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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

60s Popeye: The Baby Contest (nb, ‘contest’ is a noun here, not a verb)


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.

Swee'Pea sits up in the living room, looking sad. Olive Oyl and Popeye watch; Popeye is pointing to Swee'Pea and in the midst of saying something.
“Ahoy, Swee’Pea! I knows ya is feelin’ the aliennagration of the atomiskized mod’rn sock-siety likes that, and ya has gots ta find yer own ways ta handle the crushing weights of existentikalistical dread an’ all, but I hopes ya will cornsider what’s almost allus worked fer me: polka!”

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.

60s Popeye: Oil’s Well That Ends Well, and how is that not Oyl’s Well?


We’re back on Paramount Cartoon Studios territory here. Oil’s Well That Ends Well, from 1961, is credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer for the story and Seymour Kneitel for direction.

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?

At an oil field, an angry Popeye holds up a barrel labelled 'OIL' and the hand pump squeezing oil out of it. Olive Oyl looks shocked and horrified by this.
Well of course she’s offended. The barrel should read OYL, or at least OYL OIL.

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.

60s Popeye: Going … Boing … Gone, all right, but what’s the boing?


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?

A smiling Brutus, wearing a suit and hat and smoking a cigar, giving Wimpy a crushingly tight one-armed hug, that's swept Brutus's body three-quarters through Wimpy's body and caused Wimpy's face to billow up like a balloon squeezed to the brink of bursting.
Sincere talk that’s going to sound sarcastic: so they keep talking about doing a computer-animated Popeye movie. I’m sure it’ll be hideous. You know why? Because not one of the CGI animators would ever have the courage to have one character squish another the way Brutus is squishing Wimpy’s body here. I’m serious. As a still frame, the anatomical impossibility is horrible. In animation? (You can see it around 12:35 in the video.) It communicates how powerful Brutus is even when he’s being amiable. They wouldn’t have the guts to do something like this in a CGI movie.

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.

60s Popeye: Forever Ambergris (it’s actually less than three minutes of ambergris)


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.

Popeye standing, but his head is lowered in weariness, and his body is drawn all jaggedy, as though he had been crumpled up and quickly straightened out again.
2021 is treating us all just great!

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.

60s Popeye: The Cure (not musical)


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.

Wimpy standing wide-eyed, entranced by the aroma of grilled hamburgers nearby.
Hey, I didn’t know Popeye was being drawn by Off the Mark cartoonist Mark Parisi these days! Good for him! Good for him! (I’m joking based on the eyes. There’s a lot of wide eyes this cartoon.)

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.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Cool Pool (extended edition)


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.

Sad-looking Brutus wearing his bathing suit and standing in a washtub of water, holding a garden hose on himself and sipping a drink.
The 2020 water-park-going experience.

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.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

60s Popeye: Skinned Divers, not a repeat, but does feature a mermaid and a Michigan tourist trap


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.

There are things I’d like to know about the 60s King Features run of cartoons. One of them is where story ideas came from. Like, did someone at King Features toss out a couple hundred possible story points? There were a couple cartoons based on stories from the comic strip. Maybe some came from the comic book. One was a remake of a Woody Woodpecker cartoon. And here? It’s another skin-diving cartoon.

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.

In an underwater scene Popeye pulls his foot, trying to free his swim fin from the closed jaw of a large clam. He does not notice an octopus's tentacle reaching from behind him.
The 500-pound clam closing on your feet and keeping you pinned until your air runs out is the hypothetical mechanism by which it would kill you so, good job on this cartoon for depicting the danger. To the best of my knowledge there are no warnings about octopuses in Cheboygan, Michigan. But maybe when it’s safe to go to tourist traps again I’ll be able to report back.

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?

60s Popeye: Love Birds, a cartoon


It’s a Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced short today. The story’s by Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer, with the director as usual Seymour Kneitel. Here’s the 1961 short Love Birds.

