It’s a 1960 cartoon, it’s from Paramount Cartoon Studios. Of course it’s produced by Seymour Kneitel. And directed by Seymour Kneitel. And you know where the story’s coming from. Let’s watch The Spinach Scholar.
The cartoon starts again with Popeye’s full-length scat intro. It feels like padding, although there’s funny pictures to spruce it up. Popeye leaving a trail of heart-shaped bubbles behind, particularly. But also his oblivious walking through danger. He rings the doorbell several times, the last time accidentally hitting Olive Oyl’s nose, a joke he’s done in the theatrical cartoons since … not sure. The black-and-white days, anyway.
The premise is Olive Oyl wants Popeye to get an education. (Olive Oyl hasn’t got whites to her eyes, most of the time, only pupils.) So he goes to elementary school. The principal, Jack Mercer trying to do a voice that isn’t exactly Wimpy, puts him in eighth grade. (One teacher meanwhile appears to be an off-model Olive Oyl.) What follows is a string of scenes where the teacher asks a question and Popeye gives a silly answer. The class laughs, and he gets put into a lower grade to try again.
It’s all competently done stuff. And we do see Popeye finally growing reluctant to say the first thing that pops into his head. This can’t save him from being called on and humiliated. The plot requires that, yes. It does add a dose of the inescapable nightmare to things. But it’s too gentle a cartoon to feel like a nightmare. And there’s some fun understated jokes of Popeye fitting into ever-smaller desks. Also the way he expresses his shame with his head morphing into a dumbbell or shrinking or such. Still, this is very much an okay cartoon.
We’re at the Jack Kinney studios in 1960 today. The story’s by Raymond Jacobs and animation direction by Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. Please enjoy Popeye’s Folly.
It’s another cartoon with the Popeye-tells-Swee’pea-a-story frame. The device excuses setting a cartoon anywhere, anytime. It also excuses skipping any boring scenes. I was impressed that Popeye explained that Robert Fulton’s Clermont was “one of the first” steamboats ever built. It’s almost impossible to correctly dub the first of anything historic. So, points for precision to Raymond Jacobs. (And I’m not deducting points for calling the boat the “Clermont”, when Fulton called it the “North River Steamboat”. Clermont is a name — really, the name — by which it’s known.)
I like the setup for this, a story of Popeye’s great-(etc)-grandfathers, Popeye and Pappy, building their own steamboat. And facing down Brutus and Sea Hag, who’re trying to protect their own sailing ship interests. It’s a natural conflict, and it justifies ending things in a contest, a reliable conflict.
Much of the start is Popeye and Grandpappy trying to build a steamship at all. I could watch more of that. Yes, I’m a history-of-technology nerd. But there’s good jokes to make from struggling to invent a thing. The only scene that gets at that is the second attempt at a boat. The one that either Pappy or Popeye forgets to untie from the dock, and that rips apart. An engine that’s too much for the boat is a plausible enough problem. Forgetting to untie the ship seems like a terrible mistake for a family of sailors.
Or they’re not good sailors. In the contest, for example, their steamship almost immediately runs out of coal, as though Popeye didn’t know it was needed? Chopping up the vessel to keep it going has a long history in comedy, but it’s normally set up why they’re out of fuel. It suggests that Brutus and Sea Hag don’t need to sabotage them.
So the plot suffers from this sloppiness. It has some lovely touches, though, particularly in the dialogue. Take Brutus sneering, “Imagine building a ship to use legs when we’ve already got wings”. It’s poetic enough to have confused me about what the legs were. Or sneering that Popeye’s “engine is louder than the whistle”. Which is another insult I don’t quite understand, but never mind. (Also Popeye ends up with an engine that’s very quiet, like the sound was mixed wrong.) Or the Sea Hag speaking of the steamboat as “sailing along like the devil was a-pushing it”. During the race, there’s a nice bit showing Brutus’s ship from the front, the riverbanks receding behind him. Brutus chuckles, “With the Blackhawk wearing her Sunday best and a stiff breeze I can’t lose.” It’s again a more poetic way of describing Brutus’s thoughts. It also trusts that the audience spotted the name of his ship, or could work it out from context.
There’s even a moment of deft plotting. It’s only in setting up the contest that we get a specific reason for Brutus and Sea Hag to want to sabotage Popeye and Pappy. They’re protecting their sailing business. It’s a stronger motive than Brutus and Sea Hag being jerks.
Were I to rewrite the cartoon, the important change I’d make is swapping the first two boat failures. Popeye and Pappy making a boat that tears itself apart, to start. (And find a better reason than “forgot to untie it”.) Then Sea Hag can sabotage the next, when the boat could be competition.
Why is Wimpy in this? I trust Wimpy enjoys rare expertise in the eating arts. But in cooking? Why not Rough House, who does run a cafe, and who in the 1960s was finally allowed into animation? It’s got me wondering which studios got to use which minor Thimble Theatre characters, although it’s far too late for me to start tracking that. All the character does is leave Popeye in charge, and then come back to see the aftermath of the chaos. That doesn’t have to be the more familiar Wimpy.
But also, why does Popeye need an excuse to be in charge of something? W Schmidt was comfortable giving Popeye jobs like piano-mover or fireman without explaining how he got there. Why not short-order cook too? It would make more sense out of pleasant little jokes like Popeye observing how the newspaper guy never misses.
The conflict, once it starts, is Brutus pushing a juke box into the restaurant and shoving the organ-grinder (and monkey) out. This is surprisingly realistic, given how vicious the coin-op business could be back in the day. Popeye’s lucky not to have got shoved into a pinball machine. Brutus moves in, to “protect me business interests”, and we get a quick version of the Brutus-grabs-Olive-Oyl, Popeye-rescues-her storyline. It’s all ordinary enough, but well done and nicely decorated. There’s fun bits like Olive Oyl calling “save me, sir knight!” to a Popeye covered in tin pans. Or Olive Oyl answering Popeye “we’re out of duck … oh, that kind!” when she has to dodge. I don’t have any serious complaints about any of this; it does its business well. I just don’t see what Wimpy adds to the events, besides a punch line that everybody forgot the organ-grinder.
Sure, you like Seymour Kneitel as a producer. Maybe you also like Seymour Kneitel as a director. Do you also like Seymour Kneitel as a story writer? If you do, you’re in luck, as the 1960 Paramount Cartoon Studios short The Ghost Host is as much Seymour Kneitel as you could hope for. Enjoy!
So here’s another cartoon with Popeye facing ghosts. The thread isn’t continued, sorry to say. You expect ghosts to be good antagonists for Popeye, what with his being afraid of them and unable to hit them and all. So why does this cartoon take forever to get to them? Stranding Popeye and Olive Oyl at a haunted house is a good setup. But we get a flat tire and driving-a-convertible-in-the-rain as excuses for them to stop. Either would be enough. This eats up even more time than the extended cut of Popeye’s scatting to start. Why?
The budget, I imagine. If Popeye in the car isn’t already stock footage this sets it up to be. The new animation needed is for the ghosts, a trio. It’s hard not noticing that they only interact with Popeye while they’re invisible. Most of the time they’re using the same few shots of peering at the keyhole and laughing.
Maybe this is all meant to save money, or animation time, for other tasks. It’s an honorable goal. It cheats the story, though. The ghosts play pranks on the intruding Popeye and Olive Oyl by … lighting a fire for them, and then making a meal for them. The invisible ghost walking in shoes doesn’t even stop to kick Popeye in the rear. The ghosts sweep the meal away to replace with a horse, when Popeye says he could eat a horse, but then sweep it back in place again. Finally they gather the food up to smack Popeye with it, as if they just realized they haven’t actually done anything menacing yet. Popeye declares that’s all he can stands and whips out his spinach. It makes sense for the run time, but considering the provocation? The ghosts are fair when they call him a real kook.
(Also, the animation budget for the rain runs out the moment Popeye and Olive Oyl enter the house. Look behind Olive Oyl as the door first closes on them, and every view of the exterior afterwards.)
The ghosts talk like Beatniks, or at least what ageing comedy writers think Beatniks talk like. There’s no clear reason for this, not even an attempt to spoof Beatniks. I like it, though. It simulates giving the ghosts personality without requiring them to do much. This is a slight cartoon; we’re fortunate the ghosts were not made more boring.
