60s Popeye: The Super Duper Market (or as I would call it, the Super Duper’s Market)


Today’s Popeye is another Jack Kinney production. Animation direction’s credited to Ed Friedman. The story is credited to Tom Hix. The name seems to have no other credits — for anything — on the Internet Movie Database. I don’t know how to explain this. Maybe a friend of Kinney’s needed some extra cash. Maybe it’s a pseudonym for someone who was under contract. Whatever the explanation, here’s 1960’s The Super Duper Market.

And check out the weird copyright on the title card. I would guess this was one of the Kinney studio’s first shorts, before everything was quite organized.

It’s hard to say this short has a plot, or even story. It’s a bunch of spot jokes set in a Super Duper Market. It’s a grocery store that looks to be nearly half the size of a modern Meijer’s. Well, these things were less familiar back then. There are some decent ideas working up to being spoofs of the supermarket idea. The guy who’s been lost for fifteen years, for example. Or Brutus having to oversee matters using televisions and control panels and radio calls to Clerk X-9.

I don’t know that X-9 is a reference to Dashiell Hammett and Alex Raymond’s Secret Agent X-9 action comic strip, still a going concern in 1960. There was an agent named X-9 in Rocky and Bullwinkle, made about the same time. But it might just be that X-9 makes a good-sounding name. The clerk’s given a voice evoking Sheldon Leonard, who before he became a TV producer had a good gig as racetrack tout on The Jack Benny Show.

Wimpy, lifted off the floor by a crane, grabs a can from the top of a tall stack, while remaining impassive about the whole matter.
Wimpy’s kind of like a big dog, you know, like a Labrador retriever or something where when you pick them up they just shrug and accept that somehow, yes, this is my life now, this is how it shall always be, this isn’t all that bad really, can I have something to eat?

There is something about all this which evoked Jack Benny’s show to me. It’s in the casual way we move from spot joke to spot joke, I think, with some callbacks. This particularly in the guy who’s been lost for fifteen years. His reappearances give a decent running joke and a decent way for Popeye to get his spinach.

More than that, though, it’s got this light, dreamy feeling. There’s the usual events. Brutus figures to get Olive Oyl on his own and figures assaulting her will make her love him. Popeye eats his spinach and punches him out. There’s not much build in suspense or drama, though, and certainly not in pacing. There’s some good cutting between Brutus harassing Olive Oyl and the frozen Popeye and Wimpy and Lost Guy, though. Makes for a decent hang out with some people it’s nice to see.

This seems to be one of those cartoons where Brutus doesn’t know Popeye and Olive Oyl at the start of the action, but intuits that Olive Oyl is not going with Wimpy. It also features Popeye and Olive Oyl and Wimpy singing a tuneless sort of song about having a party. There’s no good reason for that to amuse me like it does, but it does.

60s Popeye: The Square Egg although I have to nitpick and say it’s a cube


Good news, everyone! The Whiffle Bird is back, and she’s a she again. We have Rosemary O’Connor to thank for this story. Direction is by Rudy Larriva, and the producer Jack Kinney. This is Rosemary O’Connor’s lone writing credit on the Internet Movie Database. She gets a good number of credits as background artist for the King Features Popeye cartoons (including this short). She has other shows from the 1957 Crusader Rabbit revival through to the 1984 Alvin and the Chipmunks revival. Here with us from 1960 is The Square Egg.

Nobody ever says Brutus’s name, this cartoon. I wonder if this was made early in the production run. Sometime before King Features had decided what to do about their (mistakenly) thinking they didn’t own the Bluto character.

And, as the teaser said, we have the Whiffle Hen back. She’s a hen, too, hen enough to lay a square egg. Brutus swipes the surely valuable egg, and then it’s all a chase to get it back. Brutus is foiled when the egg cracks, but happy news: there’s a cubical Whiffle Chick inside. There’s a little tussle over who’ll take the Whiffle Chick, quickly resolved to “the kid will stay with the Hen”.

Thing is, this script feels like a first draft. There are a couple of good bits. Seeing that Brutus keeps the stolen egg in a birdcage. Or Popeye looking over the smashed ruins of his henhouse and declaring “everything looks normal”. The hallway-of-doors chase between a bunch of trees that ends with Brutus popping up in front of the camera to say, “I’m surrounded!”

Against that, though: when Popeye slowly reads the ransom note he declares, “Well blow me down! … Oh my gawrshk! … Well blow me down!”. It’s like Jack Mercer ran through all the plausible responses and they didn’t decide which to pick. I get lingering on the note so the audience can read it, but why not “Oh my gawrshk! We’ve been egg-napped?” All right; that’s a sloppy edit.

Swee'Pea, Professor Wotasnozzle, Olive Oyl, and Popeye standa around looking at the Whiffle Hen and the Whiffle Chick. The Whiffle Hen's a roughly ordinary chicken-size bird. The Chick is quite large, about as tall as Popeye, and has a vaguely cubical body and head, and with the beak at a weird angle looks with half-lidded eyes towards the camera.
The Whiffle Chick’s expression is my look in every picture, right down to my head being tilted for no obvious reason.

But consider earlier on. When Professor Wotasnozzle arrives, he’s stunned by the news of the square egg. What did they tell him he was coming out to see? Shortly after Olive Oyl says “Oh, Professor, you say such scientific things.” This after he said the egg would cause “a revolution in egghead circles”. What’s a scientific thing about that? Or the ending bit, with the newly-hatched Whiffle Chick growing quite large and then … being asked to pick where he’s going to go.

These aren’t major issues and I can imagine small dialogue changes that would fix them. Which is why I say it reads like a first draft.

I’m disappointed the Whiffle Hen doesn’t get to show off any of her natural extraordinary good luck. Or, as she’d become in other shorts, magic powers to do plot-generating stuff. But at least she gets to be mother to an oddly cute child considerably larger than she is.

60s Popeye: Bottom Gun, containing one (1) more Old West cartoon


So stop me if you’ve heard this one. It’s a 1960 Jack Kinney-produced cartoon, with a story by Raymond Jacobs. And it’s got Popeye and all in the Old West, Popeye facing down a gunslinger played by Brutus. You’re wrong. This is not Pest of the Pecos. This cartoon has animation direction by Rudy Larriva, instead of Harvey Toombs. Let’s see what a difference that makes. Here’s Bottom Gun.

My recent experience with Raymond Jacobs-penned shorts set me up to expect a sloppy cartoon. Not only that the story might not quite hang together. A lot of the King Features Popeye shorts lack story logic. I mean, like, the weird edits and scenes held a bit too long to make sense. Not so, though. This is much closer in spirit to Pest of the Pecos. So much closer it even copies the joke about Wimpy being the undertaker, and offering a lay-away plan.

This time around, Popeye isn’t the marshall. He’s a chicken farmer. And Brutus the Kid isn’t a particularly wanted desperado, although he is a notorious gunslinger. He’s also hitting on Olive Oyl, who hits back, with sacks of sugar. Popeye challenges him to a duel, but sets up a surprise. A cheat, if we’re honest: he pours enough molasses into Brutus’s holster that there’s no getting the gun out. Great credit to Popeye for thinking his way out of danger, This generates a lot of funny scenes, too, as Brutus fails to get his gun out. He eventually rips off his pants and gets himself knocked out.

Mondays, am I right?
Brutus looks to the camera, dazed and baffled. He’s pulled his pants off and stands with his long shirt draped over his stocking-clad legs.

Thing is, especially with Popeye shooting all the time, it gets to feeling unfair. It makes Brutus hapless, in much the way Marshall Popeye was in Pest of the Pecos. It’s hard not to sympathize with Brutus, who doesn’t get to look dangerous. (Granted, since Popeye takes about 800 shots without most of them even appearing on-screen, he’s not dangerous either.) When Brutus comes back, furious at his humiliation, it’s hard not to sympathize.

Sometimes I feel I write these looking for things to call “wrong”. Here’s a story that sets out a decent premise. It carries the story forward sensibly. It’s got a big center piece showdown with two solid joke setups. Popeye and Brutus stepping toward each other and then missing one another, with Popeye falling into a puddle, is great. The long sequence of Brutus trying every possible way to get his gun out is good too. And here I am sulking that the moral balance of the cartoon feels off. Still, Brutus deserves to be beaten, but he needs to be a bigger threat first.

60s Popeye: The Blubbering Whaler (fade out, fade back to the same scene)


With The Blubbering Whaler King Features’s YouTube page starts a new and unwelcome change. It cuts all the credits before the title card off the first short. You know, for everyone who thinks the unlikeable part of Popeye is one of the three most successful bits of theatrical-short-character music since sound came to movies. (I’d put it behind “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down” and ahead of “The Woody Woodpecker Song” and “No one But Donald Duck”. The Mickey Mouse song was composed for the TV Clubhouse so I don’t have to have an opinion on that.)

Still, from the title card it’s obvious this is a Jack Kinney production, and that it’s from 1960. The Internet Movie Database offers that the animation direction was by Jack Kinney, and the writing by Raymond Jacobs.

With credits given now, let’s watch.