So, here we delight in the 584th straight “Popeye has to chase a thing” cartoon produced by Paramount this line. I exaggerate. But it is another one of the formula where Popeye gets in trouble chasing an innocent who’s not, particularly in danger from the perils around them. It’s done with the competence I’d expect. There’s a few nice little throwaway pieces, such as Popeye’s eyes picking up a western when he falls on a TV antenna.

The most curious joke is in the pet store. The proprietor’s a monkey wearing a blue suit. Popeye is as confused as I am. It seems like this should set up the revelation that the real owner is right behind the monkey and we just didn’t notice. But, no, a talking monkey is selling love birds and that’s just something in the Popeye universe. It feels like a transgression. But it’s not as though there haven’t been talking animals in the Popeye cartoons before. Even ones that speak more than a throwaway line as a joke. I don’t know why this bothers me in a way that the Whiffle Hen or the Hungry Goat don’t.

In a pet store, Popeye looks surprised and unsure how to handle the shopkeeper being a monkey in a blue suit.
Writing prompt: the monkey is voiced by Frank Nelson (the “yyyyyyyes?” guy from The Jack Benny Show and who they’re imitating with that on The Simpsons). Go!

The whole pet store business is part of getting Olive Oyl’s lonely love bird, Juliet, a partner. It takes two and a half minutes for them to meet, and start fighting right away; Popeye’s chase doesn’t even start until nearly three minutes into the five-and-a-half-minute cartoon. The pacing is all very steady, very reliable. A bit dull.

And, then, bleah. There’s the love birds squabbling, Juliet hectoring Romeo until he runs away, the first time. The second time, he takes a tiny bit of spinach and fights back. This works because cornball humor is all about how wives are awful but you can yell them into place. There are things I miss about this era of cartoons. This attitude, though, is not among them.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Picnic, which is more about flat tires and butterflies


This time, we get back to the Jack Kinney studios, so it’s 1960 again. The story and the animation direction’s credited to Osmond Evans. Production and direction is given to Jack Kinney. Here’s Popeye’s Picnic.

There’s a kind of Popeye cartoon that I guess is maybe a Jack Kinney specialty. It’s one where there’s not so much a story as there is riffing around a particular scene. It’s a story mode that, at its best, feels like an improv exercise at work. By this I mean every character’s given one really strong beat that they’re going to focus on. Nobody else is going to try arguing them into paying attention to something else. These focuses can interact with each other. Or they might just stay what they are, with the scene bouncing between them. This is a kind of scene that you’ll either really like for its absurdity or hate for its plotlessness. Or possibly for characters being jerks in how they won’t listen to one another.

So here’s the focuses. Olive Oyl is obsessed with butterflies today and that’s fine; she’s fickle. Popeye is now very interested in the food they’ll have this picnic. Olive Oyl even says, “You say the sweetest things … but it’s always about food”. So he does, this short particularly. He’s also made a line of Dagwood sandwiches, none of which look like they’re stable enough to eat. I guess if Popeye needs an obsession for the short, food is a decent one, but it does feel like more of a Wimpy thing.

Not that the food matters much. On the way to the picnic they get a flat. While changing the tire Popeye gets himself caught in the wheel rim, something that always deeply unsettled me as a kid. I’m still not comfortable with it. He spends most of the short doubled over, trapped and trying to free himself, while Olive Oyl worries about her butterflies. She can’t see why Popeye is taking forever with this and suspects he doesn’t even care about butterflies.

Popeye's stuck, doubled over, inside a tire wheel, sitting up on his rump and holding a stick that can't help him get free. A skeptical-looking bull is running in and bumping against him.
I’m really bothered by Popeye being caught like that in the wheel thingy and also that I’m not sure what to call that wheel thingy.

