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.

Popeye’s Island Adventures has hiccup, also strange event


There are many things I don’t understand, even now, about the Popeye’s Island Adventure cartoons. Who makes them, for example, like, is it a single writer-or-director? A team? Several individuals? How many are they going to make? How many do they plan to make? Are they still making new cartoons, and are they responding to audience reactions in making them? Why does the YouTube channel posting these have it labelled in some places as ‘Popeye For Kids’? And what is the release schedule? I often can’t find a new cartoon until a Monday, which makes me feel nervous when I know I have, like, two things I have to do on Tuesday. I’ve been thinking about passing one week on purpose just to give myself some margin and chance to see a cartoon before writing about it.

And then there’s the strange conclusion to this week’s entry, Sick of the Hiccups, which the title also says offers ‘AND MORE’. That more is other Popeye’s Island Adventure cartoons. After all the hiccups are done we get reruns of Feeling Blue, and then Can’t Handle The Tooth, and then Popeye Squared, and finally Heatwave. But with no title cards or clear breaks between cartoons you could be forgiven for not knowing what the heck is going on.

But the first cartoon of this eleven-minute video is new, so let me talk about that first two minutes, seventeen seconds.

The short started with the sort of simple, traditional premise I usually like in these: Popeye has hiccups. It disrupts his eating oatmeal. I like the camera move of his bowl leaping into the air and landing on his head. And I like Eugene popping in and imitating Popeye’s clumsy eating. There’s not much reason for Eugene to do it, but a clever animal like a Jeep can just stop in and mess with people.

Popeye heads off, hiccuping every few steps, to Olive Oyl’s. Meanwhile Bluto, dressed as a giant flower, sneaks into the short. Olive gets to play her role as smart person who knows how to find things in books and stuff, and puts Popeye through a couple of the traditional sure-fire hiccup cures that I only ever see people in comic strips or old-time sitcoms use. Popeye trying to drink a water while upside-down is a funny idea, but I don’t feel it this short.

Popeye tries holding his breath, and spinaches things up to do it better. This makes him manifest an air tank, swim fins, and breathing mask. I don’t mind him doing that, but the combination is weird. It isn’t like you’re holding your breath in scuba gear, not if you’re using it right. I feel like they had the Popeye-in-diving-suit stuff for another short and reused it here. I don’t mind him manifesting hardware like that, it’s just … this isn’t how you hold your breath. I know, the short is aimed at kids, and you never really imagine what you were like as a kid. I think, though — on the grounds of my documented complaints, at age eight, about the plausibility of The Far-Out Space Nuts — that if I were a kid I’d be bothered by that.

I don’t mind him manifesting the hardware. His accidentally puncturing the air tank on a harpoon that Olive has in the umbrella stand is … something that unsettles me more every time I think about it. The puncture sends Popeye flying out of control, back towards his house, while Olive resolves to scare him out of the hiccups.

Finally — and it’s a bit weird it can feel like “finally” when it’s only been about 75 seconds — we get back to Bluto. He’s snuck into Popeye’s garden, and sees a pile of spinach cans. He gets this delighted look as he sees he can steal all Popeye’s canned spinach. And it is such an endearing look. I think my favorite part of these new shorts might be the moments, like at 1:33 here, where Bluto’s joyfully surprised. He swipes the stack just ahead of Popeye, and then Olive Oyl, arriving.

Olive’s dressed as a ghost to which Popeye is indifferent. Popeye sees the missing spinach, though, and is horrified, scared out of his hiccups and, briefly, the ability to stand. It’s the obvious joke, yes, but obvious doesn’t mean wrong, and it resolves the story’s problem sensibly. And I like the animation of Popeye’s point of view and how the missing cans get highlighted.

Olive cleans up the loose ends, using her bedsheet ghost costume to wrangle Bluto. Popeye hugs Bluto, grateful, and that’s again the obvious resolution but also the one that makes sense. And I like when, occasionally, a cartoon ends with Popeye glad for Bluto. A circumstance like this where Bluto has no idea why Popeye’s hugging him makes it better. And Bluto has hiccups, since the premise of cartoon hiccups is that they never go away, they just transmit from one being to another.

I’ve said, I think, many warm things about this short. Do I like it? … Not so much, really. I think it’s a good start, but I only really liked a few moments in it. Bluto’s delighted face at finding the spinach free, for example. But it never gets wild or imaginative enough for me. I don’t think the short does anything wrong. Once again I suspect this would play better as the skeleton of a full-length cartoon instead.

I have no idea why they’ve started putting more shorts on the end of these cartoons, or how they pick the ones they have. I do wonder if, like, five weeks from now when they stack this onto the end of some short, they’ll also put the other nine minutes of cartoons on. I’m imagining the day when each of these videos is two minutes, ten seconds of, like, Young Popeye playing a video game and then a four-hour block of previous Island Adventures, some of them repeated a dozen times over. That seems like it’s nothing too extreme to me.


I’m do try to review all these Popeye’s Island Adventures. Essays about them should be at this link. If I do take an off week to give myself more writing time, eh, you’ll see something about it. Don’t worry.

Curing the Hiccoughs in Rabbits


I need to preface this by pointing out it’s all true, which I know make it sound like I’m making it up, but I’m not. Our pet rabbit occasionally gets hiccoughs, which are as adorable as you might imagine, if you’re imagining a rabbit flopped out on his bed and suddenly, without sound, jiggling rhythmically, all over.

So I caught him starting to hiccough, and called out, “Try a folk remedy! That always helps!” And he looked a little bit at me for making such a racket and his hiccoughing stopped right there.

From this I learn that I’ve found an exciting new folk remedy for hiccoughs.


Also, if you enjoy this sort of thing, I found reasons to reprint a Jumble word puzzle over on my mathematics blog, because it mentioned abacuses, and that’s enough for my discussions of mathematical-themed comic strips. Also I explain why I think a magic trick from the kids’ activity page was wrong.