I’m not reviewing Westward Ho-Ho, which is the next cartoon in this series. That cartoon’s one in which Popeye tells of grandpappy sailing his prairie schooner to the West. Along the way he Pappy faces peril from the Cleveland Indians and the Milwaukee Braves. These are presented as tribes of Brutuses. They throw baseballs at Pappy; he bats them back. That’s unreal enough I was considering doing the cartoon anyway. But then Pappy’s ragweed allergy gets him sneezing — second cartoon in a row where sneezing comes into play — and he sneezes all the way to China. Where he faces a Chinese version of Wimpy who talks like 1960-era children’s cartoon writers would figure funny. And that crossed my poorly-defined lines. I’m not being paid enough to write up cartoons that offend me.
So the next one in line is The Green Dancin’ Shoes and it … also has a character get to China. And also see the Chinese Wimpy. He gets one line and gets out of the cartoon. I don’t know why Jack Kinney (producer) figured we needed this. But it’s small enough that I don’t feel a nope-out is appropriate. If your lines are harder than mine, you’re right, and you might want to skip this one.
This is another cartoon using the frame of Popeye telling Swee’Pea a story; here, a “Popeye Fairy Story”. A Popeye Fairy Story is like a regular fairy story except people eat spinach. Here, it’s a version of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Red Shoes. This makes maybe three adaptations of the Anderson fairy tale I’m aware of in one decade. The other two are the Porky Pig cartoon The Wearing Of The Grin (1951) and the Donald Duck cartoon Trick or Treat (1952). The last maybe stretches a point, since Donald doesn’t wear shoes and doesn’t dance. But, like, Witch Hazel enchants Donald’s feet to move against his will. Anyway none of these adaptations pick up anything from the original story — not even red shoes — except the protagonist losing control of his or her own feet.
Within the story, Olive Oyl is a dancing fiend, wanting to do nothing but this big, silly move that Swee’Pea and everyone else asks, “That’s dancing?” Story-Popeye brings a gift, the kind that’s really for him: the “last can of rare Tasmanian spinach”. This seems like an ecological tragedy to me. But it gives Sea Hag a reason to want the rare spinach: she’ll use it to make Popeye be a pirate for her. Put that way it sounds daft, but I get where everybody’s coming from here. Apart from the story’s Popeye. Olive Oyl is not a hard person to shop for here. He shouldn’t be getting this wrong.
So now’s a good moment for a question: why is this framed as a Popeye Fairy Story? Why have Popeye read the story to Swee’Pea instead of having this be the things that are “really” happening? I guess Popeye cartoons tend to be set in the present day, instead of the generic fairy-tale past. But that’s not a hard rule, not even among King Features cartoons of the 60s. It’s not to keep magic out of the “reality” of Popeye’s and friends’ lives. The Sea Hag and a bunch of magic characters and items (not even counting spinach) are a part of the setup. The biggest advantage the frame offers is that the cartoon can skip dull parts of the story. Or Popeye the narrator can fill in exposition with a sentence to Swee’Pea. But that’s not relied on here either. It seems like they used the frame because they had it already.
Here’s a point where the frame maybe hurts things. Once Olive puts on the shoes, the Sea Hag enchants them to never stop dancing. Olive Oyl needs about four weeks to realize this is happening. But why does the Sea Hag do this? She got the spinach she wanted, and Olive Oyl’s enchantment doesn’t seem to be part of getting Popeye to do her bidding. If this all “really” happens, then the Sea Hag’s action can be justified. She was too caught up in the fun of making mischief to realize this wasn’t helping her. But as part of a story Popeye is reading — well, why did story-Sea-Hag make this mistake? That is, why didn’t the author of the book Popeye is reading work out the Sea Hag’s motivation there?
Yes, I know; Ed Nofziger wasn’t being paid enough to work that out. Fair. And, after all, a story about dancing shoes where the shoes don’t start dancing is even more flawed. I suppose framing this as a story allows Story-Popeye to fight the Sea Hag. The Real Popeye would have to fight her vulture, who’d need to be in the rest of the story. So the framing does save the screen time and animation budget Bernard would need.
Still, it’s trying to catch the out-of-control Olive that gets Popeye to run into the Sea Hag. And get the spinach from the Sea Hag, this while Olive’s shoes dig a hole that takes her all the way to China. We get that view of Chinese Wimpy who is, at least, reasonable in not understanding what he’s seeing, and leaves.
Popeye’s able to pull the shoes off Olive, thanks to eating his spinach. They get back home, punching a pile of rocks off, and the Sea Hag gets trapped in her own shoes and dancing into orbit.
This is, Chinese Wimpy aside, a fun cartoon. I enjoyed watching. I enjoyed Olive’s tuneless song to herself about dancing, dancing, dancing. It feels spontaneous and bubbly, with the spirit of children singing their delight at whatever they were doing already. I grant other people may hear Mae Questel tunelessly repeating the word dancing dancing dancing. Would still like reassurance there’s a future for Tasmanian spinach, though.
Today’s is another Gerald Ray-produced cartoon. Direction is credited to Tom McDonald and there’s no story credit. I can tell you it’s copyright 1960, at least. So here’s The Big Sneeze.
This is not an Abominable Snowman cartoon. It’s circling around the idea, though. I guess Popeye cartoons come closer with the Alice the Goon cartoon Frozen Feuds. But Popeye, Swee’Pea, Olive Oyl, and a St Bernard are out enjoying the mountain peaks and playing with the echo and all that. I thought the St Bernard might be the dog that turns up in Hy Eisman’s Popeye strips on Sundays, the one whose name I can’t remember. His name is Chester, in Hy Eisman’s take on things. Or Birdseed, in earlier Thimble Theatre comics and comic books. Anyway neither seems to be the dog here, who gets called Bernie.
The story’s this amiable, mostly nonsensical stuff going on. While Popeye is off skiing, figures unknown swipe Olive Oyl’s new raccoon coat. She storms off, following it, to a little door on a cliff side. There she’s encased in ice and captured by Jackson Beck doing his French Guy accent. Popeye, Swee’Pea, and the dog follow the tracks and Swee’Pea gets caught in ice too. We meet the mysterious figure: it’s Quasimodo, the Halfback of Notre Dame.
This is an identification aimed at kids smart enough to know there’s something called the Hunchback of Notre Dame. And who are so pleased that the cartoon acknowledges they know of such a thing that they don’t care the reference makes no sense. So I thank Gerald Ray for thinking of young me. Also adult me.
Quasimodo’s the echo of Echo Peak. He stole the coat for good reason: this is the first time he’s been warm in years. Why not light a fire? Quasimodo shows, by lighting a fire, which melts enough of his ceiling that everybody gets frozen. At its worst, this gets him to sneeze, get buried in an avalanche, and be lost until spring, which cuts into his work as an echo. Fair enough. And then Quasimodo pours water over Popeye to freeze him until spring. Popeye protests he only has a two-week vacation (from what? Or is that the joke?).
Everything works out basically nicely, though. Bernie’s able to dig in and pour spinach into Popeye’s pipe. He punches Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl free of the ice, and she grabs her coat back. And Olive Oyl has a plan for Quasimodo to get warm. Bernie goes off and gets little collar-casks of spinach for him. Happy ending for everybody.
This isn’t a zany cartoon. It’s more silly, with a few doses of wacky humor like making the menace be Quasimodo the Halfback of Notre Dame. It feels rather like a comedy sketch about the Old Man of the Mountain that Popeye and company got cast in. I’m amused by it all, anyway.
It’s several kinds of unusual in today’s King Features Popeye cartoon. The first is it’s a Gene Deitch-directed short. So, unfortunately, there’s no credits given for story or any of the Czechoslovakian animators. Just Deitch and producer William L Snyder. It’s from 1961, also, which I think makes this the first 1961 cartoon that isn’t from Paramount.
And then the distinctive thing: this is a cartoon where Popeye interacts with no other humans. There’s rather few like that. We know where that’s several cautions. But, here we go, Beaver Or Not.
Does Popeye ever think to try giving up when he notices he’s in a Popeye-Versus-The-Animal cartoon? These cartoons never show him at his best. They run against his (inconsistently followed) “be kind to children and dumb animals” ideal. He usually looks like the jerk. He ends up having to give in and letting the animal have his way. And Popeye is one of those characters who recognizes he’s in a cartoon. Does he ever think to jump to the happy ending?
This time around, Popeye’s battling a pair of beavers. Not sure why a pair, other than to give them a reason to say stuff to each other. Popeye doesn’t need an excuse to say his thoughts aloud, but a beaver needs some pretext. Popeye’s gone to a cabin in the woods for his vacation, and the beavers just then dam the river up. He tries tearing the dam apart so he can have his river.