That’s thin stuff even for a five minute cartoon, so we get a bull in, as a third party. That and the presence of a butterfly gives us enough characters for stuff to happen. The bull — who looks skeptical about his part in all this — chases Olive Oyl. She and Popeye get spun around some. She tries to run away. She does this great funny run up the side of a tree, too. Eventually the bull hits Popeye in the rear, knocking him free and into a spinach patch. I’m not sure if Popeye posed for that on purpose. It’s great thinking on Popeye’s part if he did. This gets Popeye and the bull racing toward each other in what’s sure to be a titanic collision, only for them to stop lest they crush the butterfly between them. Olive Oyl thanks the bull for stopping, and she’s holding his tail, although I’m not sure if her pulling his tail mattered. Everything’s happy, they all settle down to a picnic and that’s that.

60s Popeye: Butler Up which … is a pun on ‘Batter Up’? Is that the joke?


We’re back in Paramount Cartoon Studios territory. Once more Seymour Kneitel is the director of record. The story’s credited to I Klein. From 1961 here’s Butler Up.

I’ve said what I expect when it’s a Paramount cartoon here. It’ll be competent, everything will make sense, everything will happen in first gear. That impression holds up again. The premise is that Olive Oyl needs a butler so she can impress an old classmate. That classmate? Brutus, who comes in the huge fur coat and straw hat that they assigned you for Old College Chum Days back then. Brutus, in this version of the Popeye-Brutus-Olive Oyl cycle, doesn’t know Popeye, but takes an instant and mutual dislike to him. And then the cartoon’s a bunch of Brutus fighting off Popeye, Popeye fighting back without breaking character, and oh yeah, Brutus moving toward the bit where he grabs Olive Oyl.

In considering his Jeeves role Popeye reads The Art of Butlering. It’s got a couple of basic rules. The setup makes me expect this is going to be a big part of the cartoon. Like, Popeye’s going to keep pulling back before he breaks a rule. It never does, though, at least not explicitly. When Popeye’s had all he can stands and can’t stands no more, there’s a callback Popeye recites the four directives and punches Brutus into the butler outfit. It still feels like Klein figured this would be the structure for the short and then didn’t take it out when other stuff happened.

Popeye as butler serving a plate with no fewer than fourteen sandwiches on it to Olive Oyl and Brutus. Olive Oyl's delighted to see him. Brutus is annoyed with the introduction
To me, fourteen seems like too many peanut butter sandwiches for one lunch with an old college chum. How many do you make when you have Brutus over?

There’s some fun business here, mostly in the asides. I’m curious where Olive Oyl got her enormously long dinner table, “not built for togetherness”, from and how she fit it into her house. Also why she set that when she’s not actually incredibly wealthy and, at least that far in, doesn’t have reason to stay away from Brutus. There’s also a bit where Popeye’s washing dishes in the middle of Brutus’s visit. That couldn’t wait? Or was that just the most plausible way to look like a legitimate butler?

It’s all a very Paramount-made cartoon, though. Viable premise, sensible story, really all made as okay as you could hope.

That long black dress with bracelets is a good look for Olive Oyl, though.

60s Popeye: A Mite of Trouble; do you get it? Because, mm.


This is another Paramount Cartoon Studios cartoon. So it’s a fresh 1961 issue too. The director’s Seymour Kneitel and the story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Here’s A Mite of Trouble.

We’ve got the Sea Hag and her vulture back. That’s usually a good start. It feels like Paramount is the only studio to have done things with the Sea Hag, except I know that’s not literally true. Gene Deitch has a nice one featuring the Sea Hag with Toar that I know about, for example. Anyway in this one she’s after the treasure map Popeye has somewhere in his house. The complication: Popeye’s babysitting Swee’Pea so he might not leave the house for, like, hours. The solution:

Oh, good grief. Right, so, off to the Tingaling Brothers Circus, to hire Major Mite the Midget to pretend to be Swee’Pea. She even brings that nice stock footage of her in three-quarter profile swinging her arm out to seal the deal. And we’re off to one of those cartoons where the adult doesn’t suspect their kid is actually a small crook. This although the Sea Hag switches Swee’Pea for Major Mite while he’s riding a swing Popeye pushes. I wonder if they were making a joke about how if something’s not on-screen in a cartoon it doesn’t exist. That feels subtle, but they could have written the swap to happen any time. Why decide to do it in the middle of a swing?