Raymond Jacobs’s name is given as writer for ten Popeye TV shorts. These include Plumbers Pipe Dream, which was bonkers. Also Popeye and the Dragon, which was pleasant without quite making sense. Also Popeyed Columbus, a cartoon full of odd moments. So I come into this expecting a bunch of odd little moments.

I am not disappointed! This short is full of strange fade-outs, including one that comes seconds after the short opens. Or scenes that linger a bit longer than they ought. It adds this weird, awkward timing to everything. It would be fantastic editing for a comedy-of-embarrassment show and I don’t know how Popeye got this treatment.

As often happens it’s a story with a frame. Swee’Pea promises to sleep if Popeye tells the story of how he sang whales to sleep. Popeye does get there, in the smallest and least interesting part of the story. It’s hard to not suspect they did a bunch of whaling-cartoon gags and then remembered they had to show Popeye sing to whales.

The story Popeye tells — and feigns sleep to get out of resolving — is of his being on a whaling ship, under Captain Brutus. When they spot a mother and child whale together, Popeye refuses to harpoon either. Good for him. Standing up for animals is one of Popeye’s best, if inconsistent, traits. (After all, he signed on to this whaling voyage.) Captain Brutus orders the whale harpooned, Popeye accepts and then rejects the order, and then they get into a fight.

Popeye salutes, but is angry. Also in the frame is a bearded sailor wearing a striped shirt, leaning in from the opposite side of the screen from Popeye.
Congratulations to the winner of Cheerios’s “Appear On Popeye The Sailor” Sweepstakes!

Still, we’ll make time for odd moments like a view of some whaler who’s not Brutus or Popeye or seen a second time. Or Popeye holding his spinach up triumphantly … and holding … and holding, long enough for a wave to wash it overboard. There was no possible way to avoid that except by Popeye eating his spinach the way he does every other time. But that does mean the mother whale gets to eat Popeye’s spinach, a rare chance for an animal to get the power-up.

The mother wrecks the whaling ship, a most understandable action. This sets up Popeye’s best line, identifying the pair as “the fountain … and its youth”. The line sounds clever enough it doesn’t matter that its meaning is elusive. It’s merry enough. But the editing is sloppy. And the music is the usual shuffle of Kinney background music. It’s not forgettable like that bowling one a couple months ago was. But I wonder if Raymond Jacobs was an inexperienced story-writer.

60s Popeye: Hill Billy Dilly, featuring a cast of dozen (mostly Brutus)


I think this is the first Hillbilly cartoon in the King Features run, at least as they’ve ordered things. Hill Billy Dilly is a 1960 short from Jack Kinney studios. Story by Wesley Bennett, a new name around here. Animation direction by Harvey Toombs, not a new name. Producer, of course, is Jack Kinney, a pretty well-worn name by now.

The premise is that Popeye and Olive Oyl, looking for a picnic, accidentally wander into the middle of the Hitchfield-and-McGoo feud. They take a while to tumble on to what’s happening. I wonder if there were any impulse to have Popeye and Olive Oyl never suspect they’re being shot at. I imagine that would give a great comic tension. But leaving that unresolved might be moer than the kid audience would bear. (On the other hand, it’s not like kids couldn’t handle Mister Magoo.)

Popeye sits atop a heap of knocked-out Brutus clones, and holds his spinach up, ready to start eating it now.
So turns out the Crisis on Infinite Blutuses wasn’t that big a problem.

There is a lot of talking in this cartoon about two gangs of Brutus Clones who won’t stop shooting each other. I’m distracted trying to figure out who voiced the Hitchfield Brutuses. (They’re the ones wearing the blue shirts, like normal-model Brutus.) I didn’t think either Jackson Beck or Jack Mercer had this range, but it’s easy for me to be wrong about that. Beck, particularly, was on every radio program of the 1940s so he knew some things to do with his voice. The talk doesn’t get far — a punch line about how nobody remembers what they’re feuding over — but maybe I’m outside the audience that would find that a killer revelation.

And then to pad the screen time we get Olive Oyl being fickle. She set up, properly, that she was tired of Popeye finding someone to fight all the time. But then after the McGoos and the Hitchfields get to fighting over who’s protecting her, she blames Popeye for fighting. It’s a weird beat, allowing Popeye to spend some screen time doing she-loves-me/she-loves-me-not with flowers when Olive Oyl cries for help. Popeye beats up the Hitchfields, producing a funny pile of Brutus clones. Then the McGoos insist if anyone beats up the Hitchfields it’s going to be them. So Popeye needs his spinach to punch up another pile of Brutus clones.

Close-up shot of Olive Oyl screaming for help. We see into her mouth, seeing her upper teeth, her tongue, and the outline of the back of her throat showing two uvulas.
Peple asks Popeye what he sees in Olive Oyl, who is, after all, a fickle, quarrelsome, often aggravating person. And yes, she has these weaknesses. On the other hand: where else is he going to find a woman with two uvulas?

That bit of Olive Oyl complaining about Popeye is diagnostic of the cartoon, though. It’s reasonable for Olive Oyl to be tired of Popeye always fighting. And it can produce good comic tension if Popeye’s restrained from fighting. But it’s brought up at a moment, in a scenario, where it doesn’t make sense. So we have another cartoon where the flow of events is mostly all right, but the characters talk as though responding to a different plot line.

It’s all okay, but does feel like Popeye versus two mobs of Brutuses should be more wild.

60s Popeye: Popeye in the Woods and … did Wimpy invent the bacon cheeseburger?


Today’s is a cartoon from 1960. I always lead with that, but I want that year particularly remembered. The story is by Ed Nofziger, and the animation direction by Eddie Rehberg. So you know the producer (and director) was Jack Kinney. So, again, from 1960, here’s Popeye in the Woods.

This is another cartoon that feels like two cartoon ideas pushed together. In particular, it feels like a regular cartoon onto which a public service announcement was grafted, like Gene Deitch’s Tooth Be Or Not Tooth Be. Here, it’s a camping cartoon plus a warning about not setting the forest on fire.

So it sends Popeye and Wimpy out to the woods, past a quick shot of commanding billboards, to sleep. They’re out in the open, without even sleeping bags. Popeye is kept awake by the quiet sounds of the woods. Apart from a squirrel dropping an acorn and a frog beating its chest, these are all insects. Or mushrooms popping up. I’m not sure why it’s almost all insect noises, except I guess for the comic exaggeration that a caterpillar is so very slight a sound.

There’s also the good comic instinct that Wimpy falls asleep and stays asleep. This after complaining he wanted hamburgers that Popeye said they couldn’t cook here. Wimpy snores, so we know he’s asleep. But he’s also interrupted by mutterings about hamburgers. And the most interesting one is a muttering, “hamburger with cheese and bacon”.

So, do you know the story of The Bacon Cheeseburger? Granting, yes, it’s always hard to track down where foods actually started. But the least-disputed claim is that bacon cheeseburgers first appeared at an A&W restaurant on then-US 16 in Lansing, Michigan. In 1963. (The road is now either Grand River Avenue or Cesar Chavez Avenue, depending on where the restaurant was.) Then-franchise-owner Dave Mulder thought the cheeseburger would be even better with bacon, and what do you know, was right. (Mulder would go on to be chairman of A&W, so, good instincts all around.) Granted, it’s absurd to suppose that no person ever had the thought of putting bacon on a cheeseburger before 1963. This still seems like an early publication of the idea.

And this is not Wimpy’s only act of food pioneering this cartoon. After Popeye finally silences the forest, the quiet wakes him up. Again, good story structure there. Wimpy sees the mushrooms that appeared and declares “mushroom-burgers are delicious”. He sets them grilling on what seems more like a mushroom kebab than anything else, but, still. Today, restaurants offer portobello mushrooms, for vegetarians who want something like a burger only disappointing. When did that start? When did that become widespread? People aren’t copying Wimpy’s inspiration here, right?

A chagrinned Wimpy imagines the burned-out forest, with survivor raccoon, two deer, and a rabbit crying over their fates.
If that were a skunk rather than a raccoon, I would wonder whether former Disney animator Jack Kinney was alluding to the movie version of Bambi. I’m still a bit curious whether that was still the goal but they thought a skunk would be a distraction in a way a raccoon wasn’t.

Wimpy’s campfire starts a forest fire, and Popeye eats his spinach so he can stomp it out. Wimpy has to jump into the water to put himself out, and ruins his mushroom-burger-kebab. And Popeye explains how bad forest fires are, starting from the killed trees to the displaced animals to the floods and human misery that result. And then cooks a chagrinned Wimpy some hamburgers, in a proper grill, because he’s Popeye the safety-in-the-woods man.

As with the tooth cartoon I’d like to know if this was meant to be a public service. I wouldn’t think it hard to fill a whole five minutes with camping jokes, especially since so much of the time was jokes about not being able to get to sleep. It makes more sense they couldn’t find five minutes of jokes about woodland fire safety, at least not before deadline. It would also make sense of Wimpy feeling regret about the innocents he might have harmed.