One can sympathize with Popeye for wanting his vacation to be free of nonsense. But the need to draw the beavers as damming the river up right beside Popeye’s cabin damages the ability to sympathize. So, what he has to walk twenty feet upriver to get to the water? This is worth getting upset about? I grant it’ll be annoying paddling his canoe back through the mud to get home. He already had to paddle about eight minutes of screen time to get to his cabin. That’s an annoyance for off at the end of the vacation, though.
Like with any Popeye-Versus-The-Animal cartoon, Popeye tries various ways to get the animals to do what he wants. They don’t care. There’s some good cartoon action about batting dynamite back and forth. Popeye finally resorts to his spinach, with the beavers wondering “what’s he up to now?” and shrugging “who knows?” Popeye does take the gentlest approach, at least, lifting the dam out of the way and tossing it aside. Could have been meaner.
But the animals must prevail. They do it by discovering more spinach. (Often the way the animal gets the upper hand on Popeye.) “Let’s try it!” “Why not?” Reasonable. They cut Popeye’s cabin down into the river, for an even more of a dam. And finally Popeye yields to the cartoon he’s in and accepts he has to swim with the beavers or not at all. It’s a happy ending that Popeye could have gotten to sooner if he remembered every past cartoon starring an animal.
It’s all pretty good if you don’t feel like Popeye should be to smart to get in this fight. You know what Gene Deitch cartoons will look like, lots of good funny drawings and a strange soundscape. Sometimes mixed poorly: when he’s done changing Popeye can hear “a sawmill”. I can’t hear it at all. Or working so hard to be funny they don’t quite make sense, as in how the beavers roll around laughing and weightless. They look better for the short segment they’re under water, which is a feat. Usually animating something in the water is the hard part. Solid enough cartoon.
Here are some Popeye-Versus-The-Animal theatrical cartoons:
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.
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.
The story credit is a bit of a fib. Not to discount Seymour Kneitel’s work in putting the story together. But it was based on the 1936 comic strip storyline Mystery Melody. As often happens with the conversion of a print story to screen, the print version is better. But the print version had five months at six strips a day to tell its version. The cartoon has five minutes. Kneitel had to do serious work to shrink and adapt it. He’s helped by reducing the character set to the bare minimum, and cutting out side stories. And by Elzie Segar’s tendency to get caught by a funny idea and do that for three weeks straight while he thought of the next plot point.
The story as we get it animated: Poopdeck Pappy’s haunted by a weird melody that Olive Oyl and Popeye can’t hear. We see it’s the Sea Hag playing her flute in a wonderful dark, spooky swamp. She sends her vulture to grab Pappy’s hat, and he tells the backstory. When a young sailor he courted the beautiful Rose of the Sea — “afore I was married”, a reassurance that Popeye is not literally a bastard. But when he finally kissed her, she transformed into the Sea Hag. He freaked out and ran, and the Sea Hag has held it against him for 80 years. Pappy looks a bit shallow, but he was young and saw his girlfriend transform to a witch. It’d be strange if he weren’t freaked out. And it’s got the feel of a folk take. I’m too ignorant to pin down one that quite works like this, but discovering your beloved is secretly an evil spirit has got to be done before.
Pappy says the Sea Hag’s been looking for him for 80 years, which indicates he has a high opinion of himself as a suitor. Well, he is a guy. It doesn’t seem like she must have been looking for him long. He was sitting in jail on Goon Island for forty of those years. But this may be a continuity separate from the Goonland short. I mean, I know it is. The continuity of Popeye is about personality and attitude, not about what happened when. In the comic strip Mystery Melody was only the first major story after Pappy was found.
The Sea Hag uses her flute to bewitch Pappy. She gives him a chance to love her as Rose of the Sea and when he refuses, she puts him in the dungeon. Popeye reasons that what he could use is Eugene the Jeep, who what do you know but is right there. Eugene charges for the castle and chases off the Sea Hag, shooting electricity from his tail, a thing we didn’t know he could do before. Didn’t know it in the comic strip version, either. The Sea Hag’s vulture tries to take Popeye away, but he eats his spinach and punches his way free. And pushes the castle out of the way, freeing his father. We have a happy ending, with the last joke being Pappy spooked by a mysterious whistling that’s the tea kettle. It’s one of the few jokes in the short.
I like this short. It’s one that gives the Popeye characters history, the illusion that there’s a world going on even when Popeye isn’t on-screen. And it has some nice haunting moments; that shot of the Sea Hag playing her flute in the swamp is a good spooky one. And the Rose-of-the-Sea backstory for Pappy feels like the sort of folklore that belongs in a story about a rough-and-tumble sailor from a rough-and-tumble family. The time spent on setup does mean there’s no time for development; we have to go almost directly to the resolution. It’s a good trade, though, as the setup is good.
It’s unusual for the cartoons in being dramatic rather than comic. And it’s unusual for the King Features era in being plot-heavy. (Though Paramount cartoons seem to be the most plot-driven of the King Features run.) Nobody’s acting dumb, or even petty. It’s even got structure, with Pappy telling his history while the vulture flies back to the Sea Hag. Popeye cartoons don’t usually have things developing in parallel.
That I know the comic strip version of this story spoils things a little. Comics Kingdom reprinted it in the Vintage Thimble Theatre run. So I know the pieces of the comic strip story dropped, most of them for time. Much of this is Wimpy coming along and getting his greedy hands on the Sea Hag’s flute. I’ve mentioned the relationship between Wimpy and the Sea Hag before. Mystery Melody isn’t the comic strip series that established that relationship, but it did build on it. The comic strip also had two disturbing sequences. In one, Popeye beat up the Sea Hag’s vulture, literally tearing him apart. She used her flute to stitch him back together and restore his life. Great stuff, inappropriate for this cartoon. This audience anyway. But if they wanted to make an animated Popeye Movie? That would be a powerful scene.
The other bit from the comic strip dropped here is the battle between the Sea Hag and Eugene the Jeep. In the cartoon, the Sea Hag’s terrified and runs off. In the comic strip Eugene hunts down the terrified Sea Hag, electrifying her until he finally leaves her “mummified”. That, too, is a downright disturbing moment, especially as it comes after a lot of funny bits where Eugene surprises the Sea Hag. It gives Popeye a fantastic moment, though, mourning the possibly-dead Sea Hag and scolding his father for not pitying her in that state. Again, so inappropriate for a cartoon with this scope and audience, but also, a great bit for the full-length movie.
There’s some other things dropped from the comic strip version. Toar, for one, but also Alice the Goon and the Sea Hag’s new lackey of Bolo. I can’t fault them cutting these characters, who didn’t have much to do in the comic strip version anyway.
You see how enthusiastic I am about this cartoon and the original comic strip story. The 1960s run of cartoons had much working against them. But this shows how much they could work well, too.
Ugh, that title. I’m sorry. I was considering skipping this cartoon altogether. Besides the title, it’s also got a plot which depends on The Natives picking up a white woman as their priestess/human sacrifice. There’s bits suggesting the cartoon means to teach the audience that the premise is nonsense. It’s a weak case, though. If you decide you don’t need to deal with this in your recreational reading, you’re right, and we’ll catch back up later.
Pushing me toward giving this 1960 cartoon any attention is that it’s a Gerald Ray-produced short. The Popeye Wikia lists only ten Ray-produced cartoons, the fewest of the five studios roped in to the project. So I’m slower to throw it out, although I’m not sure that’s right.
What keeps me from skipping this cartoon altogether is attitude. Driving the plot is that a “tribe” of “Egyptians” kidnaps Olive Oyl with intentions of human sacrifice. They don’t seem to be taking the sacrifice all that seriously, though. The Leader, questioned by Popeye about why they’d sacrifice their own priestess, shrugs and answers “Doesn’t everybody?” This all fits in line with that era’s Cartoon Existentialism. Think of all the Flintstones animals who work as appliances because “It’s a living”. It takes some edge off if the characters seem to be going about it because they’ve got to do something, even if they know it’s ridiculous.
There’s a pleasant ridiculous air to the whole thing. Even the voice acting feels lighter and more playful than usual. Things like Popeye calling Olive Oyl “a venison of loverliness”. His mangling of loveliness would have been enough, but the whole line is better still. The cartoon starts with a nice underplayed joke that they’re in Egypt because they got lost driving to Coney Island. The car’s overheated; there’s a quick glance at the dashboard being silly and breaking down. Olive Oyl calls the Sphinx the funhouse; she puts on a bathing costume like you’d joke about for the 1890s. Wimpy finally nags everyone into letting him start making lunch; in seconds he puts together a hamburger stand.