It’s executed well enough, for the premise. There’s a running joke about Major Mite smoking his cigar. It even justifies Popeye giving the Major a bath, to get that cigar smell off him, Mite’s best chance to get some time to himself to search the house.

Popeye trying to stand up. His rear end is glued to his seat, so he's pulling that up with him. And his hand is glued to the dining room table so *that's* lifted too. He's looking only slightly annoyed by all this.
Why is Popeye standing as though he’s wearing invisible high heels?
(It’s actually an instructive pose. If you look closely at his anatomy Popeye here makes even more no sense than usual. But the scene and the motion in it work fine enough. So you can learn something of the difference between drawing something ‘properly’ and drawing it so it communicates.)

It seems like Sea Hag and Major Mite could have worked their plans out a little better. Like, Mite could have kept Popeye busy while Sea Hag ransacked the house. Or just suggested they go out for a walk, as Popeye decides to do anyway, which should have been Sea Hag’s chance to search the house. Mite finds the map in a lampshade and runs off with it. The Sea Hag returns Swee’Pea, saving herself some trouble. Popeye’s remarkably unconcerned with all this because the punch line is: the lampshade was a fake treasure map. The real treasure map is on Swee’Pea’s diaper. As one would expect.

The punch line’s acceptable. It’s a regular beat in the comic strip that Popeye has all sorts of pirate treasure at his command and he just has to dig some up when needed. Having fake treasure maps makes sense. I swear I remember a story where Swee’Pea’s got a treasure map, possibly on his back, but I cna’t find it offhand. If I never found this whole cartoon that funny, I think it’s more the pacing than the concept. I suspect Jack Kinney or, especially, Gene Deitch could have done this story with better timing and made it land.

60s Popeye: Popeye the White Collar Man and that seems weird to me too


Jack Kinney’s studios were, besides doing a bunch of 60s Popeye cartoons, also drawing Mister Magoo cartoons for UPA. You’ll see why I mention this.

Rudy Larriva’s directing again. The story is by Joe Grant and Walter Schmidt. Popeye the White Collar Man takes us back to 1960 for a cartoon that keeps making me think harder about it.

Some cartoons feel like they were written for another series, or a generic series, and got Popeye characters hastily written in to them. This almost feels like one. But something about it also feels like a Bud Sagendorf-era Popeye comic strip property. The opening with Olive Oyl prodding Popeye to do something respectable. The initial failures and then the whole story focusing on one premise that’s sort-of related to where things started. And then the ending where everything stops and Olive Oyl is fine with Popeye as he was. So I don’t know whether to guess this as a generic story or a real Popeye story.

Here Popeye gets the white-collar job of door-to-door insurance salesman. This starts off with the expected series of doors slammed in his face. And a good bit of animation too, of nothing but doorbells and slammed doors. It’s nice when the artistically effective thing is also cheap to animate.

Finally, about two minutes in, things settle on Flim-Flam Film Studios and stuntman Brutus. For some reason Popeye is determined to sign Brutus up. And Brutus, for a wonder, isn’t hostile. He doesn’t even seem reluctant to sign the insurance policy; he just wants to read it first, and keeps getting called off to stunts. We do see Popeye tagging along for no good reason, and getting himself almost killed, mostly by accident. It’s a curious turn for Brutus; I’m not sure he’s ever been this non-antagonistic. It’s part of why the story feels like it was dropped on the Thimble Theatre cast.

The lion, inside the circus cage, is revealed to be a man in a costume. Brutus is in the back of the costume, looking dazed and confused and patting his face. The man taking off the costume resembles Mr Magoo.
Wait, the circus lion who swallowed Brutus whole in a scene I didn’t make time to mention was … Mister Magoo?!

