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.

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.

Another Word From The Rabbit


“Seriously,” our pet rabbit said, “you’ve got to let me do something about that plant.”

“Is this like when the `PIP’ button on the remote control was trying to undermine the foundation?”

“And I got to that in time, didn’t I?” He buried his head into his chest-fur. “Don’t see the house falling in on anyone, do you?”

I granted that. “How about the time the keyboard cord was, what was it doing exactly?”

“Someone would trip over that! I saved your life, I bet, and are you even giving me a little credit?”

“This is about me dropping hay on your head, isn’t it? Are you upset about that?”

“How would you feel about someone who dropped bags of doughnuts on your head?” And then he hiccoughed, because somehow we have a pet rabbit who hiccoughs.

Hours later, I still don’t know how I’d answer his question.

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