And, well, the “Egyptians”. They speak in “hieroglyphs” that I’m going ahead and assuming are fake. But they’re spoken in word balloons, as though this were a 1910s cartoon. After Popeye calls for subtitles, the “hieroglyphs” even translate to English. Popeye has always been a cartoon that breaks the fourth wall. Part of what makes the black-and-white cartoons so appealing is the sense that Popeye’s chatting with us about the artifice around him. Having a character’s word balloon be on-screen, and tangible, is an unusual sort of joke, though. There’s precedent, in the theatrical shorts where Martians kidnap Popeye, and he learns what’s going on from reading the subtitles for the audience. It’s still a kind of joke that works for Popeye and its rarely done.
The cartoon also has a plot tick that reliably entertains me. Popeye keeps running back from the “Egyptians” to remind Wimpy not to eat without them. It’s the plotting equivalent of a spinning-plates act. This isn’t many plates. Nothing like in Barbecue For Two, which had a nice stretch of Popeye trying to keep even with things. It’s enough, though. It lets the Olive Oyl plot advance without having to explain why anything is happening now. Popeye can just come back to find she’s over a fire pit or whatever. It also must have helped production that they didn’t have to show things happening. Popeye can ask what’s going on and it doesn’t seem out of place.
It’s the unusual cartoon to feature a full-body morph for Popeye too, as he turns into a bowling ball to knock down the “Egyptians”. It also features Popeye starting his rhyming couplet too “soon”, and Wimpy delivering the closing lines. Lot of fun stuff here. Shame about the embarrassing stuff.
I don’t know why this is set on a showboat. Like, what about this cartoon couldn’t be done at any theater in any town? The only joke here that would need to be rewritten is Brutus’s comeuppance, where he’s forced to run along the paddle wheel.
This isn’t to say the cartoon is wrong to set things on a showboat, or to set it in some generic Mississippi River town. It’s that Meyer and Mercer decided they wanted this set on a showboat for some reason, and that reason isn’t obvious in what came out. Did they discover in writing there weren’t any good story bits to do that involved the boat? Or at least weren’t bits that they had time for, once the essentials of the plot were out of the way? Or did they want nothing more than to give Mae Questel the chance to try a Southern accent?
The plot’s all good enough. It’s almost archetypical for a particular kind of Popeye cartoon. Popeye’s a performer, Olive Oyl the manager, and Brutus is the stagehand and janitor and ticket-taker and all. He’s jealous so figures to sabotage the act and take Popeye’s place. The sabotage works long enough for Brutus to run on-stage in his caveman skin. But Popeye’s finally aware that he wasn’t tossed greased bowling pins by mistake. So, he grabs some spinach and lifts Brutus who’s himself lifting a whole lot of weights. Even juggles them with his legs, which is quite the feat. There isn’t a fight after this, not really; we just go to Brutus tied up and trapped on the paddle wheel. This supports the idea they just ran out of time for the premise.
It’s all done with the general, steady competence you’d expect from Paramount. It had much of the feel of one of the theatrical shorts. It’s certainly in the vein of Tops in the Big Top, where Popeye and Olive Oyl are circus acrobats. In that one Bluto’s the ringmaster, and has only jealousy of Popeye’s relationship with Olive Oyl to motivate him. Here he’s motivated by a desire for celebrity. So it’s the unusual cartoon where Brutus isn’t interested in Olive Oyl. Just in being on stage.
There’s no story credit for the 1960 William L Snyder-produced Hag-Way Robbery. I regret this. It is directed by Gene Deitch, and made by his team of Czechoslovakian animators. You all know I like Gene Deitch cartoons. They have a weirdness that I enjoy, starting with how the opening credits fanfare begins early and so Popeye’s pipe-tooting sounds like it comes in late. Let’s see what happens after the credits.
Eugene the Jeep is kidnapped! And it’s the Sea Hag who did it! Popeye has pulled together his trusted regular cast and sails to rescue him! It’s a bold opening, one signalled by rousing music and the camera panning in on his ship moving at an angle.
Popeye’s assembled a crew of Olive Oyl, Wimpy, and Swee’Pea because who else are you going to call on? I mean and not seem like you’re being a Popeye Hipster. (Toar, Professor Wotasnozzle, Alice the Goon, and maybe the sheriff from this one story in 1930 would be my selection, though.) He’s stocked up with plenty of canned spinach, canned hamburgers, canned baby food, and … canned olives. I think this is the first and last we’ve ever heard of Olive Oyl caring about olives, but she has to eat something for the gimmick to work. It seems odd to establish these supplies, but the cartoon knows what it’s doing. These are important to the plot.
The Sea Hag’s plot, anyway. From her shark submarine — where Eugene looks adorably cross in his cage — she pipes in a tube to steal all Popeye’s spinach. And to spray in labels so that everything else pretends to be canned spinach. You may ask how she can spray in labels that all land perfectly on their targeted cans. Sea Hag’s magic, you have to give her that. With Popeye unknowingly disarmed she shoots torpedoes, and he goes belowdecks for a can of spinach and finds nothing. He sees no choice but to try everything else. Meanwhile Wimpy, Olive Oyl, and Swee’Pea eat a lot.
It’s all strongly paced, with the story just not pausing. It’s a good reminder that limited animation does not mean it has to be slow or even dull to look at. Deitch follows Jay Ward’s rule that even if you can’t animate smoothly, you can at least have all the pictures be funny along the way. The strong pace also keeps questions of story logic from cropping up. Like, why doesn’t Popeye have a can of spinach in his shirt like he always does? Or, more importantly, how do you kidnap a Jeep, who can just disappear and reappear anywhere he wants? As, indeed, Eugene does, when Popeye gets to the final can and it’s canned orchids, the Jeep’s particular food. Also, where did the canned orchids come from?
Eugene we can answer at least. He’s a magical being, closer to the fae folk than you see in your average comic strip or cartoon. He’s content to go along with personal inconvenience if it promises some interesting mischief.
But there’s little time to consider the rest. Sea Hag, low on fuel, tosses Popeye’s spinach into the boilers. The smell is “the next best thing to eating spinach”, and Popeye gets his power-up. One might complain about the logic; I’d ask, is that really less plausible than the time he ate his spinach after being disintegrated? Anyway, Popeye won’t hit the Sea Hag, but he will maroon her, on a beautiful island where the can learn to be good.
So, I like this. A lot. It’s energetic, it’s silly. Sea Hag’s got a pretty good plan. There’s bits of plot that don’t make sense and I don’t care about rationalizing them, which shows how well they did entertaining me.
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.
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.
Today’s is another Seymour Kneitel festival: he gets credit for the story, direction, and production of this 1960 Paramount Cartoon Studios piece. Here’s Duel to the Finish.
It’s hard to have no sympathy for Wimpy. He’d have taken over Thimble Theatre, if only Popeye hadn’t been there first. He has this great blend of gluttony and larceny. He pairs well against Popeye. There’ve been a couple cartoons that pitted him against Popeye. The most notable was 1939’s Hello, How Am I. In that one Wimpy pretends to be Popeye so he can get hamburgers out of Olive Oyl. Here …
All right, there’s a certain overlap. But it has a different start, and different progression. Here, Olive Oyl is bored with Popeye, and we can see why. She wants to make him jealous, so starts making hamburgers to woo Wimpy. And Popeye sees this for what it is, Olive Oyl and Wimpy using each other. It’s not until Olive Oyl offers a kiss that Popeye cares. Which is a nice dramatic irony as Wimpy couldn’t care about such things as kisses. So it’s a duel.
Wimpy makes it an eating duel, challenging to see who can eat the most hamburgers. He’s not a stupid person; it’s just amazing Popeye accepts it. Right away we see Olive Oyl worn out from making burgers, and Popeye struggling to chew. And Wimpy puttering along, happy, even eating burgers with both hands. One of those hands has a fork. I’ve heard of people eating New York-style pizza with a fork, but hamburgers is a new one. And he beats Popeye! This is the rare cartoon where, not only does Bluto/Brutus not appear and not be the antagonist, but Popeye also doesn’t win. You have to appreciate Wimpy’s cunning.
But Popeye has to win anyway, and it comes about by forfeit, again a rare event. Olive Oyl can’t cook another hamburger. This breaks Wimpy’s interest in her, because he’s unaware that she might be able or willing to cook at a later date. The beaten Popeye grumbles at Olive Oyl for having started the whole mess, and that’s the end.