Popeye spends a lot of time trying to sell insurance to a movie stunt man. That’s a good joke. At least it’s the setup for a joke, that Popeye is committed to the one sale most likely to get his boss angry with him. There’s never a punch line, though. It’s never even pointed out that Popeye’s surely working against his interests. If this cartoon were made today I’d think that was on purpose. That they were leaving some comedy understated and trusting the audience had enough people who’d get it. But for a 1960 kids cartoon?

I don’t mean to say they had to write kids cartoons stupid back then. But this was aimed at kids who are still learning the grammar of how stories work, and how jokes work. If they’re expected to find something funny, usually, they drop some clues that these are the funny bits. There’s throwaway jokes, sure, funny signs or a Jack Mercer muttering that doesn’t get attention. But this is something half the screen time of the cartoon is built on.

Lacking any way to tell whether they forgot a punch line or trusted they didn’t need one, though, I’ll give them credit, and say they wrote a joke confident that someone would notice and appreciate it.

60s Popeye: Lighthouse Keeping, a title I like more than I like the cartoon


It’s 1960 again and Jack Kinney’s producing. The story and the animation direction are credited to our friend Eddie Rehberg this time. Here’s Lighthouse Keeping for our consideration.

My love’s a Popeye aficionado. And also a lighthouse enthusiast. Logic tells us then that the only way this cartoon could be more perfectly targeted is if the top of the lighthouse had an antique carousel on it. There is no carousel, and the rest of the cartoon is, eh.

This isn’t calling it bad. Lighthouse Keeping has the nastiest problem for a reviewer. It’s competent without having any really great bits. Or any inexplicably bad or weird bits. There’s little for me to talk about that isn’t recapping the plot. And that’s mostly a string of gags set on a lighthouse. Brutus getting vertigo at the top of a 226-foot-tall tower. Olive Oyl trying to take a photograph and directing Popeye to step back until he falls off, spoiling her shot.

Brutus at least starts off reasonable this cartoon. It’s another in the string of cartoons where you wonder if the cartoonists are on his side. I mean, maybe he’s flirting with an uninterested Olive Oyl, but if “Nice day for fishing, if you’re not a fish” then I’ve grossly misunderstood human contact. Olive Oyl sinks her boat, somehow, and Brutus brings her to Popeye’s lighthouse. Popeye being a lighthouse keeper is a new thing; I’m surprised the gimmick hasn’t been done before. I can imagine a Fleischer cartoon where he goes off doing a string of preposterous feats of strength saving ships against various little fiascos. Or explaining to a reluctant kid how he can do all that because of his spinach-eating.

Scene of a lighthouse and the dock outside it. There are multiple Popeye figures visible, different steps in the run along that path. The last one, at the dock, is completely opaque. The Popeyes leading up to that are more and more transparent, until the most distant one, at the lighthouse, is barely visible. It almost looks like an example of how to animate the key frames in a movement.
Popeye’s speedrunning his own cartoon! Can he do that?

But that all gives us reason to have Popeye, Brutus, and Olive Oyl (urging peace) together, and we go through a couple of bits. These all go fine; there’s nothing too weird or bizarre in it. Eventually Brutus takes the hint and goes motoring off in his boat, with a rope that’s somehow tangled around Olive Oyl’s foot. Brutus is happy to feed her to the shark, so the animators aren’t skipping his heel turn. There’s the oddest animation bit this short here, with the ocean waves represented by Olive Oyl and the shark oscillating side to side, instead of up and down. Popeye punches the shark into Brutus’s boat, and then gets a boat from somewhere to bring Olive Oyl back to shore.

