder of the 20th century’s many odd slang terms for money. Which comes back around to Jackson Beck, voice of Bluto/Brutus/etc. When the voice actor’s friend Alfred Bester wrote The Demolished Man he named one of the cops Jackson Beck. Part of the typographical chic of the novel was using, for example @ as shorthand for ‘at’, so ‘Sam Atkins’ was rendered as ‘Sam @kins’. When the story first appeared, Bester tried writing the name as $$son Beck, trusting that readers would connect $$ to “money” to “jack”. They did not. The spelling of Jackson was normalized in subsequent editions.

60s Popeye: Going … Boing … Gone, all right, but what’s the boing?


Today’s is a King Features Popeye cartoon that makes us ask whether people said the word “boing” wrong in 1961. Maybe it was an in-joke at Paramount Cartoon Studios. So here’s Going … Boing … Gone, a story by Joseph Gottlieb and directed by Seymour Kneitel.

Here we have another Popeye cartoon that barely feels like a Popeye cartoon. Not just that the focus starts, and really stays, on Wimpy-versus-Brutus. Or that nobody eats spinach, Popeye included. Or that Popeye doesn’t even come into the picture before it’s one-third through. Many good Popeye cartoons have run that way.

But, like, Popeye is in the cartoon only as an agent of chaos, encouraging Wimpy in his mischief. Popeye isn’t usually one to encourage other people to fight, though, preferring to get into a good fight himself. I can’t say it’s exactly out of character, but it is a side we rarely see in the cartoons. It fits less awkwardly into the comic strip, I think. That Roughhouse appears does make me wonder if the premise is drawn from the comic strip. The characters had broader personalities there, where stories could ramble for months before coming to the first ending anyone thought of.

We start off with Wimpy spotting Brutus, who’s unusually well-dressed this cartoon. Wimpy asks Brutus for a dollar, which inspires the sort of unending rage normally reserved for Twitter feuds. Like, OK, Brutus chases Wimpy into a store, OK. But then some indeterminate time later Brutus is still roaming around, angry about this? Why? Does Brutus have nothing else to do?

A smiling Brutus, wearing a suit and hat and smoking a cigar, giving Wimpy a crushingly tight one-armed hug, that's swept Brutus's body three-quarters through Wimpy's body and caused Wimpy's face to billow up like a balloon squeezed to the brink of bursting.
Sincere talk that’s going to sound sarcastic: so they keep talking about doing a computer-animated Popeye movie. I’m sure it’ll be hideous. You know why? Because not one of the CGI animators would ever have the courage to have one character squish another the way Brutus is squishing Wimpy’s body here. I’m serious. As a still frame, the anatomical impossibility is horrible. In animation? (You can see it around 12:35 in the video.) It communicates how powerful Brutus is even when he’s being amiable. They wouldn’t have the guts to do something like this in a CGI movie.

Wimpy’s undetectable because he found some vanishing cream. You never see vanishing cream cartoons anymore, and yeah, I know that’s how they’re supposed to work. Still, for a quick way to do invisibility plots you’d think they’d stick around. I know you might protest, who even sells vanishing cream anymore? Yeah, well, vanishing cream’s sales flopped from about the 1930s onward. They sell foundation makeup instead. We’re in a lot of trouble if we start insisting on cartoons and comic strips that reflect the world of more recently than 80 years ago.

And Wimpy needs Popeye’s advice on how to turn this to his advantage. This because Wimpy is notoriously bad at scheming while Popeye … you see what I mean? It’s not that I can’t fit this all with the characters. but everybody feels a little bit weird.

Really there’s no need for Popeye to be in this cartoon except that he’s Popeye, after all. But, you know, Wimpy’s a great character, the only Thimble Theater cast member to have seriously risked taking over the comic from Popeye. I’m curious if we could have had a couple stories that just followed him around his low-level food-based grifting. And I wonder if this story started out as a generic story with the Thimble Theater cast put in, or whether it was meant as a Wimpy cartoon that they had to make carry Popeye.

I have no idea why “Boing” is in the title of this cartoon.

60s Popeye: Forever Ambergris (it’s actually less than three minutes of ambergris)


Jack Kinney’s back in the producer’s chair for today’s 60s Popeye short. Eddie Rehberg is listed as director; the story’s credited to Ralph Wright. Here’s the 1960 short Forever Ambergris.

The title alludes to Forever Amber, Kathleen Winsor’s 1944 novel which sold 480 kajillion copies and inspired a 1947 movie. The cartoon somehow has nothing to do with the novel’s plot of a woman who seduces or marries her way into post-Restoration English royal society.

What we do have struggles to be one of the Popeye-tells-Swee’Pea-a-story cartoons. It takes almost forever to get there, though. At least a minute and a half, in a cartoon with a five-minute run time, not counting credits. Olive Oyl’s going out, and wants a babysitter. Popeye tries to flee, calling babysitting not-manly. It’s a bad look for him. Yes, I know he’s expressed similar attitudes, like once finding Olive Oyl’s dog too sissy for him to walk. It was a bad look for him then, too. I guess it’s needed-for-plot, so that Olive Oyl can use her perfume to make Popeye babysit. And then so Popeye has a reason to talk about ambergris, which goes into perfumes. But did we need to justify Popeye watching over Swee’Pea? If he’d just announced he was going to tell a story about finding some ambergris, would it have jarred too much?

But time spent getting to Popeye’s story is time they don’t have to spend on Popeye’s story. Which may be needed; there’s not much to it. While at sea Popeye spots some ambergris and he, Brutus, and Wimpy collect it. And then put it in a treasure chest. And lock the treasure chest. And guard the treasure chest. This allows for a pleasant pattern of Brutus declaring, say, he’s going to lock the treasure chest, and Popeye declaring “me too” and Wimpy “I also”. The many repetitions give it an appeal this action wouldn’t otherwise support.