And I would so like to know whether Wimpy bestowed on us all the bacon cheeseburger and the portobello mushroom burger and didn’t even make a fuss of it.

60s Popeye: Battery Up or we could sneak out and watch Baseball Bugs if you prefer


Nothing against today’s cartoon. It’s a 1960 cartoon with the story by Jack Kinney. So you know what that says about the production. Animation direction is credited to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. It’s just that there’s already a really good baseball cartoon out there. Still, we didn’t stop making space movies when there’s already the bits from Battle Beyond The Stars that I kind of remember from when I was sixteen. So let’s extend the same courtesy to other premises. Battery up!

We get a nice rousing start, with Jackson Beck doing his best sports-announcer voice. I haven’t listened to actual radio broadcasts of the 50s but it all sounds plausible enough. Introducing the characters with newspaper mockups is a good device and also lets them save like a minute’s worth of animation budget. From the headlines we see Thompson Tries for Records at least twice on the same page, so Thompson’s having a good season.

After that? Well, we get your basic jokes for one difficult half of an inning of baseball. It’s Popeye versus a team of Brutus duplicates. Brutus hits everything Popeye tosses at him, which is lucky because Popeye doesn’t have a catcher. It’s curious that having a team of nine Brutuses is okay in a way that nine Popeyes could not be. In the Fleischer cartoon The Twisker Pitcher Popeye and Bluto had anonymous teammates.

But even with a minute of staring at still pictures there isn’t the animation budget for teammates. There’s also no animation budget for crowds; the only person in the stands is Olive Oyl. She has a nice, underplayed joke where she has everything at her seat, including a coffee percolator, a TV set, and an alarm clock. It’s a surprise to have an understated joke, in this era; I’m glad seeing it.

Picture of a 1960-style TV set, with a smiling Popeye on screen sliding a pristine blank background in place of a 'broken' picture.
Be right back; I’m going to photoshop this into a Coming Up Next card for my fake TV station.

Most of the cartoon’s time is spent on silly pitches and silly fielding. Nothing at all wrong. Worst you can say about it is that there’s only one big, surprising joke. That’s the baseball heading right for the camera and then Popeye apologizing for breaking your TV. That’s a great moment of energy and if there were two more jokes like that I’d call this a great baseball cartoon. (Olive Oyl’s pile of stuff is funny and gets better each time you see it, but it’s not a big joke.) Instead, it’s pretty good for the cheap TV leagues.

A curious point here. Popeye gets around to his spinach, yes. But there’s no point where Brutus and the Bruclones are cheating. They hit everything Popeye throws at them, but they’re hitting fair and square. (And even at that, they hit one pop fly that’s so easy Popeye doesn’t have to move to catch it.) At least in The Twisker Pitcher Bluto did stuff like mess with Popeye’s clothes and swap his spinach out for grass. It throws the moral balance off. And there’s a curious not-quite-resolution. An unconscious Brutus accidentally hits a ball that knocks out Popeye and Olive Oyl. It’s a good idea for how to end the action, since we don’t have time to set up a way for Popeye to win the game. But without someone — it would have to be Wimpy — to observe anything, it leaves the cartoon petering out. Poor form. It’s essays written online reviewing things that are supposed to peter out, not cartoons.

60s Popeye: Jeep Jeep, the one with the Jeep


Today’s is a short from the Jack Kinney studios, so you know who’s producer. Story is by Ed Nofziger and animation direction Ken Hultren. Here is 1960’s Jeep Jeep.

The Popeye Wikia says Jeep Jeep “is not to be confused with Jeep Is Jeep. They have made their ruling; now let them enforce it.

1960’s Jeep Jeep is a Jack Kinney Studio production introducing Eugene the Jeep. 1960’s Jeep Is Jeep is a Paramount Cartoon Studios production introducing Eugene the Jeep. I’m curious whether all five 1960s King Features studios did their Introducing The Jeep cartoon.

This time around, it’s Swee’Pea who discovers the Jeep, after he wanders far from home. I like that as an idea. Travel as a way to encounter and be changed by magic fits. Even if Swee’Pea is only nine miles from Popeye’s Boring Suburban Home. Nine miles is a pretty good journey for someone who can’t walk upright yet.

Swee’Pea brings Eugene home. Popeye’s willing in the end to accept a magic pet who can broadcast music and CW ham radio. (I couldn’t make out what Eugene’s Morse code message was. I suspect it was nonsense.) Brutus and the Sea Hag decide they’ve got to steal a dog who knows how far away the Sun is. I understand this was shorthand for “knows everything”, but from what we see? It’s a dog that can help you win pub quiz night. Also not sure why Brutus and the Sea Hag teamed up on this. Or why it takes two villains.

Swee'Pea looking up delighted at what appears to be a large Jeep. It's Brutus wearing a Jeep costume; the audience can see the seams.
So did Brutus and Sea Hag make that Jeep costume, or did they rent it?

Their plan: kidnap Swee’Pea so they can kidnap Eugene. This seems like one kidnapping too many to me. Maybe the Sea Hag figures it’s the only way to keep Eugene from attacking her. Anyway, Popeye has a plan, which is to give the villains what they want, and then wait for their plan fall apart. And this works. Eugene’s treasure map takes them, by plane, by train, through swamps, to the desert, to dig into jail. Popeye barely has to get up from his chair.

I want to like this cartoon more than I do. It’s Jeep-centered, for one. The resolution involves out-thinking the bad guys instead of just punching them. But the story’s too ramshackle for me to quite buy. Like, why do Brutus and the Sea Hag grab Swee’Pea and not Eugene? Why do they take this long yet very quick journey to dig into a jail? How did they not notice they were next to a jail? (I expected Eugene to have them dig into Fort Knox, malicious compliance with their wish for a place with tons of gold.) Was there nothing Popeye could do besides follow these adventures over his hand-held Jeep TV set?

Could be I assumed a Jack Kinney cartoon is going to have more comical weirdness to it. Or I want too much out of a Eugene the Jeep cartoon. Hard to say.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Service Station, service with a sotto voce chuckling


Jack Kinney gets the story and the producer credits today. Animation direction goes to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. Here fresh from 1960 is Popeye’s Service Station.

Another cartoon, another small business that Popeye’s running. He must go through so much seed capital in-between shorts. This time, no pizza; he’s running a gas station.

The cartoon spends a lot of time establishing what Popeye’s Service Station offers for free. Jackson Beck reads the whole list twice, once in Narrator voice and then later on in Brutus voice. It’s fair to spend the time on this. Half the cartoon is everybody demanding the free stuff, and without the narrator kids who can’t read fast could be confused. Does mean it takes a while for the action to get started. When the action does start, it’s Popeye chuckling odd resigned phrases like “what’s the use?” at how many cars don’t need service right this minute.

Eventually we get Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus together on-screen and things proceed as you’d imagine. Brutus tries wooing Olive Oyl away from Popeye, by having his car eat Popeye. Brutus runs Popeye over, flat, twice. I was shocked by that in the (Paramount) Oil’s Well That Ends Well, but not so bothered here. I don’t know why it plays different this time around. Anyway, Popeye eats his flat spinach, there’s punching, Popeye keeps Brutus trapped on the car elevator for hours upon hours, the end.

Popeye holding a water hose up to the mouth of a camel standing in the back of a truck bed.
Popeye’s lucky he didn’t accidentally grab the air hose and inflate the poor camel out of the picture!

I suspect I’d like this cartoon more if I hadn’t just seen Popeye’s Pizza Palace. By any of the ordinary measures of story this is better-made. At no point do I wonder why a character chose to do that. Nor do I wonder how one action caused the next. I could describe the plot without it sounding like a dream. Popeye’s Pizza Palace throws together so many bizarre choices that the result delights me. Popeye’s Car Wash (from Harmon studios), another short built on a similar theme, has the repeating refrain of Popeye washing a conveyor belt of Very 50s Cars as an image. At Popeye’s Service Station, we have simple competence, the loopiest gag being the fellow who needs his camel refilled as he’s off to a caravan. I’m afraid that’s doomed to be forgotten.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Pizza Palace, an exciting journey into pizza-themed madness


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.

Snoopy, in his doghouse, which is just under the eaves of the Brown house from which a giant icile dangles, thinks: 'I'm doomed!' Inside, Lucy watches Charlie Brown place a call. Charlie Brown: 'Hello, Humane Society? We need your advice ... how do you get a dog out of a doghouse before an icicle falls on him?' To Lucy: 'He said to try coaxing him out with his favorite food ... something he just can't resist ... ' As he picks up the phone he asks, 'What's the number of 'Villella's Take-Out Pizza Parlor''?'
Charles Schulz’s Peanuts for the 12th of February, 1960, from a story that even as a kid I thought was weird because since when is Snoopy’s doghouse right next to the main house? And why the quote marks around “Villella’s Take-Out Pizza Parlor”?

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.

Popeye holds up his 'parasol pizza', an umbrella whose surface, apparently, is a pizza. There's olives dangling from the edges.
Does … does Popeye know how people generally use pizza in their lives?

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.