Oh, there is one bit of neat animation that I like. Popeye rushing down the lighthouse to the dock, to meet Olive Oyl, is done by making a succession of still pictures of him more opaque and transparent. It’s a neat trick, one worthy of a 1980s video game. But that’s as much ambition as the cartoon shows. It’s a cartoon that won’t convince anyone the King Features run was unappreciated genius, nor that it was a disaster.

60s Popeye: Popeye and Buddy Brutus, plus octopuses of the Oooooooold West


We’re back on Jack Kinney’s turf, in the year 1960. Popeye and Buddy Brutus has the interesting trait that it’s produced by and story by Jack Kinney, although the director is Rudy Larriva. I admit an instinctive dread of Larriva’s directing. He had the thankless task of making those 1960s Coyote and Road Runner cartoons, when Warner Brothers wouldn’t pay for animation or a fourth bar of music. But the Popeye cartoons were … made under similar circumstances, really. Still, different studio, different circumstances. This could be Larriva’s chance to shine.

What this cartoon evokes is that thing Paul McCartney occasionally does, where he has a couple of songs he’s worked out only parts to and so he puts them together into a medley. Here, there’s a couple of partly-developed diving-based cartoon premises, somehow none of which are enough to last five and a half minutes, all leaning against each other. This all doesn’t work as well as Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, but I can’t say I don’t like it either. My reaction is more that I’m not sure what to make of it all.

We start with Popeye and Brutus setting out to dive in the same part of the ocean. After some squabbling Brutus proposes they be skin-diving buddies. It’s an interesting move for Brutus, who at least starts out the cartoon being the more peaceful one. It also reminds me of Dizzy Divers, the 1935 Fleischer short, in its setup. He even goes looking for Popeye after his rival disappears. It’s only when they run across some treasure that Brutus does his heel turn. Popeye and Brutus spend nearly the whole short underwater without breathing equipment or coming up for air. I know Popeye’s done this before. And the classic Bugs Bunny short Hare Ribbin’ did it too. I don’t know why, though. I mean, yes, I know they’re skin diving, but you could change that with one line of dialogue. Did they figure that if Popeye and Brutus’s faces were covered with masks, their bodies would have to move more to compensate, and they couldn’t afford that?

In their diving, Popeye and Brutus run across Atlantis. Neat idea. A unique one, too. If the Popeye Wikia doesn’t fail me, this is the only time Popeye’s been at an Atlantis. And it’s a weird Atlantis, as it’s an Old West city except populated by octopuses. We see a bar fight and ink-squirt “gunfight” and … that’s about it. There can’t be many octopus-based Old West Atlantises out in the pop culture and it’s disappointing that somehow that wasn’t worth four minutes of screen time.

Octopus desperado riding the back of a sea horse and shooting ink from their tentacles back at the bar they were just thrown out of. In the backdrop are great sandy mountains. The whole picture is blurry in that wavy underwater effect cartoons use.
Hey, waaaait a minute! Cambot, pull up 13:23 — yes, we see the Atlantis village blacksmith’s and see the rear of a regular land-type horse there! What’s with the continuity error, people?

Popeye and Brutus end up having a showdown in Old West Atlantis, one that involves none of the inhabitants of the town and barely any of the setting. It’s a very silly fight, although the kind of silly that tickles me. Brutus shoots with a harpoon gun that’s always got not quite enough slack to reach Popeye. Popeye shoots back with a water pistol, using one glass for his ammunition. Maybe this is what justifies making this a skin-diving cartoon. Brutus washing water off his face that’s already deep in the water is funny in a weird conceptual way. It’s sure to tickle the seven-year-old. It tickles me today, but I have that kind of brain.

Brutus ends up getting the bends, in that literal way cartoons used to convince the seven-year-old me was just a thing that happened to divers sometimes. Popeye hooks Wimpy’s fishing line to his buddy — them calling each other “buddy” is a motif that comes and goes this short — and he’s hauled to safety.