Three people coming across an unexpected treasure makes me think of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Or at least the many spoofs I’ve seen rather than the actual Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The cartoon doesn’t go for this, though. So why is Wimpy in this cartoon? He’d have been great in a Sierra Madre scenario descent into paranoia. He naturally plays people against one another; that could feed a real story. Instead he seems to be an unneeded buffer between Popeye and Brutus, who swipes the treasure when the ship crashes somehow into Paris.

Popeye standing, but his head is lowered in weariness, and his body is drawn all jaggedy, as though he had been crumpled up and quickly straightened out again.
2021 is treating us all just great!

Brutus carries it up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Popeye follows and punches the treasure chest, which falls into a cement mixer. “And ever since, that street in Paris has been forever ambergris”, Popeye explains, an ending that makes Swee’Pea mad. I’d thought that was fair — Popeye’s story feels like a shaggy-dog story with a punch line not related to the setup. But, on review, Popeye did claim only to be telling the story of the time he found some ambergris. So it is a shaggy-dog story but at least it was about the dog he promised. Olive Oyl gets home as Swee’Pea’s crying, and won’t hear any excuses, so she crashes a jar over Popeye’s head. It’s not a good look for her, either.

The cartoon frustrates me. I’m not satisfied with it. But I also can’t point to anything it’s doing wrong. Like, Wimpy doesn’t have a reason to be there. But he doesn’t have a reason to be in Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor either, and that’s not a problem there. Popeye’s ambergris find comes to nothing, but what did I expect it to? Him finding something that would make him rich forever would break the loosely-defined basic setup of Popeye. Him finding enough to buy a new car (or something) is maybe plausible but too boring to make a story. He has to end up getting nothing, or near-nothing, out of it. That nothing being a great-smelling sidewalk in Paris satisfies that. But it feels like something I acknowledge is funny in principle without laughing at. (I concede a lot of my own humor-writing is stuff that is only funny in principle.)

I think Olive Oyl smashing her perfume jar on Popeye’s head was a bad ending.

60s Popeye: The Cure (not musical)


I’m back on cartoon-watching. Today’s is a 1961 short produced by Paramount Cartoon Studios. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. The direction, as usual, is Seymour Kneitel. Ladies and gentlemen, The Cure.

There is a lot of story this cartoon. The broad sweep of it more or less makes sense. Popeye shames Wimpy into doing something about his hamburger addiction. The Sea Hag, who’s running a hamburger diner supported entirely by Wimpy, tries to get him back on burgers. Popeye tries to foil the Sea Hag’s scheme, but ultimately, Wimpy is going to eat hamburgers.

Having a character resolve to reform their disreputable side is a solid premise. I’m surprised I can’t think of Wimpy swearing off hamburgers before. (I also can’t think of one where Wimpy swears off scamming people, but that’s less seen in the cartoons.) He gets ensconced in Hamburgers Anonymous, which makes it sound like the cartoon’s going to be a spoof of Alcoholics Anonymous. It doesn’t. Maybe they were afraid of too closely imitating the Sylvester the Cat cartoon Birds Anonymous. On the other hand, Birds Anonymous won 20% of all the Merrie Melodies/Looney Toons’s Academy Awards. And who’s not going to imitate really successful work? Instead Hamburgers Anonymous looks like your basic sanitarium. Maybe they couldn’t think of anyone to cast as a hamburger-free buddy for Wimpy?

Still, as it is, there are a bunch of threads and I do like that the cartoon tries telling this complicated a story. It’s a good example of how a Popeye cartoon doesn’t have to be Popeye and Bluto punching each other until Popeye eats his spinach. I don’t see evidence that this was a condensed version of a story from the comic strip (or comic books), but wouldn’t be surprised if it were.

Wimpy standing wide-eyed, entranced by the aroma of grilled hamburgers nearby.
Hey, I didn’t know Popeye was being drawn by Off the Mark cartoonist Mark Parisi these days! Good for him! Good for him! (I’m joking based on the eyes. There’s a lot of wide eyes this cartoon.)

In its details, the cartoon doesn’t quite make sense. Some of this is just demanded by the plot. J Wellington Wimpy, a man whose life is defined by running low-level grifts on his friends, can’t think of a reason he told Popeye he hadn’t seen the quarter that fell in his hat? Forgivable; Wimpy has to get to where he swears off burgers, and there’s only so much screen time. Sea Hag needs to get Wimpy eating burgers again, so she sneaks one into the sanitarium. OK. She asks Popeye, who recognizes her, where to find Wimpy, because? I understand Popeye can’t foil the Sea Hag if he doesn’t know she’s in the cartoon. I suppose they couldn’t think of a more elegant way in.

Sea Hag comes around to kidnapping Wimpy, and demanding he sign over his life insurance to her. I have no idea where this comes from. If the story was condensed from the comic strip then I can at least explain it as a remnant of a lost subplot. I understand the desire to have some menacing climax. And that sometimes deadline comes before you can fix the piece’s problems and you have to go with what you have and hope it’s okay. I suppose it was. I felt satisfied on the first watching, and don’t feel the plot holes are bad enough to spoil the show.

The Sea Hag’s vulture — Bernard, in the comic strip — gets a fresh appearance, here as the “first airborne Saint Bernard”. She also has one of the Goons in, for a quick and fun little bit. That stock footage of her in a quarter-profile waving her right hand reappears, this time behind her restaurant’s glass window. There’s also a pretty nice shot of Popeye in three-quarters profile, scolding Wimpy, at the diner. Paramount Cartoon Studios always shows some polish and technique.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Cool Pool (extended edition)


Jack Kinney Studios gives us today’s cartoon. Rudy Larriva directs it. And the story is, of course … from Ed Nofziger. I know, I was expecting more Jack Kinney stuff about skin diving. Life is complicated even in 2021. Here’s a taste of more than just 1960 in Popeye’s Cool Pool.