Popeye tugs a circle of pizza dough down his head, looking uncannily like the Fat Albert character 'Dumb' Donald. Both of Popeye's eyes are visible through the pizza dough.
You may ask why Popeye has two eyes peering through a layer of pizza dough here, but if we’re going to be honest, having just the one eye would somehow be hideous. Instead it just looks like that Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids character you remember as being named Mushmouth, but who was in fact “Dumb” Donald.

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!
Pizza!

This is an apt summary of the cartoon.

Popeye stands behind his counter, holding up a pizza, vertically, to the audience. On the pie are the words 'The Pizza Ends'.
Fun activity: what scene in this cartoon, if any, convinced you that the animators knew exactly what a pizza was and how it looked?

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Museum Piece, in which he puts nothing into the museum


It’s another Jack Kinney cartoon, this one from 1960. The story is by Carol Beers and Ruben Apodaca, names I don’t seem to have recorded before. Direction is by Eddie Rehberg, who’s been around a lot. Producer is Jack Kinney. Here, with Professor O G Wotasnozzle as the museum director, is Popeye’s Museum Piece. Wotasnozzle’s name gets a second ‘T’ in the newspaper Brutus reads. That kind of thing happens to him all the time.

My generic joke about the King Features Popeye cartoons of the 60s is that they were produced in less time than it takes to watch. Obvious hyperbole, of course. But there is the feeling at least that no one cartoon ever got much attention. Many stories feel like first drafts, not quite developed enough to where they fully make sense. (And there are a fair number that overcome this and have good solid stories anyway.)

Popeye’s Museum Piece gives that impression of being a first draft. The premise seems good enough. Popeye’s a museum employee. Brutus breaks in to steal a masterpiece. Eugene the Jeep sounds the alarm. Everybody slips some and falls over things they shouldn’t. It never quite works for me and I’m trying to think out why.

I notice the slapstick. There’s a steady joke about, like, Brutus tripping over a mop causing him to fall down the stairs. The thing is that he could hardly avoid anyway. Later he trips in a water pail as he’s crashing into a wall. And this feels emblematic of what doesn’t work. The characters tripping over stuff makes sense, for the plot and for the comedy. But tripping over something to send them into an accident they were going to have anyway? That’s sloppy writing. You can’t be running so fast toward the stairs that you’d have tumbled down even without the mop in the way. There’s another bit, where Popeye trips over Eugene the Jeep and they fall in a heap, with Eugene wearing Popeye’s hat. That works. That pratfall makes sense.

Eugene the Jeep bounds off down the hall. Behind is a painting or diorama showing an angry rabbit poked out of his head and glaring at a woodpecker or possibly a fox poking out of a tree. A jaguar in the tree branch and a bear behind the tree trunk are ready to attack the woodpecker. Also, there's a lion leaping onto the offended rabbit.
What … what is that mural or diorama or painting or whatever on the wall behind Eugene? (Brutus and Popeye run past it several times over, too, since there aren’t that many backgrounds.) I mean, besides a not-cartoony-enough rendition of the animal mayhem for a Slylock Fox spot-the-six-differences panel.

There’s the usual little animation errors. The one that did distract me is Popeye looking at the new masterpiece Professor Wotasnozzle’s declared is so important. Popeye declares he can’t see what’s so great about it. Perhaps because the painting isn’t anywhere on-screen and he’s actually looking at the space between two unrelated paintings. It’s not an error that wrecks the cartoon. But would it have been harder to use a background with the painting in it?

This isn’t a misbegotten cartoon, or even one that’s far from being good. I’m not clear why Popeye is the janitor-and-security-guy at the the city museum. I suppose because if he weren’t, we wouldn’t have a museum cartoon. Given that, Brutus stealing a painting makes sense. Why is Eugene the Jeep popping in and out and occasionally flashing his nose? Why is Popeye so determined to ignore Eugene freaking out over something? These answers might not matter. My impression, though, is the writers didn’t have any reasons in mind for all this. The story ends up sloppy, Brutus tripping over a mop he doesn’t need to as he falls down the stairs.

Popeye refers at one point to “the valuable painting!” which fell into his arms. He doesn’t seem to have reason to think it’s that. But I appreciate the Animal Crossing vibe of naming it “The Valuable Painting”.

60s Popeye: Golf Brawl, which doesn’t actually have fighting to speak of


Finally! It’s been over a half-year since we saw a bit of this cartoon. It was among those featured in the deeply baffling Popeye’s Testimonial Dinner. Now, we get to appreciate how much it did not fit that clip cartoon.

This is, as with the earlier cartoon, a Jack Kinney production. Kinney’s also credited with the story, such as there is. Animation direction is credited to our old friends Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. And now from 1960, take in a Golf Brawl.

As said in the prologue, Jack Kinney’s credited with the story, such as it is. The catch is there isn’t much story. There’s a string of golf jokes at the Meatball Meadows Championship Golf Tournament “to-day”. Popeye, Brutus, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy start as a quartet but go mostly into their own separate threads. The exception is that Popeye and Brutus do taunt one another, most often with the chant to “play the ball where it lies”, one of many repeated refrins. The cartoon flits between these and there’s not much development.

This isn’t to fault the cartoon for not having a plot or story or such. It’s an observation. There is an almost hypnotic pace to the cartoon. This especially with bits like coming back to Olive Oyl hitting the ball only to have it loop around the rim of the hole and come back to her. Or Wimpy counting up from “fore” to “five” to “six” all the way to at “one hundred and twenty-four” without hitting the ball. I can’t even call it antihumor, since it’s clear what’s supposed to be funny about this. It’s closer to that Sideshow-Bob-and-the-Rake thing of repeating a mildly funny joke to an extreme.

Cutaway view showing underground that Popeye is digging a tunnel in his attempts to hit the golf ball. The tunnel is dangerously close to the water hazard, in which Brutus stands, trying to hit his own submerged golf ball.
I mean, I’d even take a two-stroke penalty instead.

Popeye and Brutus have the thread nearest to a story here, as they keep getting into terrible lies and carry on. At one point Brutus hits a ball wild, and it bounces off several trees before klonking Popeye. This bit got used as a clip in Popeye’s Testimonial Dinner and there’s no way to see it as Brutus’s perfidy here. Eventually Brutus ends up stuck in a water hazard, and Popeye’s bad drives dig a tunnel out underneath, releasing the water in a tiny cataclysm. Somehow that isn’t the end of their thread. Nor is Brutus accidentally swallowing Popeye’s ball.

Olive Oyl finally putts her ball into the hole. This earns her the Popeye-the-Sailor-Man musical flourish. It earns her thread the only real resolution of anything this cartoon. Otherwise, given this group’s ability? There’s no reason the cartoon couldn’t carry on forever, drifting between strange failures to play golf.

It won’t be everyone’s taste, but if it is yours, it’s really yours. In any case it doesn’t match the clip show use at all.

60s Popeye: Madame Salami, not the fortune-telling cartoon I expected


It’s another Jack Kinney-produced and directed cartoon today. The story’s by Tony Benedict and the animation direction Harvey Toombs. Here from 1960 is Madame Salami.

Yesterday’s was a Jack Kinney cartoon that presented a standard enough plot done well. Today’s is not done as well. Olive Oyl visits the fortune-teller at the worst-attended carnival on record. The fortune-teller is Brutus in disguise, and sees a chance to break up Popeye and Olive Oyl.

From this setup I did expect a clip cartoon. That Brutus would show a bunch of scenes where Popeye had been a jerk. And Popeye would answer by showing how nuh uh, it was Brutus was the jerk all along. It would have been a cheap cartoon, but it would’ve worked. This is still a cheap cartoon. But it’s all original material. But consider: it manages to use the same footage for both Popeye and Brutus being knocked into the air to land halfway across the park. That’s some economical use of footage.

I don’t know why Brutus is working as Madame Salami, but allow that he has his reasons. He gets Olive Oyl to test Popeye’s love by commanding him to do things liable to get him killed. Bit grim but in character. Popeye has to go do unspeakable things with a lion. I mean, yes, context tells us he must be trying to stick his head in the lion’s mouth. But we never even see the lion on-screen. And all we hear is Popeye confirming that she wants “this” done. Like I say, a very cheap cartoon. Since he’s not dead yet, the next challenge is … to … walk off the edge of a downtown building? And since he’s still not killed — Brutus gets in a good quick crack about that — the next challenge is Popeye going off in a rocket. You know, in those extraterrestrial rockets that badly underattended carnivals of the 60s have. Finally Madame Salami orders Olive Oyl to marry Brutus, today, and she resigns herself to her fate. When Popeye gets back he sees Brutus running back to Madame Salami’s tent and eats his spinach, I have to suppose because he guesses that’ll help. It usually will, but why did he think this particular problem needed super-punching?

Popeye beaten and scratched up, flopped forward on his face, in front of the sign pointing to the Lion's Den.
The worst part is the Lions Den wasn’t for the animals, it was for the service organization that, like, fundraises for people who have vision impairments. Something went wrong.

