Popeye’s Pizza Palace is a 1960 Jack Kinney joint. The story and the animation direction are both Eddie Rehberg’s doing. It’s … a cartoon, certainly.
It’s hard to imagine now but there was a time when just mentioning pizza was a sure-fire laugh line. Foods go through this as they become part of The American Diet. In the 80s, sushi was such a crazy idea that saying someone liked it was the shorthand way to establish they were Not From Around Here. Possibly not from the planet. I recall a Fred Allen quip, circa 1940, where he described a bagel as “a doughnut with a hangover”, an image funny enough it doesn’t matter it doesn’t make sense. Somewhere in my copybook is a note about H L Mencken protesting the people who eat olives instead of a good normal salty food like anchovies.
So. The late 50s/early 60s were pizza’s turn to be really hilarious as everybody in America discovered they liked the basic idea. This observation gives us the premise, sure. It also gives us the choice to fit the word “pizza” into every line of dialogue. It’s a bold choice, one that works in a way I’m not sure Rehberg intended. Like, I believe Rehberg figured he was stuffing the dialogue with a zany funny word. But the endless repetition ends up creating this absurdist word music and I got into that.
The whole — I can’t really call this a story. The whole scenario has this absurdist air. It starts with Popeye juggling pizzas and shuffling a stack of pizzas like cards, and ignoring Wimpy’s pleas for hamburger pizzas. The absurdity grows as Popeye lists a bunch of bonkers pizza concepts. This includes the doughnut pizza you eat from the inside out, the sun bonnet pizza, the parasol pizza, and the Leaning Tower of Pizza. (Every time my Dad drove me up Route 17 in North Jersey he’d point out where the Leaning Tower of Pizza restaurant used to be in the 60s.) There’s not a one of them that customer Brutus is at all interested in. It sneaks up on those Monty Python “dictionary” sketches where they run through asking the same thing four hundred different ways.
As a story there’s not much here to make sense. Wimpy trying to cadge “hamburger pizzas”, sure. Turning to Brutus when Popeye won’t even answer him? Sure. Brutus offering to buy Wimpy pizza? All right. Popeye then asking Brutus what he wants, leading to the long string of baffling concept pizzas? Introducing the weird pizza conveyor belt? Brutus deciding he wants a tamale pizza and Popeye getting red-hot furious at this idea? I can’t figure any motivation here. It’s all people tossing off strange sets of words into an absurd universe.
Because it’s an odd moment, to close off a string of odd moments, let me share Popeye’s closing rhyme:
I’m Popeye the Pizza Man
I’m Popeye the Pizza Man
I beats ’em and rolls ’em
As fast as I can
‘Cause I’m Popeye the Sailor Man!
This is an apt summary of the cartoon.