Short cartoons, like short stories, are usually about a single incident. One consequence is short cartoons usually depict a short while. Often under an hour, or something that feels like it. Popeye’s Cool Pool sticks to that single-incident vibe, but at its best moment opens that way out: the cartoon depicts the span of things over a whole year. It’s a pleasant cartoon outside that. But stretching it to a year adds a happy preposterousness to the story. It might also make this the Popeye cartoon that depicts the longest sequence of events. At least unless we get quarrelsome about how the span of a flashback cartoon, or one of those time-travel adventures Professor Wotasnozzle sends Popeye on.

We open on Popeye reading Popeye Mechanics, which we saw last year advising Popeye on how to build a robot. It claims it’s easy to build a pool. He says it’s too hot to build a pool. Olive Oyl, Swee’Pea, and Brutus nag him into building a pool and he gives in. He offends Brutus by taking his own tools back. And, more, by telling Brutus he won’t be invited in, which gives Brutus motivation to steal the pool. Which is a great absurd thing for Brutus to declare, too.

Then on to a year of Popeye digging, by hand. It’s an interesting choice that the scenes of changing seasons aren’t all identical. They’re all built around Olive Oyl asking if the pool is ready and Brutus calling him a slowpoke, and getting a shovel of dirt in the face. But, like, Olive Oyl doesn’t ask if the pool’s ready in every season. This isn’t wrong. It’s only my imagination that expects these beats to be repeated word-for-word. I’m interested in why they chose to do this. Other than that it makes it slightly more realistic that Olive Oyl might not ask about the pool every day.

Brutus slides the fence over to claim half the pool, which is the most realistic way to steal a pool possible. Swee’Pea complains that what’s left is “just a bathtub”. I mention because I spent long enough trying to figure out the line and you should benefit from my work. We finally get enough of a fight that Popeye eats his spinach and slides the pool out from under the fence. I’m curious why this doesn’t bother me. Maybe because it comes after Popeye’s spinach power-up, which usually precedes impossible stunts that can’t be done. But I can remember Fleischer cartoons where Popeye would do subtler but similar unreal things, like sliding a keyhole to somewhere easier to peer through, that didn’t bother me and’s before spinach gets involved. Ultimately it does always depend on whether I’m entertained, but sometimes this Tex Avery stuff fits the Popeye world better.

Sad-looking Brutus wearing his bathing suit and standing in a washtub of water, holding a garden hose on himself and sipping a drink.
The 2020 water-park-going experience.

It’s all a low-key, underplayed cartoon. I like it that way. A bunch of lines are funny more because they reflect an absurdist attitude, like Olive Oyl declaring that Popeye built the pool too close to the fence. It’s a cartoon I could imagine being done in the Fleischer era without needing too much reworking. It’s a good cartoon to start my 2021 watching.

60s Popeye: Bell Hop Popeye and what is with that tiger’s legs by the way


Today’s is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story is from Cal Howard, though, so it won’t be about skin diving. The animation director is listed as Harvey Toombs.

A quick content warning before getting into this. Olive Oyl’s portrayed in this cartoon as “the Maharani”. Mae Questel affects an accent I must describe as “generically ethnic”. So I’m not comfortable with the layer of Oh That Exotic India that’s built into the cartoon. It never hit the point where my jaw dropped enough to skip this nonsense. I’m not sure I made the right call here. If you don’t want to deal with a 1960 presentation of Olive Oyl as a generically Asian Indian woman, you are really right and we’ll pick things up later.

If you do feel this might be worth your time, then here’s Bell Hop Popeye for you.

I am uncharacteristically annoyed with Christopher Miller’s American Cornball: A Laffopedic Guide to the Formerly Funny. I don’t see how this great guide to common and usually-vanished comic motifs from the first 70 years of the 20th century doesn’t seem to have anything on point. Miller’s work is impressive and, of course, he has to leave out some stuff. But I’m amazed there’s not an entry I can find about hotels, or about being service people to the cartoonishly wealthy. Or about the nobility-in-the-hotel premise. I’m not saying that’s a huge genre, but this isn’t even the only early-60s cartoon I can think of about oh, that exotic Asian nobility descending on a hotel. Why it should be funny to follow the bellhop dealing with Royalty is obvious, and I won’t argue that.

The cartoon has a curious open. Not that Brutus is the manager and Popeye the mere bellhop. It is weird that Popeye’s sleeping on the job, so soundly that Brutus is rightfully annoyed. Starting Popeye off as bad-at-his-job and not getting good until his spinach power-up has a good heritage. But he’s usually trying.

Olive Oyl, dressed in a 1960 white guy's idea of what an Indian Or Something woman's outfit might be, lounges on a daybed. In front of her a pet tiger wearing a jeweled collar stands, all four legs pointing in different directions, mouth open.
I know you’re wondering how Olive Oyl got that tiger into the hotel without the manager knowing. But since Brutus only learned the Maharani was coming when he read it in the newspaper, minutes ahead of her arrival, we have to suppose he is not a detail-oriented manager.

It takes about two minutes for Olive Oyl as the Maharani to appear. The cartoon takes a stab at being Brutus-and-Popeye being rivals for Olive Oyl’s affection. She orders 65 pounds of raw meat sent up to her sweet. Or maybe her suite. I wondered if Sweet is the name of her tiger, but when she looks for him she calls for “Tootsie”? (This might be an attempt at pronouncing an Indian language’s word that I don’t recognize.) In any event we get a bunch of Brutus running from the tiger. In a weird move, Brutus tosses the steak into a safe, and then runs into the safe himself. I grant I am not at my best when chased by a tiger, but it does seem like he could solve his major problem just by dropping the steak.