Wimpy goes home. It’s never clear what he thinks about this whole day. That he recognized a chance to eat if he flattered, yes. He had a similar relationship with the Sea Hag, at least in the comic strip. He came in, spotting an advantage he could take, and used it for as much as he could, and wandered out again. It’s as though he barely notices the mortal lives of Popeye and Olive Oyl and drifts in, like a magical creature, while there are rewards to be had.
The whole cartoon’s a story well-established by the characters in place here. And it explores consequences that aren’t obvious from what we already knew of them. Solid stuff. Could have been a quite good theatrical cartoon.
Larry Harmon produced today’s cartoon. So that might set some expectations. One is that Paul Fenell would direct, and that the story would be by Charles Shows. These expectations are correct. Here’s 1960’s College of Hard Knocks.
Another thing I expect from a Harmon-produced cartoon is that characters are going to stand around a lot. Thes are the animators who’d create Filmation, for which I have a nostalgic affection.
The premise is solid enough. It’s easy to imagine the classic-era theatrical-short version of this. The idea of Brutus as a fake instructor is even circled around by the 1938 short Learn Polikeness, not so closely that this feels like a remake.
It makes sense Olive Oyl would go to school for something. That immediately casts either Brutus or Popeye as the professor; you then have to decide who’s the authority and who’s undermining it to have a plot. Brutus gets to be the “professor”. So it’s a story of Brutus humiliating or injuring Popeye until he has all he can stands, etc. Solid enough story, even if it is the plotting equivalent of all the characters stand around a lot. But sprinkle in some good quips and at least one fanciful bit of violence and you have a cartoon that works. And there’s some decent quipping, mostly on Popeye’s part, of course. Declaring he’s as couth as the average rowdy, or asking if Olive wants an edjamacated ignoramus. Basic jokes, sure, but good for the audience.
Something I was never sure about: was Brutus a legitimate professor here? In Learn Polikeness he’s running a scam and everybody but Olive Oyl sees through him, fine enough. Here? I mean, he’s got a building with the name carved above the entrance. That’s an enormous investment if he’s just trying to get some time with Olive Oyl. But we only ever see him with two pupils and one of them just signed up today.
And, like, what class was this? I guess maybe Brutus was giving some basic physics, or basic science, class, from his demonstrations of “the law of pressure”, the “law of elasticity”, and the “law of gravity”. I realize I’m the only person in the world wondering this, but what would Brutus have done with that toothpaste and anvil if Popeye hadn’t stuck around?
But I say that reflects on one of the differences between these and the theatrical shorts. I grant the writer for Learn Polikeness didn’t put any thought into Bluto’s career as a teacher of manners. But you can imagine if Popeye hadn’t intruded that Bluto would have had a day that made sense. Here, if Popeye hadn’t given Olive Oyl a ride to class? So I’ll stand by my controversial declaration that this is a worse cartoon than the 1938 one it echoes.
As he’s punched out of the cartoon Brutus looks to the camera and asks, “What did I did wrong?”, in this silly French accent. It sounds like the closing line from one of the theatrical cartoons, where Bluto’s a French-Canadian lumberjack or something. I don’t know if it’s literally the same line or if Jackson Beck just recorded it in the same accent. There’s no reason to read the line like that, except for fun. The line’s also a bit mysterious unless Brutus has no self-awareness, but he is a cartoon.
I may be giving contrary directions here. I want the cartoon makers to have fun, and to throw stuff in just because it delights them. Why should I complain that “What did I did wrong?” doesn’t make sense? I should at least be consistent in my demands.
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.
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.
Brutus makes a mechanical man with a model of simple user interface design. The control offers the actions to stop – walk – run – sit; and there’s a dail for his voice. Robeye talks in a bit lower voice than Popeye does in, I guess, a cue to the audience. He’s using Robeye to mess up Popeye’s good name, much like he’d done with a simple marionette in 1944’s Puppet Love. Robeye meets the actual Popeye, sending Popeye into a fit of self-doubt we haven’t seen since 1939’s Hello, How Am I, when Wimpy impersonated Popeye. There have been a lot of duplicates and robots in Popeye, who, let’s not forget, is a rough-and-tumble sailor who likes a good fight. It’s surprising there haven’t been more Popeye robots before. The would do it again.
Brutus and Robeye’s first steps are pretty low-key ones. Confusing Popeye. Going to Roughhouse’s Diner to put Wimpy’s meal on his tab. Also, I guess Popeye has a charge account at the diner. It gets serious when Robeye shows up early for Popeye’s dinner with Olive Oyl and does the usual sorts of tricks. Calling her food poison. Yanking a chair out from under her. Throwing water in his face. You’d think Olive Oyl would recognize when she’s in another duplicates cartoon. But these patterns are always more obvious to outsiders.
Speaking of patterns. Once again Brutus sabotages his own successful scheme. Not, for once, by getting grabby at Olive Oyl. By showing Robeye off so Popeye understands what’s going on. It’s common enough that a villain’s hubris wrecks them. And the cartoon only has like five minutes of screen time for the whole plot, so you have to get to the climax somehow. Here, Popeye grabs the remote control and switches it to ‘Get Brutus’. I hate to cut a Roughhouse appearance but Brutus fighting Popeye for the control could have used the time better.
And we close with Olive Oyl recognizing she should have known. Popeye explaining Brutus “wanted to quiz me with you”, a use of the word quiz I did not know was out there. And Robeye eating the cans of spinach. All fair enough, the sort of competent if unexceptional cartoon you expect from Paramount.
I bet Brutus is so embarrassed he put a “Get Brutus” option on the control.
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.
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.
Here’s a 1960 Paramount Cartoon Studios short. As usual the director is Seymour Kneitel. The story’s credited to Al Pross, a name I don’t see mentioned before. Pross is credited as an animator for nine shorts, but has story credits only for this and for a 1963 short called Harry Happy. And a quick warning before getting seriously intoMotor Knocks. Popeye’s rhyming couplet at the end includes a verb derived from a slur against Romani people.
Is Brutus a songwriter? This cartoon, I mean; I embrace how his background is whatever the premise of a short needs. But he presents himself as a service station owner whose real ambition is songwriting. He reels off funny bad titles to an impressed Olive Oyl. Is it all a line to impress her, or is this a bit more personality than Brutus needs for the cartoon?
Steve Bierly, author of a delightful Popeye fan page, wrote a book extolling the Famous Studios cartoons. He includes some mentions of the Paramount-produced King Features Syndicate cartoons, this one among them. It’s a nice change to be in dialogue with another critic. One of Bierly’s themes — writing about this cartoon and others — is how often Famous/Paramount cartoons have Olive Oyl be genuinely interested in Bluto/Brutus. She’s at least listening to his flirting here. She stands up for Brutus when Popeye’s ready to slug him. When Brutus is towing the car, she accepts the logic that it’s safer for her to ride in the tow truck cab while Popeye rides in the car.
I’m not sure how to evaluate that, though. I suspect Olive Oyl’s just impressed, as many of us are, with people who know how to Do Things. And Brutus does present himself as knowing how to Do Things, at least with cars. Could be anyone … except that Brutus/Bluto ends up being the guy who (seems to) know how to Do Things a lot. Some of that because if anything’s going to come between Olive Oyl and Popeye, well, who else you cast? Wimpy? (Watch this space.)
Bierly also points out this is one where Popeye is, first, doing something with Olive Oyl and, second, jealous of Brutus’s attention on her. Often Popeye seems barely interested in her and doesn’t notice the wooing until Olive Oyl tells him off. Plot requirements — that Popeye has to wait until he’s all he can stands before swallowing his spinach — tend to make Popeye look passive. That’s avoided, but at the cost of making him look more like a patsy. But he can’t be blamed for taking Olive Oyl’s advice to pretend Brutus’s shenanigans were an accident, for example. Or respecting her desire to ride in the tow truck cabin.
Much of this cartoon is what you’d expect from Paramount. The story’s all reasonable, reasonably constructed throughout. The animation’s all smooth and steady enough. There seem to be more jokes than usual, or at least they land better. There’s even sign jokes too, like Brutus’s garage offering “expert windshield wiping”. Brutus’s song titles, whether or not Brutus means them in earnest. Or Brutus claiming he ran across the stranded motorists while he was “just going mushroom-picking”. Also, wow, gas was a dollar a gallon back when this cartoon was made in 1960. Imagine that!
Bierly’s book, by the way, is Stronger Than Spinach: The Secret Appeal of the Famous Studios Popeye. Much of it overlaps Bierly’s web site, but they are different creatures. And I do quite like Bierly’s web site and its enthusiastic writing.