I lay the plot out like that and it’s a little wacky but within reasonable bounds. It doesn’t make Olive Oyl look good, but being petty or jealous or insecure is part of her personality. And it’s not like Popeye is so reliable an attentive, involved boyfriend that the idea of testing him is obviously unreasonable. But there is something mean in her ordering Popeye to risk death over and over. We’re supposed to take it that she’s convinced by Madame Salami that Popeye needs more testing. But it also looks like Olive Oyl doesn’t understand carnival fortune tellers. The tests are odd, too. Fine to have Popeye do unspeakable things with a lion. That’s close enough to sensible that I’ll allow it. Walking off a building? That hardly seems to be from the same cartoon, never mind the same carnival. And the rocket? I guess it can be a carnival attraction but it’s still weird.

A plot doesn’t need to make sense if it’s presented well. But I don’t care for most of the jokes. The ones I do care for are side effects of the animation cheapness. For example, Brutus walking over Popeye like he’s not even there is funny but I also recognize that’s using a stock walking cycle. Being cheap doesn’t make a cartoon inherently bad. But there is something slipshod in the whole production. Consider the early exchange where Brutus asks, “What is it you would ask of me?” Olive Oyl answers, “And how will I know whether Popeye really loves me or not?” What is that “And” doing there? It makes sense if Olive Oyl had a line that got cut, but why not cut the “And” also?

An interesting bit of character, though, is that Brutus seems eager to marry Olive Oyl. When does comedy writing of this era show the man as wanting to get married? It’s refreshing, but I wonder how that got through production.

60s Popeye: Pest of the Pecos, containing one (1) Old West cartoon


It’s back to Jack Kinney studios; he’s the producer and the director. Animation direction is credited to Harvey Toombs and the story to Raymond Jacobs. Here’s 1960’s Pest of the Pecos.

This is a great example of how execution matters more than originality. The plot is the first thing that pops into your mind for the idea “Outlaw Brutus messes with Town Marshall Popeye”. But it’s carried out with energy and humor enough to stay interesting.

We start with Brutus stopping and robbing a train, demanding “ten gallons of loot”, a good enough idea. I had thought Olive Oyl was on the robbed train, suggesting that she and Popeye might not even share any scenes. It’d be a rare if not unique distinction for the short. No, though; it was a woman with the same voice actor. Brutus goes to the nearby quiet town of Gravestone Flats and riles up the villagers. Olive Oyl is one of the people with complaints. Swee’Pea’s stolen lollipop riles Popeye into direct action.

Popeye makes a curious marshall here. He’s not portrayed as irresolute or anything, just a little bit not competent. That’s mostly shown by his terrible handling of his gun. He tries rolling it on his finger and drops it. He tries to shoot at Brutus, holding the pistol two-handed and looking away and still gets knocked backwards by the recoil. I understand presenting this for your cowardly-hero type, a part that Bob Hope or at least Don Adams might play. For Popeye it seems weird. It’s easy to blame this kind of thing on Concerned Parents who don’t want children imitating their heroes’ gunplay. But 1960 seems early for that, and I’m not sure that clumsy gunplay is any better. It seems to me more likely Raymond Jacobs figured it was funny if Popeye fumbled his gun.

A sad-looking Marshall Popeye sits, humiliated, on a smashed watermelon while surrounded by a circle of accusatory pointing arms.
Oh hey, it’s my nightly anxiety dream, that’s great.

I like the energy and the tone of this cartoon. Brutus gets, as you’d expect, most of the fun bits, including a nice casual air of shooting anywhere he figures needs to be a little more riled up. And smaller jokes too, like complaining that the wanted poster doesn’t look like him. Or the wanted poster listing crimes: school marm pinching, tilting pinball machines, and income tax evasion. Won’t say anything about pinching or income tax evasion, but your debt to society is cleared when you tilt the pinball machine. You get your penalty right then and there.

Wimpy gets a job as the undertaker long enough that we can see he’s got a lay-away plan. It’s the easiest joke for the spot, but it’s not like Wimpy is going to work hard.

I still don’t understand the line of action when Brutus shot that painter’s scaffold out from under. Doesn’t matter, I suppose.

60s Popeye: Coach Popeye, crowding on Gil Thorp by not teaching sports any


We’re back to a Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. It’s also Kinney’s story. The animation direction, though, is Volus Jones. The year is 1960 and the name of the short is Coach Popeye.

It’s a rare appearance of Olive Oyl’s niece Deezil Oyl! Deezil first appeared in the 1960s shorts and I’m not sure if she’s been promoted to the “real” comic strip. She got to be in the Popeye’s Cartoon Club feature that ran for a year, but that’s noncanonical.

Deezil’s not here for a deeper exploration of her character. She’s here because if Swee’Pea were throwing baseballs through the window on his own, he’d be a jerk. Instead they can just be kids playing. Popeye steps in to show the kids how to play properly, and Brutus interferes because he’s Brutus. The resulting cartoon is a weird one. The story feels developed well enough. But there’s also a lot of dead air between things happening. Maybe Jack Kinney was leaving space for the kids to finish laughing. I don’t think of other Kinney-produced cartoons having quite so much space between events, though.

I’ve been trying to figure what feels off about Popeye’s and Brutus’s dialogue. It feels, to me, written to be a bunch of wordplay jokes, whether or not they make sense. Like, consider the exchange where Brutus declares “I can do better’n that!”. Popeye answers, “Ya can’t, cause you’re a bully!” Brutus answers, “Bully for you too!” There’s no logic there, but I can absolutely imagine being seven and delighted by the shifting uses of “bully”. Brutus and Popeye then get into a back-and-forth of “Can!” “Can’t!” and I go back-and-forth on that myself. On one watching of this cartoon it struck me as what writers put in when they want a fight but haven’t got anything to fight about. On another watching, the rhythm and pointlessness of it was funny. So I’ll suppose Jack Kinney knew what he was doing and did it.

A dazed Brutus jumps rope while Popeye plays jacks.
Popeye playing jacks on the lawn implies he’s either really confident about his ball-bouncing skills or he has no idea what he’s doing.

A slightly odd moment is Popeye declaring, “Kids, this is the wrong way, but I gots to teach him a lesson” before eating his spinach. Popeye’s always held up spinach as a good thing everyone should eat more of. With that setup, though, it plays into treating spinach as an illicit advantage. I suppose that attitude was in the air. In the 60s we’d still get Underdog having his Proton Energy Pills and SuperChicken havin his super-sauce. But we’d be taking that sort of power-up out of children’s entertainment soon enough.

An unreservedly good bit here: Brutus declaring to the camera, “Gee! I didn’t count on this!” after Popeye eats his spinach. It’s the sort of absurd, facetious touch that I liked as a kid and still like today.

60s Popeye: Popeyed Fisherman, which can’t land a whale pun


After a trip into 1961 — and 1936 — with Myskery Melody we’re back to 1960. And to the Jack Kinney studios. This is another cartoon with story credited to Jack Kinney. Animation direction is given to Murray McClellan, a new name in my records here. This is the only time he’s credited as animation director for a Popeye cartoon, too. The Internet Movie Database has him listed mostly as animator, for things ranging from a bunch of Disney shorts through to 60s made-for-TV animation like The Archie Show, the Batman/Superman Hour, and Fantastic Voyage. Also, this is the first I learn that there was a cartoon based on Fantastic Voyage. I don’t know how many stories I expected could be told about a team of heroes who get really small. They made 17 of them.

That takes me off point. But it is a wonder. Here’s the cartoon he has an animation director credit on, though. Here’s Popeyed Fisherman.

This cartoon suffers from coming right after Myskery Melody, I admit. I couldn’t say enough about that one; this is just a normal cartoon. It’s got a nice absurdity. The prompt is that Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea want to learn fishing. Its first joke is given by Popeye in the tag: “inexperience is the best teacher”. For all Popeye’s patient instruction and legitimate-sounding advice about how to fish, Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl are actually able to catch fish. Traditional setup for a fishing joke.

It gets bigger and loopier with fishing from a boat, as Swee’Pea determines to catch a whale. While Popeye instructs them and ignores everything, the boat’s swallowed by a white whale. Popeye finally freaks out, and gets kicked out of the whale. Swee’Pea declares he wants to eat the whale for dinner and Olive Oyl, embracing the daftness, gets out a mop and pail to get ahead on cleaning the ‘fish’. The whale eventually returns to Fishland amusement park, and the cartoon concludes that the whale is Fishland’s somehow and Swee’Pea gets a reward and there we go.

A passed-out Popeye slumped over the tail of a white whale. The whale, on the surface of the water, glides through the sea gate of 'Fishland', clearly some kind of water park; there's a King Neptune figure on the side of the gate. Men along the line of the pier wave their hats and cheer.
Though it’s not my intention to critique the realism of this cartoon, I will say I’ve been fishing twice and nothing like this has happened to me.

It’s easy to claim that any cartoon that doesn’t make sense is ‘dreamlike’. This has a better claim than most, though. It starts from a reasonable, even dull, premise. Going to sea and having weird things happen is an escalation that makes sense. Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl behave daftly once the whale swallows them, but perhaps they’re wiser than Popeye is about how dangerous an early-60s TV cartoon could be. Though what happens is ridiculous, it feels thoughtfully so. It does not make me wonder how the story is supposed to make sense.