Popeye never has a show of strength this cartoon. Hauling Olive Oyl’s trunk up the stairs, I suppose, but that would happen whoever the bellhop was. There’s no spinach either. With that, and the opening showing Popeye asleep on the job, I wonder if the cartoon was a generic story pulled into the Popeye production circle. It would play the same with any trio of characters. Only the tiger’s irreplaceable.

60s Popeye: Skinned Divers, not a repeat, but does feature a mermaid and a Michigan tourist trap


This is a Jack Kinney cartoon — produced by him and story by him. The animation director is our friend Rudy Larriva again, but otherwise, it’s Jack Kinney’s vision here. Let’s look back at 1960’s Skinned Divers.

There are things I’d like to know about the 60s King Features run of cartoons. One of them is where story ideas came from. Like, did someone at King Features toss out a couple hundred possible story points? There were a couple cartoons based on stories from the comic strip. Maybe some came from the comic book. One was a remake of a Woody Woodpecker cartoon. And here? It’s another skin-diving cartoon.

I looked forward to comparing how Jack Kinney’s skin diving cartoon to Buddy Brutus. That short got reviewed in these pages just a couple weeks ago. Turns outBuddy Brutus was also a Jack Kinney cartoon. So I guess in about 1959 Jack Kinney got into skin-diving and wanted everybody to know. The early joke about how all you need to skin dive is this long list of equipment feels like a new-hobbyist’s joke. We again use the convention that there’s no reason Popeye or Brutus need to come up for air.

As before, Popeye and Brutus come to the same spot to dive. They’re both looking at the complementary treasure-map X. This time they don’t team up. Popeye goes and gets his foot caught in a clam’s mouth. This is exactly the peril promised by Cheboygan, Michigan’s famous 500-Pound Man-Killing Clam. Sea Shell City, with its theoretically killer clam, opened in 1957 and I’m curious whether someone at Jack Kinney Studios knew of the thing. I haven’t had the pleasure, but my love has, and we have a fridge magnet for the site.

In an underwater scene Popeye pulls his foot, trying to free his swim fin from the closed jaw of a large clam. He does not notice an octopus's tentacle reaching from behind him.
The 500-pound clam closing on your feet and keeping you pinned until your air runs out is the hypothetical mechanism by which it would kill you so, good job on this cartoon for depicting the danger. To the best of my knowledge there are no warnings about octopuses in Cheboygan, Michigan. But maybe when it’s safe to go to tourist traps again I’ll be able to report back.

Popeye’s saved from the man-killing clam by an octopus whom he figures likes him. They team up, which will be important. Popeye gets around to eating sea spinach, sure. But it’s the octopus that does more of the fighting. Popeye discovers a treasure, is knocked out by Brutus’s anchor, and is woken — with the splash from a bucket of water — by the mermaid version of Olive Oyl. Getting wet underwater is another joke Kinney relied on in Buddy Brutus. I agree that it’s a good gag. We get to the climactic Popeye-versus-Brutus fight, although the octopus takes on a lot more of the fighting duties. It’s rare to see Popeye with useful allies.

I like this cartoon, even though Popeye ends up the spectator at the end. It’s the octopus who throws Brutus out of the cartoon. It hasn’t got Buddy Brutus’s weirdness, the attitude that decided Atlantis should be an Old West town populated by octopuses. In comparison everything here is motivated beside Olive Oyl having a mermaid twin. And, hey, 500-pound man-killing clam, how can that be anything but exciting?

60s Popeye: Love Birds, a cartoon


It’s a Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced short today. The story’s by Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer, with the director as usual Seymour Kneitel. Here’s the 1961 short Love Birds.

So, here we delight in the 584th straight “Popeye has to chase a thing” cartoon produced by Paramount this line. I exaggerate. But it is another one of the formula where Popeye gets in trouble chasing an innocent who’s not, particularly in danger from the perils around them. It’s done with the competence I’d expect. There’s a few nice little throwaway pieces, such as Popeye’s eyes picking up a western when he falls on a TV antenna.

The most curious joke is in the pet store. The proprietor’s a monkey wearing a blue suit. Popeye is as confused as I am. It seems like this should set up the revelation that the real owner is right behind the monkey and we just didn’t notice. But, no, a talking monkey is selling love birds and that’s just something in the Popeye universe. It feels like a transgression. But it’s not as though there haven’t been talking animals in the Popeye cartoons before. Even ones that speak more than a throwaway line as a joke. I don’t know why this bothers me in a way that the Whiffle Hen or the Hungry Goat don’t.

In a pet store, Popeye looks surprised and unsure how to handle the shopkeeper being a monkey in a blue suit.
Writing prompt: the monkey is voiced by Frank Nelson (the “yyyyyyyes?” guy from The Jack Benny Show and who they’re imitating with that on The Simpsons). Go!

The whole pet store business is part of getting Olive Oyl’s lonely love bird, Juliet, a partner. It takes two and a half minutes for them to meet, and start fighting right away; Popeye’s chase doesn’t even start until nearly three minutes into the five-and-a-half-minute cartoon. The pacing is all very steady, very reliable. A bit dull.

And, then, bleah. There’s the love birds squabbling, Juliet hectoring Romeo until he runs away, the first time. The second time, he takes a tiny bit of spinach and fights back. This works because cornball humor is all about how wives are awful but you can yell them into place. There are things I miss about this era of cartoons. This attitude, though, is not among them.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Picnic, which is more about flat tires and butterflies


This time, we get back to the Jack Kinney studios, so it’s 1960 again. The story and the animation direction’s credited to Osmond Evans. Production and direction is given to Jack Kinney. Here’s Popeye’s Picnic.

There’s a kind of Popeye cartoon that I guess is maybe a Jack Kinney specialty. It’s one where there’s not so much a story as there is riffing around a particular scene. It’s a story mode that, at its best, feels like an improv exercise at work. By this I mean every character’s given one really strong beat that they’re going to focus on. Nobody else is going to try arguing them into paying attention to something else. These focuses can interact with each other. Or they might just stay what they are, with the scene bouncing between them. This is a kind of scene that you’ll either really like for its absurdity or hate for its plotlessness. Or possibly for characters being jerks in how they won’t listen to one another.

