60s Popeye has his Skyscraper Capers

I’m looking today at the Jack Kinney-produced 1960 short Skyscraper Capers. The credits scrambled my anticipation. Not affecting my expectations at all: the story was by Nick George. I don’t know the name yet, but I’ve only just started tracking these things. Lowering my expectations: that the animation director was Rudy Larriva. You may remember his name from the roughly 112,316 Wile E Coyote cartoons that Warner Brothers subcontracted out in the late 60s, made with a budget of $46 and nearly six bars of background music. He did a couple of those regretted Daffy Duck/Speedy Gonzales cartoons too, on similar terms. I’m not saying he didn’t do well given the constraints, but do you like the cartoons? And these King Features Popeye cartoons were made on the same constraints.

Raising my expectations, though: the title promises a skyscraper cartoon. I don’t know which animators first realized that skyscraper construction is a great background for a cartoon. The setting promises imminent danger, giving the cartoon that tension good for slapstick comedy. A big construction project implies great planning and sequencing, and thus something massive that the characters can rebel against, or at least mess up. (Note that multiple studios noticed skyscaper construction set to orchestral music produces great cartooning.) And you can even give the animators a chance to prove they can draw, with just one shot of the girder structure in perspective. So which expectation panned out?

This kind of cartoon chooses to explain why Popeye’s building a skyscraper. Probably the audience would have accepted it if he were just there; it’s not so baffling that BrutusBoss is just there, or that Wimpy is just there. Having Popeye read out the help wanted sign certainly fills time without needing so much animation, though. It’s interesting Popeye likes the idea until he actually sees a height, and shies back entirely once he’s asked to sign a contract. That he does it for fear of being called yellow is not a great look for him, but I can’t say it’s false. I’m interested that Brutus gives a contract that’s a real actual document. I can read enough of it to see that it’s some kind of purchase agreement rather than an employment contract, but that could not possibly matter. Also it means some animator had the job of designing Popeye’s signature.

Supervisor Wimpy guiding Popeye to his job with the tones of an elevator operator is a good bit. Also a good bit is his lightly Greek Chorus role of commenting on Popeye’s latest mishap. The attitude’s good enough to almost distract me from trying to work out what exactly he said, after dropping the bricks. I keep hearing, “that [ there? ] was a faux pas, sir”, which is good at least so far as I did hear it.

BrutusBoss does demand to know whether Popeye’s trying to get him killed. It’s a good question. The setting demands people get hit with bricks or get steel girders in the gut and stuff. The casting demands that Popeye instigate these things, though. BrutusBoss is in charge, and Wimpy laboring isn’t Wimpy. So this demands either Popeye be incompetent or be following incompetent direction. The cartoon goes for making Popeye incompetent. Although we could blame management here; after all, someone chose to send Popeye out on bare girders with a wheelbarrow full of bricks and no clear direction. And Popeye can’t be blamed for the rope pulling BrutusBoss up spontaneously fraying and snapping.

Brutus sitting at the window ledge, chin on his hand, mouth wide open and eyes nearly closed; it's meant to be a taunting move but can be mis-read as a come-hither look.
Hard to know whether to be more distracted by BrutusBoss’s come-hither look or how his fist seems to get in-between his beard and his chin.

There’s a lot of understatement lines I like here. Wimpy tut-tutting that “you shouldn’t have done that” after Popeye drops BrutusBoss from the hook. BrutusBoss declaring “I want out!” after being driven in to the ground by sacks of concrete. Wimpy’s whole “faux pas” line whatever it exactly is. The whistle bellowing “LUUUUUNCH!” and later, “WOOOOOORK!” is also a nice bit and I don’t know whether it’s original to this cartoon. My hunch is it was done in earlier workplace cartoons.

Popeye needing his whole lunch break to unsuccessfully open a can of spinach I’m still thinking about. It’s absurd, sure. Is it funny enough to justify ignoring the, like, 194 earlier cartoons where Popeye just squeezed his can open? I guess, but I think I’d have liked a comment from Popeye about how he doesn’t understand why this is so hard today.

So there’s much I like here. Or find fun, at least. Not the animation, though. That’s all fairly boring stuff except for when it gets baffling. There’s a couple of decent sequences of action, all of which require props or characters to teleport into place. BrutusBoss pulls the sides off Popeye’s ladder, leaving him to climb the rungs hanging in midair; solid enough joke. Popeye keeps running up and BrutusBoss is on top of the building’s mast somehow? And Wimpy looks down to follow this action because … ? Well, because they don’t have the budget to animate Wimpy looking up, but still.

We end with everybody quitting because, eh, the short’s over and that’s enough.

What’s Not Here Anymore

There’s a little block of doomed buildings in my neighborhood of Lansing. It’s not doomed for the good reasons, like we’re facing a small meteor strike, or there’s a rampaging horde of attack jerboas headed this way, or they found it was actually a giant kid’s play set and she’s outgrown it and giving it away to a less fortunate giant, maybe in Big Rapids or somewhere. It’s for the usual reason. The local developer noticed this was a thing that wasn’t torn down already, and it is so much fun tearing stuff down. I understand. What would be the fun in tearing down the empty lot one block east for their new construction? All you get to do there is tear up a gravel lot, and when you tear up a gravel lot you just have a gravel lot at the end of it.