This is an example of a particular stock Popeye cartoon plot: Popeye and Bluto/Brutus battle each other for the chance to work for Olive Oyl. It’s a solid story. I’m surprised they had never competed for a job at the zoo before. You’d expect the setting to offer a lot of chances for good animal jokes. They’d done cartoons at the zoo before, like 1944’s Pitchin’ Woo at the Zoo, where Bluto was the zookeeper. He doesn’t bring up the experience here. I suppose it’s important to mention how annoying society makes changing one’s name.
The cartoon follows the structure well. Popeye and Brutus are hanging out at the zoo. They overhear zookeeper Olive Oyl phoning in an advertisement for an assistant. Mae Questel performs Olive Oyl with this odd tone, a more formal voice than usual. I’m not sure why. I suppose to underscore how in this cartoon she’s unfamiliar with Popeye and Brutus. Or that she’s in a high-class position at the zoo. She sets the two competing, here, to see who can cheer up Gloomy the hyena by telling one joke each. I suppose it’s important to mention that back then credentials weren’t as important a thing as they are now.
Since he lost the job, Brutus switches to sabotage, volunteering to help Popeye carry water to elephants. Brutus pours in weight reducer, which deflates Hannibal, Olive Oyl’s “best elephant”. Popeye blows into Hannibal’s trunk, inflating him to “better than before”. I suppose it’s important to mention that back then zoos had no idea how to keep elephants healthy. (It turns out it’s by not putting elephants in zoos. I’m sorry but it’s so.)
The next attempted sabotage is putting springs on a baby kangaroo’s feet, so he can’t help jumping into a lion’s mouth. Popeye rescues him and Olive Oyl is impressed that Popeye doesn’t want baby kangaroos to jump into lion mouths. So we can make inferences about why the last assistant zookeeper left.
With sabotage not working Brutus turns to costumes. He puts on one of those gorilla costumes that looks like a perfect gorilla to a we-have-assumed-trained zookeeper. He uses it to abduct Olive Oyl and knock out Popeye. The costume works until Brutus nods. Hannibal remembers Brutus’s part in the weight-reducer thing. And somehow intuits that Popeye needs spinach. A quick punch and Brutus, in costume, is put in a cage as the Half-Man Half-Ape, “Only One In Captivity”. This is a funny scene when you’re a white guy who doesn’t know about the history of zoos putting people on exhibit.
The story, particularly, hangs together well. Brutus shrinks the elephant; the elephant remembers this and acts to foil Brutus. Brutus’s kangaroo stunt lets Popeye impress Olive Oyl. Upset that they’re going to lunch, Brutus pretends to be an animal. I understand if the cartoon doesn’t work for you. It’s Paramount, so everything’s paced a little slow (although that likely helps kids understand and anticipate what’s going on). Exactly one thing moves at a time, although it moves smoothly. (I exaggerate, but not much.) But it’s a well-crafted cartoon, throughout. The viewer’s not stuck wondering what something is supposed to mean, or why it’s in there. It’s comfortable and easy to watch.
Jack Kinney produced today’s short. It’s from 1960 and has a story by Ed Nofziger. Animation direction’s credited to Harvey Toombs. Here’s Bird Watcher Popeye.
It seems like earlier this week I was writing something about the good Popeye cartoons being more about mood than story. Here’s one that’s all mood — all little scenes, really. Maybe you can call what it has a story, but it’s trying to not be one. What it most feels like it’s trying to do is sit on my head. Or it’s trying to be a dream. I know I call on this metaphor a lot. Let me make the case for the dream logic.
Popeye’s pushed into Olive Oyl’s obsession du jour, bird watching. The bird in Olive Oyl’s backyard bites Popeye’s face. So they go to the zoo. At the zoo there’s a penguin who looks like Popeye that punches a penguin that looks like Brutus. There’s a parrot singing the Popeye the Sailor Man song. So a disgusted Olive Oyl sends Popeye into the woods, watching him by telescope. There, Popeye’s punched by a hummingbird who’s also singing the Popeye the Sailor Man tune. And then he’s punched by an owl. Brutus, who’s got a nest on top a chimney, sends a vulture — the Sea Hag’s Bernard, perhaps? — to kidnap Olive Oyl. Popeye spots this, spinach, punching, there we go. We close with Olive Oyl talking how she doesn’t want Popeye to change. Meanwhile the weird “Popeye, You’ve Done It Again” music from that baffling Popeye’s Testimonial Dinner plays. And so, evoking the Beatnik cartoon (Coffee House), Popeye says, “Like, I am what I am”.
So which sentence in that previous paragraph could you not reasonably append “for some reason” to? I don’t mind a flimsy story. These are characters I like and I’m happy to see them hang out and do silly stuff. But if Popeye can’t watch birds at the zoo successfully why send him off in the woods on his own? Whether the cartoon works likely depends on how well you tolerate characters doing things without a clear motive.
There’s some fun stuff here. I like the Popeye-and-Brutus penguins. The parrot is a good bit too. Popeye has a bunch of great facial expressions, too. Irritation at the start, as that bird swoops at him. Abashedness when Olive Oyl scolds him. General grouchy looks all around. A laughing cycle where his head is kept still and his body shakes up and down, which does a good job making it look like richer movement.
But, boy, if you are not exactly on this cartoon’s wavelength it’s a disaster to you.
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.
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.
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.
I had thought that all these Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced shorts were from 1961 anymore. Nope. This is a 1960 production. So as much as I did not understand how King Features’s YouTube page was bundling these shorts together, I now understand them even less. Or I don’t understand them more. Whichever. As usual for a Paramount-made cartoon, Seymour Kneitel’s listed as director. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Now to think something about The Baby Contest.
I have no idea where Brutus got this kid, either.
The title promises, and the cartoon gets around to, a string of contest jokes. A bunch of small stunts, the bad guy cheating to win all or most all of them, and then the good guy pulling out a last-second win. Here, the bad guy is Bully Boy, I guess. I think we only hear his name from the egg-rolling-race announcer. Also they have an egg-rolling-race announcer. Of course it’s Jackson Beck, who did this sort of narrator-type work for every old-time-radio show ever. It might confuse the casual viewer that Brutus is narrating the race. I don’t remember ever finding this confusing when I was a kid, though.
It takes its sweet time getting there, though. We don’t even get to the contest until two minutes in, and it’s another half-minute before the events start. The start of the cartoon’s filled instead with Swee’Pea moping. Olive Oyl and Popeye try to lift his spirits and that’s a reliable cartoon premise in itself.
Wimpy introduces the contest as a best-two-of-three affair. The contest organizers are lucky only two babies entered. There’s three activities: a potato-sack race, an egg-rolling contest, and a crawling contest. The egg-rolling contest and the crawling contest look suspiciously similar. I’m surprised they didn’t swap the egg-rolling and the potato-sack race so the reused animation would be less obvious. I’m surprised they couldn’t think of a fourth and fifth event, but maybe the trouble is thinking of ones that would not need much new footage. I also wonder if only having the three events is why they spent so much time establishing Swee’Pea’s unhappiness.
We get the expected cheating on Brutus’s part (Bully Boy seems completely innocent) and counter-cheating on Popeye’s. At least in the potato-sack race. In the crawl, we see Popeye notice that Brutus is using a lollipop on a fishing rod to lure Swee’Pea away. It’s Bully Boy that Brutus brings in, though. The implication is that Popeye did something, but what? And when?
After losing, Brutus offers Wimpy a huge plate of hamburgers for the trophy. His plan fails, maybe because he tries in the open after all the contests have been judged. I mean, Wimpy is a supremely bribable judge. Two burgers before the start of the match and it wouldn’t even matter what the contest was. Also, Brutus is unaware that you can just buy trophies. Seriously. They’re cheaper than you’d think.
In this cartoon, Popeye does not eat spinach, but Swee’Pea does. Swee’Pea also gives a rhyming couplet to close things off.
My favorite old-time-radio podcast last week ran an episode of The Saint, starring the beloved Vincent Price as Leslie Charteris’s beloved-I’m-told rogue adventurer. It was some stuff about a silver mine that the assayer was very clear was worthless. Well, turns out, it’s worthless if you don’t count the cinnabar (mercury) deposits. Was the assayer in on the scheme? Or was he somehow unaware that cinnabar was a thing also mined? The plot’s wrapping-up here’s-why-stuff-happened scene never explained.