So here’s the focuses. Olive Oyl is obsessed with butterflies today and that’s fine; she’s fickle. Popeye is now very interested in the food they’ll have this picnic. Olive Oyl even says, “You say the sweetest things … but it’s always about food”. So he does, this short particularly. He’s also made a line of Dagwood sandwiches, none of which look like they’re stable enough to eat. I guess if Popeye needs an obsession for the short, food is a decent one, but it does feel like more of a Wimpy thing.

Not that the food matters much. On the way to the picnic they get a flat. While changing the tire Popeye gets himself caught in the wheel rim, something that always deeply unsettled me as a kid. I’m still not comfortable with it. He spends most of the short doubled over, trapped and trying to free himself, while Olive Oyl worries about her butterflies. She can’t see why Popeye is taking forever with this and suspects he doesn’t even care about butterflies.

Popeye's stuck, doubled over, inside a tire wheel, sitting up on his rump and holding a stick that can't help him get free. A skeptical-looking bull is running in and bumping against him.
I’m really bothered by Popeye being caught like that in the wheel thingy and also that I’m not sure what to call that wheel thingy.

That’s thin stuff even for a five minute cartoon, so we get a bull in, as a third party. That and the presence of a butterfly gives us enough characters for stuff to happen. The bull — who looks skeptical about his part in all this — chases Olive Oyl. She and Popeye get spun around some. She tries to run away. She does this great funny run up the side of a tree, too. Eventually the bull hits Popeye in the rear, knocking him free and into a spinach patch. I’m not sure if Popeye posed for that on purpose. It’s great thinking on Popeye’s part if he did. This gets Popeye and the bull racing toward each other in what’s sure to be a titanic collision, only for them to stop lest they crush the butterfly between them. Olive Oyl thanks the bull for stopping, and she’s holding his tail, although I’m not sure if her pulling his tail mattered. Everything’s happy, they all settle down to a picnic and that’s that.

60s Popeye: Butler Up which … is a pun on ‘Batter Up’? Is that the joke?


We’re back in Paramount Cartoon Studios territory. Once more Seymour Kneitel is the director of record. The story’s credited to I Klein. From 1961 here’s Butler Up.

I’ve said what I expect when it’s a Paramount cartoon here. It’ll be competent, everything will make sense, everything will happen in first gear. That impression holds up again. The premise is that Olive Oyl needs a butler so she can impress an old classmate. That classmate? Brutus, who comes in the huge fur coat and straw hat that they assigned you for Old College Chum Days back then. Brutus, in this version of the Popeye-Brutus-Olive Oyl cycle, doesn’t know Popeye, but takes an instant and mutual dislike to him. And then the cartoon’s a bunch of Brutus fighting off Popeye, Popeye fighting back without breaking character, and oh yeah, Brutus moving toward the bit where he grabs Olive Oyl.

In considering his Jeeves role Popeye reads The Art of Butlering. It’s got a couple of basic rules. The setup makes me expect this is going to be a big part of the cartoon. Like, Popeye’s going to keep pulling back before he breaks a rule. It never does, though, at least not explicitly. When Popeye’s had all he can stands and can’t stands no more, there’s a callback Popeye recites the four directives and punches Brutus into the butler outfit. It still feels like Klein figured this would be the structure for the short and then didn’t take it out when other stuff happened.

Popeye as butler serving a plate with no fewer than fourteen sandwiches on it to Olive Oyl and Brutus. Olive Oyl's delighted to see him. Brutus is annoyed with the introduction
To me, fourteen seems like too many peanut butter sandwiches for one lunch with an old college chum. How many do you make when you have Brutus over?

There’s some fun business here, mostly in the asides. I’m curious where Olive Oyl got her enormously long dinner table, “not built for togetherness”, from and how she fit it into her house. Also why she set that when she’s not actually incredibly wealthy and, at least that far in, doesn’t have reason to stay away from Brutus. There’s also a bit where Popeye’s washing dishes in the middle of Brutus’s visit. That couldn’t wait? Or was that just the most plausible way to look like a legitimate butler?

It’s all a very Paramount-made cartoon, though. Viable premise, sensible story, really all made as okay as you could hope.

That long black dress with bracelets is a good look for Olive Oyl, though.

60s Popeye: A Mite of Trouble; do you get it? Because, mm.


This is another Paramount Cartoon Studios cartoon. So it’s a fresh 1961 issue too. The director’s Seymour Kneitel and the story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Here’s A Mite of Trouble.

We’ve got the Sea Hag and her vulture back. That’s usually a good start. It feels like Paramount is the only studio to have done things with the Sea Hag, except I know that’s not literally true. Gene Deitch has a nice one featuring the Sea Hag with Toar that I know about, for example. Anyway in this one she’s after the treasure map Popeye has somewhere in his house. The complication: Popeye’s babysitting Swee’Pea so he might not leave the house for, like, hours. The solution:

Oh, good grief. Right, so, off to the Tingaling Brothers Circus, to hire Major Mite the Midget to pretend to be Swee’Pea. She even brings that nice stock footage of her in three-quarter profile swinging her arm out to seal the deal. And we’re off to one of those cartoons where the adult doesn’t suspect their kid is actually a small crook. This although the Sea Hag switches Swee’Pea for Major Mite while he’s riding a swing Popeye pushes. I wonder if they were making a joke about how if something’s not on-screen in a cartoon it doesn’t exist. That feels subtle, but they could have written the swap to happen any time. Why decide to do it in the middle of a swing?

It’s executed well enough, for the premise. There’s a running joke about Major Mite smoking his cigar. It even justifies Popeye giving the Major a bath, to get that cigar smell off him, Mite’s best chance to get some time to himself to search the house.

