I am, to my amazement, close to the end of writing something about (almost all) the King Features Popeye cartoons of the 1960s. Unless I’ve messed up my notes, this is my last Gene Deitch cartoon. So, sad to say, I have no story credits to give you. I can just suggest we look at 1960’s Seeing Double.
Among the things I like about the Gene Deitch cartoons is their ambition in story structure. In particular, they’re comfortable keeping stuff secret from the characters and from the audience. It suggests trust from Deitch (and the other creators of the cartoon). I’m not sure whether they trusted the kids would wait to have the plot revealed, or whether they trusted kids will watch Popeye even if they don’t understand it. It makes them stand out against cartoons with more linear plots and explained motives.
Here we establish that Olive Oyl wants a $2,000 mink stole Popeye can’t nearly afford. And then we cut away to a bunch of gangsters. It’s not clear either party knows of the other’s existence. The head gangster, doing an Edward G Robinson impression, has a new robot duplicate of Popeye. I’m not sure the duplicate is meant to look like Popeye. I get the feeling they just made something that worked and it happened to be a short guy in sailor suit with a corncob pipe. You know, the way all robots of the early 60s had corncob pipes.
Robot Popeye puts on a good indestructible show, marching through walls and punching through safes. Based on eyewitness reports the cops toss Popeye in jail. Olive Oyl cries how it’s all her fault, forcing Popeye to rob the bank to buy a mink stole, and we finally learn why that scene was even in the cartoon. It’s odd that Olive Oyl should think Popeye could do something underhanded like rob a non-crooked bank. But Olive Oyl — like all the humans save Popeye in the comic strip — is venal, and can’t fully believe in a person who is not. When another Robot Popeye robbery is reported Popeye’s had enough of this impersonator. Rather than pause to note his unshakeable alibi, he breaks out of jail, punching through the walls just like the robot does.
Then there’s the confusing element here. Somehow Popeye ropes the gangsters’ car. We haven’t seen him have any reason to even know there are gangsters. My guess is the story ran long, and something had to be cut, so they went with cutting the bit where Popeye learned what the audience already knew. I guess that’s the best choice. It’s a bold shortcut to take, though, if you suppose that a skeptical grown-up might be watching. (The gangsters also go from flying out of a car to falling off a building, which suggests some scene or other got lost.)
When I reviewed Potent Lotion, another Deitch cartoon that opens with unexplained events, I wondered about casting Brutus as the head gangster. Now that we have an original character cast as the head gangster I wonder why not Brutus. This shows how I can’t be satisfied. But I am a poor amateur critic, and I have to use the few tools I have. One is to ask, how would the story change if some element were different? If the gangster were Brutus, then the robot’s resemblance to Popeye could not be coincidence. I don’t see where that would affect the cartoon much. It would even have explained why Popeye nabs the head gangster, as it’s usually safe to pick Brutus as the culprit. My best guess is they wanted to do an Edward G Robinson character, since that’s always a fun voice, and that’s that.
Still, if we have run out of Gene Deitch Popeye cartoons, I’m glad to go out on one that I enjoy so.