So this is a cartoon about Brutus selling Olive Oyl a fake oil well. Except the punch line is that it’s a gusher. Brutus told us the viewers that the oil field had been dry for fifty years. That seems like a big mistake for whoever owned the field to make. This can all probably be rationalized but it says something that I’m wondering about it. What it says is there were reasons they treated me like that in middle school. These are not reasonable responses to the cartoon.
The story’s all reasonable enough. Olive Oyl wins $10,000 on the Get Rich Quick show. Brutus, watching at home, needs a good honest swindle to get that money. This cartoon it feels like Brutus doesn’t know Olive Oyl, but then why does he bother shaving to put on the persona of Sumner J Farnsworth? But if he does know Olive Oyl why is there never a moment of shocked recognition? Well, there’s a nice joke where Brutus discards the shell game as “not too good” and armed robbery as “too dishonest”. He settles on oil stocks which he thought were worthless. Which leaves another nagging thought for me: did Brutus legitimately own the oil field? Or did he buy worthless stocks from someone else? Or did he just figure the time he’d spent making fake oil stocks was wasted but never got around to throwing them out?
Brutus rigs up some oil to spurt on command; salting mines is a respectable enough way to pull off this kind of scam. But Olive Oyl also says she can go pick out any oil well she wants. How’d she pick the right one? This isn’t a plot hole, though; it’s reasonable to suppose Brutus is nudging her to the one he’d prepared. Forcing (in the stage magician’s sense) a choice is a skill of the con artist. I’m intrigued that this is something that would be taken without question, by a naive enough viewer. Then doubted as implausibly by a more skeptical viewer. And then accepted as self-explanatory by a sophisticated enough viewer. There’s some lesson about how people engage with their stories in there.
Brutus runs his car over Popeye, twice. It’s a startling moment and I can’t say why. Maybe it lacks the absurdity of most Popeye-versus-Brutus violence.
After Popeye punches Brutus into the oil well it starts gushing again. Assuming Olive Oyl’s title is good and the oil doesn’t run out in ten minutes that’s great for her. She showers Popeye with a flurry of kisses drawn from the 1954 Fright to the Finish. Why have stock footage if you’re not using it?
While pitching Olive Oyl on the oil well Brutus talks about doubling, tripling, even quadripling he “mazuma”, a reminder of the 20th century’s many odd slang terms for money. Which comes back around to Jackson Beck, voice of Bluto/Brutus/etc. When the voice actor’s friend Alfred Bester wrote The Demolished Man he named one of the cops Jackson Beck. Part of the typographical chic of the novel was using, for example @ as shorthand for ‘at’, so ‘Sam Atkins’ was rendered as ‘Sam @kins’. When the story first appeared, Bester tried writing the name as $$son Beck, trusting that readers would connect $$ to “money” to “jack”. They did not. The spelling of Jackson was normalized in subsequent editions.
Today’s is a King Features Popeye cartoon that makes us ask whether people said the word “boing” wrong in 1961. Maybe it was an in-joke at Paramount Cartoon Studios. So here’s Going … Boing … Gone, a story by Joseph Gottlieb and directed by Seymour Kneitel.
Here we have another Popeye cartoon that barely feels like a Popeye cartoon. Not just that the focus starts, and really stays, on Wimpy-versus-Brutus. Or that nobody eats spinach, Popeye included. Or that Popeye doesn’t even come into the picture before it’s one-third through. Many good Popeye cartoons have run that way.
But, like, Popeye is in the cartoon only as an agent of chaos, encouraging Wimpy in his mischief. Popeye isn’t usually one to encourage other people to fight, though, preferring to get into a good fight himself. I can’t say it’s exactly out of character, but it is a side we rarely see in the cartoons. It fits less awkwardly into the comic strip, I think. That Roughhouse appears does make me wonder if the premise is drawn from the comic strip. The characters had broader personalities there, where stories could ramble for months before coming to the first ending anyone thought of.
We start off with Wimpy spotting Brutus, who’s unusually well-dressed this cartoon. Wimpy asks Brutus for a dollar, which inspires the sort of unending rage normally reserved for Twitter feuds. Like, OK, Brutus chases Wimpy into a store, OK. But then some indeterminate time later Brutus is still roaming around, angry about this? Why? Does Brutus have nothing else to do?
Wimpy’s undetectable because he found some vanishing cream. You never see vanishing cream cartoons anymore, and yeah, I know that’s how they’re supposed to work. Still, for a quick way to do invisibility plots you’d think they’d stick around. I know you might protest, who even sells vanishing cream anymore? Yeah, well, vanishing cream’s sales flopped from about the 1930s onward. They sell foundation makeup instead. We’re in a lot of trouble if we start insisting on cartoons and comic strips that reflect the world of more recently than 80 years ago.
And Wimpy needs Popeye’s advice on how to turn this to his advantage. This because Wimpy is notoriously bad at scheming while Popeye … you see what I mean? It’s not that I can’t fit this all with the characters. but everybody feels a little bit weird.
Really there’s no need for Popeye to be in this cartoon except that he’s Popeye, after all. But, you know, Wimpy’s a great character, the only Thimble Theater cast member to have seriously risked taking over the comic from Popeye. I’m curious if we could have had a couple stories that just followed him around his low-level food-based grifting. And I wonder if this story started out as a generic story with the Thimble Theater cast put in, or whether it was meant as a Wimpy cartoon that they had to make carry Popeye.
I have no idea why “Boing” is in the title of this cartoon.
Jack Kinney’s back in the producer’s chair for today’s 60s Popeye short. Eddie Rehberg is listed as director; the story’s credited to Ralph Wright. Here’s the 1960 short Forever Ambergris.
The title alludes to Forever Amber, Kathleen Winsor’s 1944 novel which sold 480 kajillion copies and inspired a 1947 movie. The cartoon somehow has nothing to do with the novel’s plot of a woman who seduces or marries her way into post-Restoration English royal society.
What we do have struggles to be one of the Popeye-tells-Swee’Pea-a-story cartoons. It takes almost forever to get there, though. At least a minute and a half, in a cartoon with a five-minute run time, not counting credits. Olive Oyl’s going out, and wants a babysitter. Popeye tries to flee, calling babysitting not-manly. It’s a bad look for him. Yes, I know he’s expressed similar attitudes, like once finding Olive Oyl’s dog too sissy for him to walk. It was a bad look for him then, too. I guess it’s needed-for-plot, so that Olive Oyl can use her perfume to make Popeye babysit. And then so Popeye has a reason to talk about ambergris, which goes into perfumes. But did we need to justify Popeye watching over Swee’Pea? If he’d just announced he was going to tell a story about finding some ambergris, would it have jarred too much?
But time spent getting to Popeye’s story is time they don’t have to spend on Popeye’s story. Which may be needed; there’s not much to it. While at sea Popeye spots some ambergris and he, Brutus, and Wimpy collect it. And then put it in a treasure chest. And lock the treasure chest. And guard the treasure chest. This allows for a pleasant pattern of Brutus declaring, say, he’s going to lock the treasure chest, and Popeye declaring “me too” and Wimpy “I also”. The many repetitions give it an appeal this action wouldn’t otherwise support.
Three people coming across an unexpected treasure makes me think of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Or at least the many spoofs I’ve seen rather than the actual Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The cartoon doesn’t go for this, though. So why is Wimpy in this cartoon? He’d have been great in a Sierra Madre scenario descent into paranoia. He naturally plays people against one another; that could feed a real story. Instead he seems to be an unneeded buffer between Popeye and Brutus, who swipes the treasure when the ship crashes somehow into Paris.
Brutus carries it up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Popeye follows and punches the treasure chest, which falls into a cement mixer. “And ever since, that street in Paris has been forever ambergris”, Popeye explains, an ending that makes Swee’Pea mad. I’d thought that was fair — Popeye’s story feels like a shaggy-dog story with a punch line not related to the setup. But, on review, Popeye did claim only to be telling the story of the time he found some ambergris. So it is a shaggy-dog story but at least it was about the dog he promised. Olive Oyl gets home as Swee’Pea’s crying, and won’t hear any excuses, so she crashes a jar over Popeye’s head. It’s not a good look for her, either.
The cartoon frustrates me. I’m not satisfied with it. But I also can’t point to anything it’s doing wrong. Like, Wimpy doesn’t have a reason to be there. But he doesn’t have a reason to be in Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor either, and that’s not a problem there. Popeye’s ambergris find comes to nothing, but what did I expect it to? Him finding something that would make him rich forever would break the loosely-defined basic setup of Popeye. Him finding enough to buy a new car (or something) is maybe plausible but too boring to make a story. He has to end up getting nothing, or near-nothing, out of it. That nothing being a great-smelling sidewalk in Paris satisfies that. But it feels like something I acknowledge is funny in principle without laughing at. (I concede a lot of my own humor-writing is stuff that is only funny in principle.)