Popeye trying to stand up. His rear end is glued to his seat, so he's pulling that up with him. And his hand is glued to the dining room table so *that's* lifted too. He's looking only slightly annoyed by all this.
Why is Popeye standing as though he’s wearing invisible high heels?
(It’s actually an instructive pose. If you look closely at his anatomy Popeye here makes even more no sense than usual. But the scene and the motion in it work fine enough. So you can learn something of the difference between drawing something ‘properly’ and drawing it so it communicates.)

It seems like Sea Hag and Major Mite could have worked their plans out a little better. Like, Mite could have kept Popeye busy while Sea Hag ransacked the house. Or just suggested they go out for a walk, as Popeye decides to do anyway, which should have been Sea Hag’s chance to search the house. Mite finds the map in a lampshade and runs off with it. The Sea Hag returns Swee’Pea, saving herself some trouble. Popeye’s remarkably unconcerned with all this because the punch line is: the lampshade was a fake treasure map. The real treasure map is on Swee’Pea’s diaper. As one would expect.

The punch line’s acceptable. It’s a regular beat in the comic strip that Popeye has all sorts of pirate treasure at his command and he just has to dig some up when needed. Having fake treasure maps makes sense. I swear I remember a story where Swee’Pea’s got a treasure map, possibly on his back, but I cna’t find it offhand. If I never found this whole cartoon that funny, I think it’s more the pacing than the concept. I suspect Jack Kinney or, especially, Gene Deitch could have done this story with better timing and made it land.

60s Popeye: Popeye the White Collar Man and that seems weird to me too


Jack Kinney’s studios were, besides doing a bunch of 60s Popeye cartoons, also drawing Mister Magoo cartoons for UPA. You’ll see why I mention this.

Rudy Larriva’s directing again. The story is by Joe Grant and Walter Schmidt. Popeye the White Collar Man takes us back to 1960 for a cartoon that keeps making me think harder about it.

Some cartoons feel like they were written for another series, or a generic series, and got Popeye characters hastily written in to them. This almost feels like one. But something about it also feels like a Bud Sagendorf-era Popeye comic strip property. The opening with Olive Oyl prodding Popeye to do something respectable. The initial failures and then the whole story focusing on one premise that’s sort-of related to where things started. And then the ending where everything stops and Olive Oyl is fine with Popeye as he was. So I don’t know whether to guess this as a generic story or a real Popeye story.

Here Popeye gets the white-collar job of door-to-door insurance salesman. This starts off with the expected series of doors slammed in his face. And a good bit of animation too, of nothing but doorbells and slammed doors. It’s nice when the artistically effective thing is also cheap to animate.

Finally, about two minutes in, things settle on Flim-Flam Film Studios and stuntman Brutus. For some reason Popeye is determined to sign Brutus up. And Brutus, for a wonder, isn’t hostile. He doesn’t even seem reluctant to sign the insurance policy; he just wants to read it first, and keeps getting called off to stunts. We do see Popeye tagging along for no good reason, and getting himself almost killed, mostly by accident. It’s a curious turn for Brutus; I’m not sure he’s ever been this non-antagonistic. It’s part of why the story feels like it was dropped on the Thimble Theatre cast.

The lion, inside the circus cage, is revealed to be a man in a costume. Brutus is in the back of the costume, looking dazed and confused and patting his face. The man taking off the costume resembles Mr Magoo.
Wait, the circus lion who swallowed Brutus whole in a scene I didn’t make time to mention was … Mister Magoo?!

Popeye spends a lot of time trying to sell insurance to a movie stunt man. That’s a good joke. At least it’s the setup for a joke, that Popeye is committed to the one sale most likely to get his boss angry with him. There’s never a punch line, though. It’s never even pointed out that Popeye’s surely working against his interests. If this cartoon were made today I’d think that was on purpose. That they were leaving some comedy understated and trusting the audience had enough people who’d get it. But for a 1960 kids cartoon?

I don’t mean to say they had to write kids cartoons stupid back then. But this was aimed at kids who are still learning the grammar of how stories work, and how jokes work. If they’re expected to find something funny, usually, they drop some clues that these are the funny bits. There’s throwaway jokes, sure, funny signs or a Jack Mercer muttering that doesn’t get attention. But this is something half the screen time of the cartoon is built on.

Lacking any way to tell whether they forgot a punch line or trusted they didn’t need one, though, I’ll give them credit, and say they wrote a joke confident that someone would notice and appreciate it.

60s Popeye: Lighthouse Keeping, a title I like more than I like the cartoon


It’s 1960 again and Jack Kinney’s producing. The story and the animation direction are credited to our friend Eddie Rehberg this time. Here’s Lighthouse Keeping for our consideration.

My love’s a Popeye aficionado. And also a lighthouse enthusiast. Logic tells us then that the only way this cartoon could be more perfectly targeted is if the top of the lighthouse had an antique carousel on it. There is no carousel, and the rest of the cartoon is, eh.

This isn’t calling it bad. Lighthouse Keeping has the nastiest problem for a reviewer. It’s competent without having any really great bits. Or any inexplicably bad or weird bits. There’s little for me to talk about that isn’t recapping the plot. And that’s mostly a string of gags set on a lighthouse. Brutus getting vertigo at the top of a 226-foot-tall tower. Olive Oyl trying to take a photograph and directing Popeye to step back until he falls off, spoiling her shot.

Brutus at least starts off reasonable this cartoon. It’s another in the string of cartoons where you wonder if the cartoonists are on his side. I mean, maybe he’s flirting with an uninterested Olive Oyl, but if “Nice day for fishing, if you’re not a fish” then I’ve grossly misunderstood human contact. Olive Oyl sinks her boat, somehow, and Brutus brings her to Popeye’s lighthouse. Popeye being a lighthouse keeper is a new thing; I’m surprised the gimmick hasn’t been done before. I can imagine a Fleischer cartoon where he goes off doing a string of preposterous feats of strength saving ships against various little fiascos. Or explaining to a reluctant kid how he can do all that because of his spinach-eating.