I can’t call this bad, although I understand people who’ll feel it’s disjointed and storyless. I may just be responding to the weirdness of the construction. And the weirdness of ideas like “Atlantis, but it’s an Old West town populated by octopuses”. But it also doesn’t work in a way that makes this jumble of ideas clearly good.

60s Popeye: County Fair, and that’s about all there is to say about it


Are we back to 1961? Yes, we’re back to 1961, and Paramount Cartoon Studios. County Fair is directed by Seymour Kneitel, like every Famous Studios or Paramount Studios Popeye short. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer.

The Popeye Wikia for this short summaries it: “Popeye and Brutus are farmers who enter a county fair contest to see who is the best. As per usual, Brutus resorts to cheating.” It’s a struggle to think of more to say about it. This group of people had been making Popeye cartoons for 28 years when this was made. They could probably have done it in their sleep.

What I expect from a Paramount-made cartoon, here, is that it’ll be crafted correctly. The animation will be sluggish, but it won’t have errors. The writing will be plain, but will make sense. We’ll never have a baffling fiasco of a cartoon. The worst that will happen is the cartoon will be dull.

And that’s what we have. It’s your standard Popeye-versus-Brutus contest, going several rounds with Brutus cheating. Remarkably his cheats work half the time. In this sort of setup I expect either all the cheats to work or none of them to work. The score being tied at the last event is novel. Also the last event is spinach-eating. That’s an odd choice; all the other events sound like County Fair contests. But, it’s a Popeye cartoon, the spinach has to be somewhere.

Farmer Brutus and the pig he holds looking shocked and amazed that Farmer Popeye has his arms full of dozens of wrapped hams.
Oh, here’s the other moment of personality this cartoon. Popeye winning the hog-calling contest demands he do something spectacular with calling a hog. So it has to be either he gets an enormous number of pigs, or at least one tremendous pig, or, this, here to horrify that adorable pig Brutus has.

Fleas a Crowd I liked as a solidly competent cartoon with flashes of wit or imagination or silliness. Here’s another cartoon solidly competent. It lacks those flashes, though; even the cartoon’s title is a generic content description. Its only distinctive part is Popeye and Brutus trying to distract each other at the tastiest beef-burger contest, about 7:00 in the video. (Why not say ‘hamburger’? Surely there weren’t enough turkey burgers or other variants in 1961 that you’d need to specify a beef-based hamburger.) They do a couple rounds that are almost literally, “Hey, look at the distraction!” I can imagine being annoyed by this and calling it laziness if I were in a foul mood. As it is, I’m basically happy, so I see it as a gleeful embrace of the artifice or something.

Still, I’ve watched this cartoon three times in the last 72 hours, and will remember nothing of it 72 hours from now.

60s Popeye: Bullfighter Bully, a 60s Popeye cartoon with bullfighting


For today’s cartoon it’s one of the handful of Larry Harmon-produced cartoons. The story’s credited to Charles Shows and the direction to Paul Fennell. Here’s 1960’s Bullfighter Bully.

I opined once that (American-made) bullfighting cartoons are always on the side of the bull. This rule, like all, isn’t quite right. The staging of a plot can overwhelm how much the bull is set up to be the aggrieved party. The main bull for this cartoon, though, is a calf, a rather cute and innocent-looking animal. Popeye’s been cast as anti-bullfighting before. That earlier one and this cartoon gave me the impression Popeye was always strongly anti-bullfighting. This because I forgot things like 1953’s Toreadorable. Well, here’s a list of Popeye cartoons with a bull in them. You figure out his personality.

Popeye smiling and holding out his hand, pointing to the calf and Olive Oyl in the stands. Both of them are smiling, the calf with a particularly exaggerated grin that makes it look like it's concealing a deep secret or possibly a crush.
On the other hand, a calf with a grin like that is certainly not innocent. He may not deserve to be stabbed to death, but he probably has earned a censure, maybe disbarment proceedings.