60s Popeye: Popeye the Lifeguard, and the jealousy that inspires


Fleischer Studios did a cartoon in which Popeye and Bluto competed to be a lifeguard. Famous Studios did one in which that blond off-model Bluto was the lifeguard. Now, it’s Jack Kinney’s turn to do a cartoon in which Popeye’s the lifeguard. The story’s credited to Milt Schaffer and animation direction to Harvey Toombs. Here’s 1960’s Popeye the Lifeguard.

Jealousy drives a lot of Popeye cartoons. The generic plot has Popeye roused to eat his spinach because Bluto/Brutus is taking away Olive Oyl, often by force after charm’s worked inadequately. Here’s a rare cartoon where Olive Oyl gets to be jealous of Popeye. Popeye, the lifeguard, gets all this attention from more realistically-drawn women. She tries to get his attention back by having an accident. This is a good plan since lifeguards love the part of their job where they have to save people. It’s far better than days where nothing much happens. She then has a legitimate accident, knocking out the nozzle of an inflatable horse with a lot of air capacity. Popeye gives chase, and lassoos the horse, only to send Olive Oyl smashing through a whole boat.

Brutus finally enters. I’d been all ready to make notes about the strangeness of a jealousy-driven cartoon without Brutus. Ah well. They team up as beach buddies, which Olive figures will serve Popeye right. And this does get under Popeye’s skin. So the plan may be petty and all, but it’s successful and targeted well. Brutus and Olive Oyl go in a row boat; she paddles, the way women always do in these cartoons. That’s just everybody making the same joke, right? I don’t know how to be romantic myself, but I’d always assumed the practical thing was the guy would row. If nothing else because he’s usually the stronger so you could get where you were going the faster.

Lifeguard Popeye playing the ukulele. Surrounding him on the beach are several women with slightly too-wide and fixed grins with unblinking eyes.
I admit not really knowing what fun looks like, but do those women look like they’re having it? I feel like they’re hoping Popeye will set that ukulele down for one blessed minute of peace.

But Olive Oyl resists kissing Brutus, so he ties her to a post, as one will. Popeye gets into the action and there’s the fight you’d expect. Mostly expect, anyway: I was surprised Brutus came back after being knocked into the garbage heap that he came back to be knocked into the garbage heap again. I’d expect him to need to be punched only the one time, for these shorter and less violent cartoons. Or that if he needs to be punched again, that the second time is a really big hit that sends Brutus way out of action. To be punched into the same place twice makes me ask why he stopped then.

What strikes me about this is the cartoon seems almost ready to be a Paramount Cartoon Studios production. The setup is quite close to things they’d already done. The building of story beats, too, has the sort of steady pace and linearity I expect from Paramount. I expect a bit more loopiness from a Kinney cartoon. That’s not calling this bad or even disappointing. I’m just surprised it isn’t quirkier.

60s Popeye: Timber Toppers, another lumberjack cartoon


We’re back at Jack Kinney studios for today’s 1960 Popeye cartoon. This one’s got Noel Tucker credited for the story. We’ve seen his name before, for Popeye Revere and for Popeye and the Giant. The animation direction’s credited to Osmond Evans, of Popeye’s Picnic and Popeye the Fireman. Here’s Timber Toppers.

The four cartoons I mentioned, in which Noel Tucker or Osmond Evans did stuff, were all weird ones. Stories that more riffed around an idea, or that turned dreamlike in the flow of events. This continues that tradition. The premise is that Popeye’s a lumberjack, something done in like 84 cartoons in the Fleischer or Famous Studios runs. He seems to be in it for himself, or at least to show off for Olive Oyl. Brutus comes in stealing the trees Popeye fells. And then they get into fighting. Less fighting than you’d figure, since Popeye spends about three hours of the cartoon stuffed into a hollow log, with Olive Oyl tied to the outside. Brutus gets stuck too. Once that’s sorted, he ties Popeye and Olive Oyl to a log moving into a circular saw and we get the ending you’d expect. Apart from the reference to nose cones, because 1960 was a good time to fit rocket stuff into your story.

Brutus, this short, doesn’t seem to know Popeye, possibly because Popeye’s out of his sailor suit. That’s all right. Popeye seems unable to see Brutus pulling the log that he’s clinging to, possibly because Brutus is out of camera frame. I’ve joked that cartoons which get the characters in non-standard clothing have to cut costs somewhere. I’m not sure it’s a joke. I haven’t added up all the time this five-and-a-half-minute cartoon spends just showing stock footage of Brutus laughing, but I believe it’s over eighteen minutes. Also we see a lot of that one shot of Popeye chopping down a tree, although at least it’s mirrored some to look different. Same with the trees falling.

There’s a lot of small, strange moments. I like small, strange moments, generally. Popeye looking for a missing tree underneath a leaf, for example. Or just how long Popeye walks around stuck in the tree log. I understand Brutus laughing at this. The freed Olive Oyl, at the end, saying how the saw almost ruined her coiffure. Popeye pointing to the bump he somewhere got on his head saying he almost wrecked his.

Brutus and Popeye stuck to opposite sides of a long hollow log. Olive Oyl's tied around the midsection. Brutus is standing up, swinging the log around his body. It's already knocked down one tree, although an animation error had them forget to include the just-knocked-down tree trunk. The Brutus-log-Olive-Oyl-Popeye contraption is swinging into the camera so it's a bit more three-dimensional than necessary.
You’d think this is an inefficient way of cutting down trees but notice they cut that rightmost tree down so well it won’t even appear for another quarter-second after this shot.

There is also a lot of this cartoon where I can’t tell you just what happened. (Other parts where I could only barely make it out; it was my fourth watching, I think, when I finally saw just how Popeye got unstuck from the log.) Like, when they first fight, Brutus punches a tree. Then he’s far enough away to throw a boulder at Popeye. How did Brutus get there? It doesn’t much matter; we can imagine his escaping Popeye’s counter-punch and getting to the rock. But I’m confident that if this were a fully-animated short, we’d see that on-screen. Part of what makes limited-animation work is moving complex actions off-camera. They happen either physically out of frame, or temporally, happening during a cut between reactions. Telling those moments in the story becomes the viewer’s job, not the creator’s.

That’s not all bad. For one, it does engage the viewer, whose narrative sense now has to explain how these things happened. I wonder if part of the appeal of limited-animation shows is how kids are encouraged to fill in parts but still enjoy the whole cartoon. And whatever someone interpolates will be satisfying, at least. Certainly well-timed.

Did Noel Tucker have an idea how Brutus got off to the boulder? My guess is no, just because that would demand fleshing out the story more than was needed to make the cartoon. It’s enough to have the major points. I’m curious whether the Kinney studio writers were encouraged to set out big points and let exact details slide. It would explain the dreamlike nature of so many of their shorts, where we go from one scenario to another without a clear transition.

When he has Popeye and Olive Oyl in front of the circular saw, Brutus recites “Two for the show … and off we go!” What happened to one-for-the-money and three-to-get-ready? Of many weird moments this short, this is one of them.

60s Popeye: Spinach Shortage and so is Brutus just a food tycoon this cartoon?


We have many things to thank Jack Kinney for, this cartoon. One is producing and directing it. Another is the story. Animation direction’s credited to Alan Zaslove, though. Here’s the 1960 short Spinach Shortage.

Ask someone to describe a Popeye cartoon and they’ll give you a plot-driven summary. Popeye and Olive are doing something, Bluto/Brutus horns in, Popeye eats his spinach, beats up the bad guy. But ask what makes a Popeye cartoon interesting, especially the black-and-white ones. You get a response more useful to making lasting cartoons: it’s the mood. Popeye facing a silly or perilous situation and muttering silly comments. If you want a good Popeye cartoon, get a premise and a couple solid scenes riffing on it.

Spinach Shortage isn’t quite there. It’s got a good premise. Bluto/Brutus has tried to deny Popeye spinach before (see the inspired How Green Is My Spinach) but the idea is sound. And it takes a different angle here: Brutus has cornered the world spinach market and just won’t sell to … well, there’s a mystery.

Is this cartoon’s Brutus trying to get Popeye? Or just to get rich? He spends a lot more time chuckling about the rise of spinach prices than about what this is doing to Popeye. At one point he says how spinach has gone up to 10.25 per ton, and later to 50 per ton. That seems low, even for 60-year-old prices. But what do I know the price-per-ton of spinach? This brought me to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service report on spinach commodity pricing. This brought me to learn I don’t know how to read a USDA Agricultural Marketing Service report on spinach commodity pricing. I can see where most every market is “steady” or “about steady”, which seems nice. Another site says that in 2014 spinach for canning was about $68 per ton, so I guess Brutus’s quotations were in line.

Sign reading 'SOLD OUT!'
Yeah, I remember when spinach was something you ate for the music. Now? It’s all about affecting a consumerist pose. Total sellouts.