Scene of a lighthouse and the dock outside it. There are multiple Popeye figures visible, different steps in the run along that path. The last one, at the dock, is completely opaque. The Popeyes leading up to that are more and more transparent, until the most distant one, at the lighthouse, is barely visible. It almost looks like an example of how to animate the key frames in a movement.
Popeye’s speedrunning his own cartoon! Can he do that?

But that all gives us reason to have Popeye, Brutus, and Olive Oyl (urging peace) together, and we go through a couple of bits. These all go fine; there’s nothing too weird or bizarre in it. Eventually Brutus takes the hint and goes motoring off in his boat, with a rope that’s somehow tangled around Olive Oyl’s foot. Brutus is happy to feed her to the shark, so the animators aren’t skipping his heel turn. There’s the oddest animation bit this short here, with the ocean waves represented by Olive Oyl and the shark oscillating side to side, instead of up and down. Popeye punches the shark into Brutus’s boat, and then gets a boat from somewhere to bring Olive Oyl back to shore.

Oh, there is one bit of neat animation that I like. Popeye rushing down the lighthouse to the dock, to meet Olive Oyl, is done by making a succession of still pictures of him more opaque and transparent. It’s a neat trick, one worthy of a 1980s video game. But that’s as much ambition as the cartoon shows. It’s a cartoon that won’t convince anyone the King Features run was unappreciated genius, nor that it was a disaster.

60s Popeye: Popeye and Buddy Brutus, plus octopuses of the Oooooooold West


We’re back on Jack Kinney’s turf, in the year 1960. Popeye and Buddy Brutus has the interesting trait that it’s produced by and story by Jack Kinney, although the director is Rudy Larriva. I admit an instinctive dread of Larriva’s directing. He had the thankless task of making those 1960s Coyote and Road Runner cartoons, when Warner Brothers wouldn’t pay for animation or a fourth bar of music. But the Popeye cartoons were … made under similar circumstances, really. Still, different studio, different circumstances. This could be Larriva’s chance to shine.

What this cartoon evokes is that thing Paul McCartney occasionally does, where he has a couple of songs he’s worked out only parts to and so he puts them together into a medley. Here, there’s a couple of partly-developed diving-based cartoon premises, somehow none of which are enough to last five and a half minutes, all leaning against each other. This all doesn’t work as well as Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, but I can’t say I don’t like it either. My reaction is more that I’m not sure what to make of it all.

We start with Popeye and Brutus setting out to dive in the same part of the ocean. After some squabbling Brutus proposes they be skin-diving buddies. It’s an interesting move for Brutus, who at least starts out the cartoon being the more peaceful one. It also reminds me of Dizzy Divers, the 1935 Fleischer short, in its setup. He even goes looking for Popeye after his rival disappears. It’s only when they run across some treasure that Brutus does his heel turn. Popeye and Brutus spend nearly the whole short underwater without breathing equipment or coming up for air. I know Popeye’s done this before. And the classic Bugs Bunny short Hare Ribbin’ did it too. I don’t know why, though. I mean, yes, I know they’re skin diving, but you could change that with one line of dialogue. Did they figure that if Popeye and Brutus’s faces were covered with masks, their bodies would have to move more to compensate, and they couldn’t afford that?

In their diving, Popeye and Brutus run across Atlantis. Neat idea. A unique one, too. If the Popeye Wikia doesn’t fail me, this is the only time Popeye’s been at an Atlantis. And it’s a weird Atlantis, as it’s an Old West city except populated by octopuses. We see a bar fight and ink-squirt “gunfight” and … that’s about it. There can’t be many octopus-based Old West Atlantises out in the pop culture and it’s disappointing that somehow that wasn’t worth four minutes of screen time.

Octopus desperado riding the back of a sea horse and shooting ink from their tentacles back at the bar they were just thrown out of. In the backdrop are great sandy mountains. The whole picture is blurry in that wavy underwater effect cartoons use.
Hey, waaaait a minute! Cambot, pull up 13:23 — yes, we see the Atlantis village blacksmith’s and see the rear of a regular land-type horse there! What’s with the continuity error, people?

Popeye and Brutus end up having a showdown in Old West Atlantis, one that involves none of the inhabitants of the town and barely any of the setting. It’s a very silly fight, although the kind of silly that tickles me. Brutus shoots with a harpoon gun that’s always got not quite enough slack to reach Popeye. Popeye shoots back with a water pistol, using one glass for his ammunition. Maybe this is what justifies making this a skin-diving cartoon. Brutus washing water off his face that’s already deep in the water is funny in a weird conceptual way. It’s sure to tickle the seven-year-old. It tickles me today, but I have that kind of brain.

Brutus ends up getting the bends, in that literal way cartoons used to convince the seven-year-old me was just a thing that happened to divers sometimes. Popeye hooks Wimpy’s fishing line to his buddy — them calling each other “buddy” is a motif that comes and goes this short — and he’s hauled to safety.

I can’t call this bad, although I understand people who’ll feel it’s disjointed and storyless. I may just be responding to the weirdness of the construction. And the weirdness of ideas like “Atlantis, but it’s an Old West town populated by octopuses”. But it also doesn’t work in a way that makes this jumble of ideas clearly good.

60s Popeye: County Fair, and that’s about all there is to say about it


Are we back to 1961? Yes, we’re back to 1961, and Paramount Cartoon Studios. County Fair is directed by Seymour Kneitel, like every Famous Studios or Paramount Studios Popeye short. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer.

The Popeye Wikia for this short summaries it: “Popeye and Brutus are farmers who enter a county fair contest to see who is the best. As per usual, Brutus resorts to cheating.” It’s a struggle to think of more to say about it. This group of people had been making Popeye cartoons for 28 years when this was made. They could probably have done it in their sleep.

