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: 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: Sea No Evil, just have boating supplies stolen


Gene Deitch directed this week’s 60s Popeye cartoon. It doesn’t carry story or animation credits, but this was when he was working in Prague and also doing the Tom and Jerry cartoons that everyone regards as “really weird”. I love them, not just because they are very weird. This week’s cartoon, Sea No Evil, is not structurally a pretty normal cartoon. Still, I like it.

The short starts, like the old writing advice goes, as late as it possibly could, moments before parties unknown steal every piece the boating equipment, one at a time, from under Popeye and Olive Oyl’s noses. It’s Brutus’s work, and he takes the stuff to his boating supply store to sell back to Popeye. There’s a fairly extended sequence of Popeye listing all the items he needs, and Brutus bringing it up from behind the wet wheelbarrow behind the counter. It may take longer to establish this than needed. But it does establish a rhythm. It makes the sequence feel like a running gag. It helps the comedy land better. It’s particularly good for appealing to the kids the cartoon’s aimed at; I could remember the sequence decades after the last time I’d seen the cartoon. Also, I would have sworn there were at least three cycles of Brutus stealing all the boating gear and Popeye buying it back.

It’s a good premise for a cartoon too. It’s obvious why Brutus might be pulling this trick, and why he might think Popeye and Olive Oyl are good marks. Popeye’s apparently willing to write off the first loss of five hundred bucks’ worth of boating equipment as bad luck (!), but he’s not going to fall for that long. And then it’s chase Brutus, see Brutus getting away, find the spinach, and punch things to a conclusion. I have the impression that Deitch cartoons bring things to an end pretty fast, once Popeye eats his spinach, but I’m not feeling energetic enough to check that.

Popeye in a wetsuit, bloated with water, pressing his giant hands into his gigantic chest, so that water spouts out his disconnected breathing tube, soaking Olive Oyl in the face.
I must ONCE AGAIN take exception to their putting my DeviantArt account on-screen like this. Anyway, the short does leave us with the unanswered questions of “what, Popeye just carries $1300 in cash in his bathing trunks” and also “what kind of swimsuit is it that Olive Oyl’s wearing?”

There are some of the common traits of Deitch-directed cartoons of this era here. Character movements are kept simple, and transitions between motions are implied or off-panel altogether; look at about 16:27, when Popeye stands motionless in a sinking boat for a solid eight seconds, to punch a Brutus who’s appeared somehow through, I guess, the hole in the boat, and punches him. Brutus goes from flying up into the air to being in the water, held by an anchor, swimming with all his might in a transition we have to imagine. And there’s a loose adherence to character models. I don’t mind this. Some choices almost seem artistically thoughtful. Like, in the boating store, Popeye’s hips and legs being these dwindling things make him look puny in the face of Brutus’s might, which matches where the character is at that moment in the story. Other weird bits are probably artifacts of trying to make what movement there is available look better in motion. If you freeze a frame at about 16:36, where Brutus is in the water swimming and anchored to what’s left of his boat, you can see him with an elephant’s trunk of a left arm that looks awful; but, that’s one frame of a swimming cycle that looks fine.

I am charmed that Popeye spends a couple sends waving his fingers to the beat as the soundtrack gets to the “I’m strong to the finich” couplet. There’s no diegetic source for this music; somehow, the radio is the one stolen thing Popeye didn’t buy back. Which is also a fun bit of business as the background music cutting out when Brutus steals the radio is how Olive Oyl and Popeye learn the cartoon has started and they need to do something. It’s always the little things that tickle me particularly.