I think Olive Oyl smashing her perfume jar on Popeye’s head was a bad ending.
I’m back on cartoon-watching. Today’s is a 1961 short produced by Paramount Cartoon Studios. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. The direction, as usual, is Seymour Kneitel. Ladies and gentlemen, The Cure.
There is a lot of story this cartoon. The broad sweep of it more or less makes sense. Popeye shames Wimpy into doing something about his hamburger addiction. The Sea Hag, who’s running a hamburger diner supported entirely by Wimpy, tries to get him back on burgers. Popeye tries to foil the Sea Hag’s scheme, but ultimately, Wimpy is going to eat hamburgers.
Having a character resolve to reform their disreputable side is a solid premise. I’m surprised I can’t think of Wimpy swearing off hamburgers before. (I also can’t think of one where Wimpy swears off scamming people, but that’s less seen in the cartoons.) He gets ensconced in Hamburgers Anonymous, which makes it sound like the cartoon’s going to be a spoof of Alcoholics Anonymous. It doesn’t. Maybe they were afraid of too closely imitating the Sylvester the Cat cartoon Birds Anonymous. On the other hand, Birds Anonymous won 20% of all the Merrie Melodies/Looney Toons’s Academy Awards. And who’s not going to imitate really successful work? Instead Hamburgers Anonymous looks like your basic sanitarium. Maybe they couldn’t think of anyone to cast as a hamburger-free buddy for Wimpy?
Still, as it is, there are a bunch of threads and I do like that the cartoon tries telling this complicated a story. It’s a good example of how a Popeye cartoon doesn’t have to be Popeye and Bluto punching each other until Popeye eats his spinach. I don’t see evidence that this was a condensed version of a story from the comic strip (or comic books), but wouldn’t be surprised if it were.
In its details, the cartoon doesn’t quite make sense. Some of this is just demanded by the plot. J Wellington Wimpy, a man whose life is defined by running low-level grifts on his friends, can’t think of a reason he told Popeye he hadn’t seen the quarter that fell in his hat? Forgivable; Wimpy has to get to where he swears off burgers, and there’s only so much screen time. Sea Hag needs to get Wimpy eating burgers again, so she sneaks one into the sanitarium. OK. She asks Popeye, who recognizes her, where to find Wimpy, because? I understand Popeye can’t foil the Sea Hag if he doesn’t know she’s in the cartoon. I suppose they couldn’t think of a more elegant way in.
Sea Hag comes around to kidnapping Wimpy, and demanding he sign over his life insurance to her. I have no idea where this comes from. If the story was condensed from the comic strip then I can at least explain it as a remnant of a lost subplot. I understand the desire to have some menacing climax. And that sometimes deadline comes before you can fix the piece’s problems and you have to go with what you have and hope it’s okay. I suppose it was. I felt satisfied on the first watching, and don’t feel the plot holes are bad enough to spoil the show.
The Sea Hag’s vulture — Bernard, in the comic strip — gets a fresh appearance, here as the “first airborne Saint Bernard”. She also has one of the Goons in, for a quick and fun little bit. That stock footage of her in a quarter-profile waving her right hand reappears, this time behind her restaurant’s glass window. There’s also a pretty nice shot of Popeye in three-quarters profile, scolding Wimpy, at the diner. Paramount Cartoon Studios always shows some polish and technique.
Jack Kinney Studios gives us today’s cartoon. Rudy Larriva directs it. And the story is, of course … from Ed Nofziger. I know, I was expecting more Jack Kinney stuff about skin diving. Life is complicated even in 2021. Here’s a taste of more than just 1960 in Popeye’s Cool Pool.
Short cartoons, like short stories, are usually about a single incident. One consequence is short cartoons usually depict a short while. Often under an hour, or something that feels like it. Popeye’s Cool Pool sticks to that single-incident vibe, but at its best moment opens that way out: the cartoon depicts the span of things over a whole year. It’s a pleasant cartoon outside that. But stretching it to a year adds a happy preposterousness to the story. It might also make this the Popeye cartoon that depicts the longest sequence of events. At least unless we get quarrelsome about how the span of a flashback cartoon, or one of those time-travel adventures Professor Wotasnozzle sends Popeye on.
We open on Popeye reading Popeye Mechanics, which we saw last year advising Popeye on how to build a robot. It claims it’s easy to build a pool. He says it’s too hot to build a pool. Olive Oyl, Swee’Pea, and Brutus nag him into building a pool and he gives in. He offends Brutus by taking his own tools back. And, more, by telling Brutus he won’t be invited in, which gives Brutus motivation to steal the pool. Which is a great absurd thing for Brutus to declare, too.
Then on to a year of Popeye digging, by hand. It’s an interesting choice that the scenes of changing seasons aren’t all identical. They’re all built around Olive Oyl asking if the pool is ready and Brutus calling him a slowpoke, and getting a shovel of dirt in the face. But, like, Olive Oyl doesn’t ask if the pool’s ready in every season. This isn’t wrong. It’s only my imagination that expects these beats to be repeated word-for-word. I’m interested in why they chose to do this. Other than that it makes it slightly more realistic that Olive Oyl might not ask about the pool every day.
Brutus slides the fence over to claim half the pool, which is the most realistic way to steal a pool possible. Swee’Pea complains that what’s left is “just a bathtub”. I mention because I spent long enough trying to figure out the line and you should benefit from my work. We finally get enough of a fight that Popeye eats his spinach and slides the pool out from under the fence. I’m curious why this doesn’t bother me. Maybe because it comes after Popeye’s spinach power-up, which usually precedes impossible stunts that can’t be done. But I can remember Fleischer cartoons where Popeye would do subtler but similar unreal things, like sliding a keyhole to somewhere easier to peer through, that didn’t bother me and’s before spinach gets involved. Ultimately it does always depend on whether I’m entertained, but sometimes this Tex Avery stuff fits the Popeye world better.
It’s all a low-key, underplayed cartoon. I like it that way. A bunch of lines are funny more because they reflect an absurdist attitude, like Olive Oyl declaring that Popeye built the pool too close to the fence. It’s a cartoon I could imagine being done in the Fleischer era without needing too much reworking. It’s a good cartoon to start my 2021 watching.
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.
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.
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.
This is a Jack Kinney cartoon — produced by him and story by him. The animation director is our friend Rudy Larriva again, but otherwise, it’s Jack Kinney’s vision here. Let’s look back at 1960’s Skinned Divers.
I looked forward to comparing how Jack Kinney’s skin diving cartoon to Buddy Brutus. That short got reviewed in these pages just a couple weeks ago. Turns outBuddy Brutus was also a Jack Kinney cartoon. So I guess in about 1959 Jack Kinney got into skin-diving and wanted everybody to know. The early joke about how all you need to skin dive is this long list of equipment feels like a new-hobbyist’s joke. We again use the convention that there’s no reason Popeye or Brutus need to come up for air.
As before, Popeye and Brutus come to the same spot to dive. They’re both looking at the complementary treasure-map X. This time they don’t team up. Popeye goes and gets his foot caught in a clam’s mouth. This is exactly the peril promised by Cheboygan, Michigan’s famous 500-Pound Man-Killing Clam. Sea Shell City, with its theoretically killer clam, opened in 1957 and I’m curious whether someone at Jack Kinney Studios knew of the thing. I haven’t had the pleasure, but my love has, and we have a fridge magnet for the site.
Popeye’s saved from the man-killing clam by an octopus whom he figures likes him. They team up, which will be important. Popeye gets around to eating sea spinach, sure. But it’s the octopus that does more of the fighting. Popeye discovers a treasure, is knocked out by Brutus’s anchor, and is woken — with the splash from a bucket of water — by the mermaid version of Olive Oyl. Getting wet underwater is another joke Kinney relied on in Buddy Brutus. I agree that it’s a good gag. We get to the climactic Popeye-versus-Brutus fight, although the octopus takes on a lot more of the fighting duties. It’s rare to see Popeye with useful allies.
I like this cartoon, even though Popeye ends up the spectator at the end. It’s the octopus who throws Brutus out of the cartoon. It hasn’t got Buddy Brutus’s weirdness, the attitude that decided Atlantis should be an Old West town populated by octopuses. In comparison everything here is motivated beside Olive Oyl having a mermaid twin. And, hey, 500-pound man-killing clam, how can that be anything but exciting?