Back on point, though. The cartoon has this dreamlike flow to it. Popeye stocked up his spinach supply last week. It evaporates as he walks over to it. Popeye searches and finds nothing but store signs about there being no spinach. Popeye tries to break in to Brutus’s warehouses. The scenes feel like when Speedy Gonzales is trying to break into the cheese factory past Sylvester or Daffy Duck. Except the plot demands Popeye fail in ways Speedy can’t. Popeye tries riding a balloon into the warehouse, and falls into the sewer, to climb into the warehouse, and find he can’t pry open a box. It’s almost a nightmare logic of obstacles temporarily overcome and then renewed.

Reel out the events and I guess there’s a thread of action that makes sense. The cartoon’s most interesting, though, when it’s being strange. Popeye’s spinach stock disappearing. The progression of signs telling Popeye there’s no spinach. Good, strong, weird scenes.

So why don’t I call this is a good cartoon? I’m not sure. I’m near to reasoning myself into calling this good. But then I have to explain why I more enjoyed writing about it than watching it. I notice the strongest scenes are all front-loaded. Popeye trying to break into the spinach warehouse is a bit pathetic for one of the first generation of superheros. There’s some nice silliness in the ways Popeye tries to break in, like trying a fishing pole to snag a can, or riding a balloon. But they’re also mundane, at least for a cartoon world. Too plot-driven a way to break in, and to have the attempts fail.

Heap of spinach spilled over a box. Sitting up is a silhouette of Popeye in spinach; just his pipe is clear and not covered in the leafy green vegetables.
So if this cartoon’s Brutus doesn’t know who Popeye is, then he just went and tried to kill a guy who was just trespassing. If this cartoon’s Brutus does know who Popeye is, then he just went and dropped a heap of spinach on him. I don’t insist that characters never take actions against their own interests but it seems like Brutus should have thought through what he wanted to accomplish a bit more.

The cartoon ends with Popeye punching Brutus into an Eat More Spinach billboard. There’s no hint that Brutus’s corner of the spinach market will end, or that spinach supplies will return to normal. This isn’t the first cartoon to not bother establishing the status quo will return. And goodness knows we don’t need reassurance that in the future Popeye will eat spinach. It does feel like an unresolved chord, though. I can defend this. We don’t need the central premise of a nightmare resolved to finish the nightmare. It could be the cartoon needs to lean more into the nightmare feeling.

60s Popeye: Bell Hop Popeye and what is with that tiger’s legs by the way


Today’s is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story is from Cal Howard, though, so it won’t be about skin diving. The animation director is listed as Harvey Toombs.

A quick content warning before getting into this. Olive Oyl’s portrayed in this cartoon as “the Maharani”. Mae Questel affects an accent I must describe as “generically ethnic”. So I’m not comfortable with the layer of Oh That Exotic India that’s built into the cartoon. It never hit the point where my jaw dropped enough to skip this nonsense. I’m not sure I made the right call here. If you don’t want to deal with a 1960 presentation of Olive Oyl as a generically Asian Indian woman, you are really right and we’ll pick things up later.

If you do feel this might be worth your time, then here’s Bell Hop Popeye for you.

I am uncharacteristically annoyed with Christopher Miller’s American Cornball: A Laffopedic Guide to the Formerly Funny. I don’t see how this great guide to common and usually-vanished comic motifs from the first 70 years of the 20th century doesn’t seem to have anything on point. Miller’s work is impressive and, of course, he has to leave out some stuff. But I’m amazed there’s not an entry I can find about hotels, or about being service people to the cartoonishly wealthy. Or about the nobility-in-the-hotel premise. I’m not saying that’s a huge genre, but this isn’t even the only early-60s cartoon I can think of about oh, that exotic Asian nobility descending on a hotel. Why it should be funny to follow the bellhop dealing with Royalty is obvious, and I won’t argue that.

The cartoon has a curious open. Not that Brutus is the manager and Popeye the mere bellhop. It is weird that Popeye’s sleeping on the job, so soundly that Brutus is rightfully annoyed. Starting Popeye off as bad-at-his-job and not getting good until his spinach power-up has a good heritage. But he’s usually trying.

Olive Oyl, dressed in a 1960 white guy's idea of what an Indian Or Something woman's outfit might be, lounges on a daybed. In front of her a pet tiger wearing a jeweled collar stands, all four legs pointing in different directions, mouth open.
I know you’re wondering how Olive Oyl got that tiger into the hotel without the manager knowing. But since Brutus only learned the Maharani was coming when he read it in the newspaper, minutes ahead of her arrival, we have to suppose he is not a detail-oriented manager.

It takes about two minutes for Olive Oyl as the Maharani to appear. The cartoon takes a stab at being Brutus-and-Popeye being rivals for Olive Oyl’s affection. She orders 65 pounds of raw meat sent up to her sweet. Or maybe her suite. I wondered if Sweet is the name of her tiger, but when she looks for him she calls for “Tootsie”? (This might be an attempt at pronouncing an Indian language’s word that I don’t recognize.) In any event we get a bunch of Brutus running from the tiger. In a weird move, Brutus tosses the steak into a safe, and then runs into the safe himself. I grant I am not at my best when chased by a tiger, but it does seem like he could solve his major problem just by dropping the steak.

Popeye never has a show of strength this cartoon. Hauling Olive Oyl’s trunk up the stairs, I suppose, but that would happen whoever the bellhop was. There’s no spinach either. With that, and the opening showing Popeye asleep on the job, I wonder if the cartoon was a generic story pulled into the Popeye production circle. It would play the same with any trio of characters. Only the tiger’s irreplaceable.

60s Popeye: Popeyed Columbus, which could have gone much worse


One step back into 1961, one step back into 1960. Jack Kinney is the producer again. The cartoon’s got a story by Raymond Jacobs and direction by Hugh Fraser. So here is Popeyed Columbus. Well, that’s not a premise that’s aged badly or anything.

It’s another cartoon framed by O G Wotasnozzle, the daffy inventor who moved from Sappo in to Thimble Theatre. The King Features cartoons used this frame for a bunch of stories when they wanted to justify a weird setting. It does suggeset Wotasnozzle spends a lot of time just casually messing with history every time he notices Popeye listening to his own theme on Vague Jazz TV.

For some reason most of these time-travel cartoons Popeye isn’t asked and doesn’t even know he’s time-travelling. It’s a great coincidence Popeye was watching Vague Jazz TV while muttering how he wondered “if Chris was as brave a sailor as history says”. We have to assume he means Chris Columbus. He could be wondering about any sailor named Chris.

Usually these time-travel cartoons just drop Popeye into a historical (or future) setting. Here he’s actually dropped in as Christopher Columbus, on the day the ship’s supposed to sail. We have Brutus there, Captain of the Nina and ready to mutiny, and I suppose that’s sensible enough. Also now Olive Oyl is the Queen of Spain.

For a cartoon that is about Popeye the Sailor as Christopher Columbus there’s not much sailing. It’s a long set of jokes at toasting the voyage, and the Queen, and throwing drink on Popeye. Also of people swinging their mug at the camera, which is a good bit of staging whose charms wear off after the 900th time. Well, everybody’s in non-standard clothing the animation has to save money somewhere.

Popeye, dressed as Columbus, and Olive Oyl, as the Queen, stand on the deck of a ship ready to fight a couple of mutineers.
I know, I know. It doesn’t feel right that both Popeye and Olive Oyl are being effective at the same time, does it?

Popeye gets hiccoughs that turns into a running joke. The Queen stops in with some presents and tries to stop the hiccoughs. For all the directions a Columbus cartoon made in the 60s could go this is a harmless enough one but it’s still a weird direction. Eventually Brutus gets around to his mutiny, and Popeye and Olive Oyl team up to punch all the mutineers back on the ship. This seems like a bad plan to me, but I guess Popeye’s the Admiral.

Popeye finally sails and in a bunch of short, jerky hiccoughs crashes into the New World, at a sign marked “American Indian Village”. That’s all we see, which is probably for the best. One scene later the “American Indian Village” sign is replaced with the “Junior Chamber of Commerce” and signs for the Lions, the Elks, and the Optimists Clubs. If I thought it was on purpose I’d say it was a wry joke about replacing the American civilizations.

Wotasnozzle then explains “and the hiccoughs maybe is why Columbus smashed into America instead of finding out a quick way to the West Indies”. I am sorry to report such a factual historical error on the part of this Popeye cartoon.

There were a lot of ways this cartoon could have been so bad I wouldn’t review it. The cartoon dodged all of them, but in a way by not being about Columbus at all. It’s a strange turn of events.

60s Popeye: Paper Pasting Pandemonium, but a polite pandemonium


We’re back to the Jack Kinney studios this week. The story is again by Ed Nofziger. The director is Rudy Larriva, whom you remember from those 1960s Warner Brothers cartoons that looked all weird and had six bars of background music, repeated endlessly. King Features paid for a little more music. There’s one unusual bit of music that stood out. It’s this sort of marching-music from when Popeye i sgetting to work. From 1960 here’s Paper Pasting Pandemonium then.