What I expect from a Paramount-made cartoon, here, is that it’ll be crafted correctly. The animation will be sluggish, but it won’t have errors. The writing will be plain, but will make sense. We’ll never have a baffling fiasco of a cartoon. The worst that will happen is the cartoon will be dull.

And that’s what we have. It’s your standard Popeye-versus-Brutus contest, going several rounds with Brutus cheating. Remarkably his cheats work half the time. In this sort of setup I expect either all the cheats to work or none of them to work. The score being tied at the last event is novel. Also the last event is spinach-eating. That’s an odd choice; all the other events sound like County Fair contests. But, it’s a Popeye cartoon, the spinach has to be somewhere.

Farmer Brutus and the pig he holds looking shocked and amazed that Farmer Popeye has his arms full of dozens of wrapped hams.
Oh, here’s the other moment of personality this cartoon. Popeye winning the hog-calling contest demands he do something spectacular with calling a hog. So it has to be either he gets an enormous number of pigs, or at least one tremendous pig, or, this, here to horrify that adorable pig Brutus has.

Fleas a Crowd I liked as a solidly competent cartoon with flashes of wit or imagination or silliness. Here’s another cartoon solidly competent. It lacks those flashes, though; even the cartoon’s title is a generic content description. Its only distinctive part is Popeye and Brutus trying to distract each other at the tastiest beef-burger contest, about 7:00 in the video. (Why not say ‘hamburger’? Surely there weren’t enough turkey burgers or other variants in 1961 that you’d need to specify a beef-based hamburger.) They do a couple rounds that are almost literally, “Hey, look at the distraction!” I can imagine being annoyed by this and calling it laziness if I were in a foul mood. As it is, I’m basically happy, so I see it as a gleeful embrace of the artifice or something.

Still, I’ve watched this cartoon three times in the last 72 hours, and will remember nothing of it 72 hours from now.

60s Popeye: Fleas a Crowd, a cartoon with a chaser


This is an unusual one! Fleas a Crowd is one of ten Popeye shorts produced by Gerald Ray. He produced more of the Beetle Bailey shorts, and far more of King Leonardo cartoons. If I haven’t missed, I’ve only done two other Gerald Ray shorts before, Popeye’s Junior Headache and the fascinating and mysterious Take It Easel. Bob Bemiller is listed as director again. There’s no story credit and the IMDB doesn’t try to guess at one. Here’s the cartoon from 1960, in any case.

This is a weird one. I like it, although I don’t know how much of that liking is that I like any weird cartoon. It’s the rare Popeye cartoon in which Popeye and Olive Oyl, though both present, never directly interact. She just watches him on stage; he never shows awareness she exists. Olive Oyl is on a date with Brutus, and stays on a date with him, too. Brutus and Popeye barely interact either. They aren’t even on screen at the same time until 5:19, and that for a moment. Popeye’s fleas beat up Brutus. There can’t be another cartoon where the main triad all appear but have less to do with each other.

So we have Popeye as ringmaster to a flea circus at the Thimble Theater, a joke admirably not dwelt on. It’s just there for everyone who spotted Ham Gravy hanging around a couple weeks back. Jealous of how Olive Oyl looks at Popeye’s flea mastery, Brutus sets a wind-up dog to steal the fleas. Then it’s mostly a Popeye-in-pursuit cartoon. Like those cartoons where he’s following the Jeep or the sleepwalking Olive Oyl or something.

Popeye sitting up in the dogcatcher's wagon. He's surrounded by loosely drawn dogs, all yellow or brown, and all looking at him. He's speaking and pointing to his head.
“I mean, this is what happens when you work the Gus Sun vaudeville circuit, yaknow?”

The story’s solid if routine. But creative bits keep poking out, regularly enough I stay interested. Popeye’s fleas, for example, are named Damon and Pythias. When Popeye realizes “I’ve been flea-napped”, Olive Oyl passes out, as though in a Victorian melodrama spoof. The fleas leave a “Dear John” letter for Popeye. “We regret to inform you that due to circumstances beyond our control we are forced to continue leading a dog’s life. PS: heeeeeeeeelp.”

All of this could have been done with plainer but still functional dialogue. They chose to be interesting in the small stuff.  For example: the fleas perform the Damon and Pythias Waltz.  There is nothing waltz about the dance, and nothing waltz about the tune (Swanee River).  Another and great example of this is when Popeye lets the dogs out of the dogcatcher’s wagon. Not the elephant jumping out, although that’s a great absurd moment. Notice that the dogs are not all the same model. I don’t think there’s any two that look quite the same. The joke would have been just as good if it were ten duplicates of the same dog and then the elephant. That Gerald Ray’s animators did more than they had gives the cartoon a higher-quality look.

In 1978 Peter Pan Records released a 7-inch disc adapting the story to audio. The adaptation ends up a good bit longer than the original cartoon and I don’t recognize any of the voice actors. Apparently, they were all the same guy, Harry F Welch, who possibly played Popeye in a couple of theatrical cartoons. Nobody’s sure. It has some delightfully clumsy moments of characters saying what they’re seeing. But as an old-time-radio enthusiast, I have to say: not the clumsiest. The comparison also gives some insight into how much value the pictures, even of these cheaply-made cartoons, adds to the story. Also how much the amount of time available for the same beats affects the story.

On Watching _Rudolph’s Shiny New Year_ In 2020


You know, I’m not feeling my usual sympathy for Eon the Vulture’s plan to save his own life by keeping the current year from expiring.

I was trying to think what 2020’s representative in the Archipelago of Last Years would look like, and then I remembered Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

So in the Rankin/Bass special, the crisis was caused by Baby New Year having comically enormous ears. What the heck did Baby 2020 look like? I have to figure 2020 started at “Rudy Giuliani” and aged badly.