The local alternative-weekly included a piece describing some of the things that had been in the doomed buildings. Mostly they name things. Some of the buildings have been there since the 1910s, so there’s a lot of things to name, even if an awful lot of them seem to have just been barber shops. I’m not disparaging barber shops, it’s just there’s a limit to how much story any of them have. There’s the part of the shop where a guy is cutting hair, there’s the chair that doesn’t work right, there’s the signed sports jersey, and there’s a bunch of colorful slips of plastic that turn out to be the money of foreign lands.

But there’s wonder and mystery here. For example, between 1995 and 2008 one of the storefronts was the United Nations Association. My love remembers it. It sold all kinds of United Nations-themed merchandise. And why the United Nations? In Lansing, Michigan? A United Nations-themed store makes sense in a city more associated with international diplomacy. You know, Geneva or Paris or New York or the Frelinghuysen Estate in Raritan Township, New Jersey. And don’t go thinking I’m overlooking Portsmouth, New Hampshire, either. I know exactly where they are and I have my agents sending me reports.

Maybe it did start out the logical way. Someone sold the original proprietor a fake ticket for Vienna. Then he found himself in the mid-Michigan area and figured, why not? Still, they must have been on to something for a United Nations merchandise store to carry on for thirteen years. I would have thought a store for that market in that location would last about four hours. But then I also thought Home Improvement was a cute show that would last maybe eight weeks. Instead here we are decades later remembering that it’s not still being made, is it? It seems like it couldn’t still be on, right? Somebody check and tell them to stop if they haven’t already. But the point is, the wonder is that the store lasted only thirteen years. Maybe it moved to an even more promising United Nations-mad city, like Muskegon or Rochester, Minnesota.

Still, there’s other businesses that used to be there. One that delights me ran from 1951 to 1972 and began as Merry-Go-Round Toys, then became Quarmby’s Merry-Go-Round Toys, then Quarmby’s Art Supplies, and finally Quarmby’s Picture Frames. I was all set for them to cycle back around to Quarmby’s Picture Frame Toys, or maybe a Merry-Go-Round Quarmby, but they demolished the building instead. The spoilsports. And with blotches like that on the record people have the nerve to call capitalism efficient.

Another building spent 1914 through 1916 as Sanders & Fizzell Hardware. Sometime in 1916 I guess Sanders’s eye was turned by another merchant-proprietor. From 1917 to 1920 it was Sanders & Newsom Hardware, Tinshop, Furnace, & Heating. Perhaps Sanders and Fizzell broke up peacefully. It could be Fizzell was less sure about the market for tin-shoppery in Lansing. Maybe Fizzell just didn’t see the need to advertise their providing both furnace and heating services. “Goodness, Mister Sanders,” Mr Fizzell might say, because those were more formal days. “What sensible warmth-lover in this metropolis would not know to come here for furnace and heating work already? Why `puff’ oneself `up’ so?”

Or maybe I’m reading it all wrong. Possibly Fizzell wanted to encourage all hardware stores to emphasize their tinshop and furnace and heating sides. Once Fizzell found a decent partner in Newsom he could leave Sanders to his devices and move on to another hardware shop in need of his magic touch. I just don’t have the evidence to say. Sanders & Newsom things and other things wasn’t on the block after 1920 anyway, so you’ve missed that.

Then there’s the building that spent 1965 through 1975 as Dental Art Laboratories. I can’t imagine it was for, like, painting molars, yours or someone else’s. That seems too early for the paint-your-own-ceramic-stuff-while-drinking kind of store you get in malls these days. But then I wouldn’t have expected a United Nations store just a couple blocks from my house either, and see what happened? It’s all a wonder, that’s what it is.

And Then What Meets The Eye

You live in a nice, respectable, basically quiet neighborhood for years and then one day wake up to find the neighbors have got Constructicons.

It's an excavator sitting in the driveway of a nearby house.
Wikipedia’s entry on the Constructicons, from which I could work out that this would be Scavenger, contains the sentence “It is ironic that the suitably intelligent Constructicons should sacrifice their thinking ability in their combined form, but simple-mindedness is a common limitation of the assorted other first-generation combining Transformers, because Devastator’s thoughts and actions are limited to what his six components can agree upon at any given time.” While that sentence goes off the rails after about its eighteenth comma-separated clause, it does try seriously to speak of the ironies of the Transformers Generation 1 universe. That deserves our respect.

See where that “Everything Is Going To Be Alright” sign at the auto mechanic’s has got us?

Expedition Log, Day 1, Redux: Not Arguing That Again

9:45 am. Not making the same mistake as last time. Headed out east to find the Cumbrey Road onramp desperately backed up due to emergency construction. Turned around; went west, discovered the Pridmore’s Swamp Turnpike closed due to non-emergency non-construction. At the Five Points Turnabout walls of orange barrels reach high enough to blot out the sun. Trying south instead discovered potholes for sale by the square yard and extending as far as forty feet off the highway and into people’s homes. Northwest reveals a patch where it’s still winter, and northeast finds routine construction implying detours sending me right back home. Clearly there are deeper forces at work here than we suspect.

Total Mileage: 0.