To believe in this premise we have to suppose Olive Oyl has a circle of friends besides Popeye and Brutus. All right, I suppose we can allow that. She’s spoken of going off to garden parties and there’s probably been a cotillion or something too. We also have the setup that she’s just decided, an hour before the party, that she wants her house re-wallpapered. I understand the narrative point of a deadline. And that Olive Oyl is somewhat fickle. It seems like a bad plan to me.

Still, Popeye and Brutus competing to wallpaper a room should be a good setup. The Platonic ideal of this cartoon exists, after all, in that Pink Panther cartoon where Pink and Big Nosed Naked Guy competitively paint a room. Still, the Pink Panther series remade the premise and got some good other cartoons out. And I’d have sworn there was a version of this in the Popeye series too, but I can’t track it down. (I thought there was one where Popeye and Bluto/Brutus/* were each building half of a building while sabotaging the other’s half? Am I just kidding myself?) There’s abundant room for physical comedy, too. Anyone can have an accident anytime, by their own clumsiness or because someone else sets them up.

That I’m talking about better versions of this cartoon tells you my dissatisfaction. And it’s a vague one. There’s no point where I can say a particular joke is wrong. It’s just not funny enough. It feels like a first draft. For example: Brutus gets a roll of paper stuck on his head, and it looks like antlers, so he charges Popeye like a bull. Good start. Why don’t we get more of Popeye as a toreador? The wallpaper sheets are a natural cape.

Brutus standing in front of wallpaper that's several days' worth of the Popeye daily comic strip.
I remember as a kid thinking it would be great to have comic strips for wallpaper. But I thought it wasn’t practical, because lining up strips between sheets would be hard. Also I couldn’t think of any comic strip page I’d want to re-read over and over every day. This is really weird since as a teenager and young adult I’d be a fan of hard science fiction and that’s all about reading the same twelve books that hit you Just Right and being unhappy with every book that isn’t exactly the same as those and also angry at everyone who points out those books are really not good and psychic powers aren’t hard science even if you say they’re the result of scientific breeding.

Yes, I spotted that the paste came in a sack labelled “Kinney Goo”. The comic strips pasted to the wall are, of course, from the comic strip. The Popeye Wikia dates them to when Tom Sims and Bela Zaboly were drawing Thimble Theatre. This is an era that’s not much collected; Zaboly and Sims worked on the daily strips together until December 1954, and the Sunday strips until 1959.

Popeye finally eats his spinach (soundlessly), and spends a sequence of tossing paper on the walls that seems like it takes more than the one minute he has to paper the room. It doens’t; it takes thirty seconds of screen time. That’s still a lot of screen time. It comes out as this bizarre criss-cross of unmatched patterns that, yeah, I kinda like. It harmonizes with the UPA-inspired backgrounds from the start, where the color and the outline of Olive’s furniture never matched up anyway. Her guests love it, of course, because this is a 1960 cartoon so the guests Olive Oyl wants to impress are — you snickering yet? — beatniks!

It’s all okay. I suspect the limited animation is really sinking this one. Good slapstick gimmicks like getting stuck to things needs to show frustrated movement. Throwing a colored rectangle over Brutus’s face isn’t enough.

60s Popeye: Tiger Burger, which you can go ahead and join in progress


I came pretty near noping out of another King Features Popeye cartoon this week. I’m not saying you’re wrong if you do. Tiger Burger, another from the Jack Kinney studios, has a story by Cal Howard and animation direction by Harvey Toombs.

It is set in “Darkest Injia”. This is bad. But the use of “Injia”, as though Popeye’s quirky pronunciation were the “correct” thing, cut the bad down a little. The start of the cartoon is all like that. If you want to get to the part of the cartoon that doesn’t need excuses? Start from about 19:30 and proceed from there. My embedded link will be the whole cartoon, though.

So. Yeah. The first two and a half minutes of this are stuff you have to rationalize to keep watching. It bottoms out about 18:08 when we get the sign “You are now entering Puka-Puka, Fastest Growing Slums In Kasha County” which ugh. This is undercut, not swiftly enough, by going to the sign for the Optimists Club. If this cartoon were aimed at adults, this could be a wry comment on the misery of society. And how some people refuse to acknowledge that, a thing both good and bad. The cartoon is not thinking deep enough to get away with that. Not 60 years on, anyway.

The village of Puka-Puka doesn’t look great either. Not crazy about Popeye wondering about the native hospitality, but at least he does address everyone as “sir”. The cop that Popeye talks to is given a British accent and puffs a Churchill-class cigar, icons that are … oh, a bunch to unpack. They do seem to me to be things that would, to a white middle-class American audience of 1960, signify “civilized” and “respectable”, so there’s that. If the cop had been Jackson Beck trying to do Apu I might have dropped this whole series never to touch it again.

Anyway, all this — all this — is to establish that Popeye and Wimpy are hunting Gonga the man-eating tiger. (Yeah, I see the reference.) Gonga’s given a big build-up as “the most vicious, cruel, meanest, low-down, ferocious, good-for-nothing, low-down, fiendish man-eating tiger in all of Injia”. We don’t see a lot of Gonga’s fiendishness. He just yoinks Wimpy off of their turtle. But since Wimpy’s been whining the whole cartoon about wanting to eat hamburgers it’s hard not being on Gonga’s side.

A tiger has one paw wrapped around Wimpy's shoulder, and looks at the camera, with one eye drooping. Wimpy, both eyes open just a tiny bit, is holding up one finger while looking off-camera and apparently whispering.
Look, let them have their time together.

Monomania usually works great for comic characters. And Wimpy is almost the definition of a monomaniacal comic character. I’m not sure why it doesn’t work here. Possibly because there’s so much of him talking hamburgers with nothing else going on. Wimpy can’t interrupt the action with his little thing if his little thing is all the action.

It’s hard to sell me on a Popeye-hunts-an-animal cartoon. While he’s far from consistent, his “always be kind to children and dumb animals” philosophy is a great statement of goals. There’d be some respectability in the plot if he were protecting the village from a menace. I guess that’s the point of the cop’s declaration of Gonga’s wickedness. But Popeye and Wimpy didn’t know about this tiger going in. And we didn’t see Gonga doing anything particularly wicked. So it’s hard to get past the impression Popeye’s being a jerk here.

There’s a couple bits that try to salvage the cartoon. Popeye challenging Gonga to “come out and fights like a man” and Gonga calling back, “come in and fight like a tiger”. Popeye answering how he didn’t come to India to eat hamburgers which, yeah, I wouldn’t. Or the wacky choice to have Popeye and Wimpy riding on a turtle, rather than an elephant. It seems to have been done for the silliness of a howdah on a turtle. And to let the cartoon stop on a joke about how turtles are slow. And if we just stick to that the cartoon is all right. But it’s not much salvage and it comes after a lousy start.

Popeye: Out Of This World


Why not carry on with the 1960s Popeye cartoons? Last week I talked about Hits And Missiles, which inaugurated King Features’s production of some 6800 billion cheaply made Popeye cartoons and I’ll stand by my opinion that it’s not so bad. It’s cheap, but, it’s got a clear and character-appropriate plot, the story moves along tolerably well, and the animation is fair enough for the era.

To meet the production schedule King Features hired a bunch of studios, and Paramount Cartoon Studios, which did Hits and Missiles, I think was the best of the lot. Other studios were pulled in, too, and this week’s offering, Out Of This World, comes from Jack Kinney Productions. Jack Kinney has a respectable lineage in cartoon history, working for Disney in its golden age, and UPA Studios, but, well, you know how television work goes. Remember him for directing sequences of Pinocchio and Dumbo.

Rather like last week’s, Out Of This World tosses Popeye into space. Unlike last week’s, the cartoon puts a framing device, in which a mad scientist — I believe it’s Professor O G Wotasnozzle, created by E C Segar to inflict crazy inventions on Sappo, but who slipped over into the Popeye universe because crazy inventions work out even better over there because Popeye has more personality than Sappo — picks Popeye for his time machine to venture into what turns out to be the future. Why is confusing, since the scenes there are entirely Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee’pea having ordinary adventures in the world of 2500 AD and none of them seem at lost being halfway to Futurama. The best answer I can give is: they had this animation of Wotasnozzle fiddling around with the time machine and tossing Popeye into alternate eras, and this fills a minute of animation time for free. They’d use this framing device to send Popeye to other eras even though I’m pretty sure they could have just started with an establishing shot and let Jackson Beck narrate when it is, the way they actually do once Wotasnozzle is out of the way.

Intriguing to me is that this cartoon pretty much features the loose worldbuilding that the Jetsons would make iconic — all they really overlook is stuffing Space Age Puns into things — yet does nothing with them. The lethargic cartoon (it takes five of its six minutes just to land Popeye on the Moon!) can’t even be bothered to have Future-ish Popeye get in a fight with Future Bluto. It’s just Suburban, Domestic Popeye, the version of the character which made for the dullest cartoons of the 1950s and makes for ambitiously ignorable Sunday strips in the still-technically-running comic strip.

Well, at least Wotasnozzle is having fun working his time machine, there’s that.