The villain here is El Diablo, who looks uncannily like Brutus and has the same voice Brutus used when pretending to be Don Juan back when he turned young. I’m not going to fault Jackson Beck for not having two distinct “Brutus with a Spanish accent” voices. The bull this time is a cute calf, and Popeye and Olive Oyl come to defend them. This seems like it should be enough of a story, especially for a cartoon that’s under five minutes of screen time. But then Charles Shows went and had a grown-up and dangerous bull run into the story. I understand the impulse to add some peril, since Brutus El Diablo wasn’t cutting it. But it isn’t very frightening and Popeye goes and off-frame kills the bull. Yes, he punches a bull into a pile of meat in most every bullfighting cartoon he’s in. That usually doesn’t work for me then, either.

The animation’s done by the team that would create Filmation. So, it’s got the lushness and subtlety of expression you’d expect from that. A lot of interactions handled by an off-screen sound effect. Well, at least Popeye gets kissed by a calf at the end. That’s something.

60s Popeye: The Whiffle Bird’s Revenge and Rough House’s Screen Debut


Journey with me now back to 1961 and a Paramount-produced Popeye cartoon. The story’s by I Klein and direction, of course, by Seymour Kneitel. The Whiffle Bird’s Revenge is aware there’ve been a bunch of werewolf movies recently. Let’s see what it has to say in response to that developing genre.

And here, finally, it is. 91 cartoons in, and something like 81 of these reviews in, and we finally see Rough House. He and his diner have got some mentions before. This is the first time we’ve seen him in animated form. I don’t know whether this was the first cartoon produced with him in it.

I know, you’ve got questions, the most prominent of which is: so what? Yeah, fair enough. He’s been in the comic strip since 1932, or a year longer than Swee’Pea, if that helps. He runs a cafe and sees through Wimpy but kind of tolerates him. Yeah, he’s basically Geezil without the bad ethnic coding. For whatever reason the Fleischers never used him. Nor did Famous/Paramount Studios when they were making theatrical cartoons. The King Features cartoons, though, they tend to run a little dull. Bringing up the extended roster of Thimble Theatre characters is one of the thrills.

And we get a double dose of the extended roster, as the Whiffle Bird returns. And she’s called ‘she’. She’s not given a name; in the comic strip, she’s Bernice. Also in the comic strip, she does not have the power to speak or bestow lycanthropy on people. But you always change stuff in adapting to new mediums.

In Rough House's Diner, Were-Wimpy holds up a stunned Popeye in one hand while he swallows a tray full of dozens of hamburgers held in the other hand. Rough House looks on, startled.
[ Record scratch ] “Yup, tha’s me! I bets youze is won’nering how I gotsk meself into this sit’chee’ation.”

The plot is a simple one. A hungry Wimpy catches the Whiffle Bird. Since she’d rather not be eaten, she punishes Wimpy by making him turn into a werewolf whenever he says ‘hamburger’. As a werewolf he semi-effectively harasses Rough House’s diner, and Popeye, until Popeye can beg her mercy. There’s good stories to make of that. It’s not a deep plot but it’s got a clear enough fairy-tale logic. Also I like stories with a weird werewolfism trigger. I blame my watching too much Fangface at an impressionable age.

It’s not quite a good cartoon. The plot outline is working hard to make this all come together, and it keeps almost doing so. The animation is also doing its job. It’s your typical Paramount Cartoon Studios work. Everybody’s drawn precisely, and they move rigidly but in well-defined steps. Look at Popeye strolling in at the start of the cartoon; his pace about matches what his walk cycle is actually doing. It’s a small but clear bit of craft.

There’s story logic problems, none of which bothered me as a kid. Like, what caused Were-Wimpy to turn human? The first time he just changes, after walking away, exhausted. The second time it’s after eating a plate of hamburgers. I don’t need the rule explained but I would like to feel confident there is a rule. The tougher problem to me is that Wimpy’s change is set off by his saying “hamburger”. If you knew you’d turn into a werewolf on saying “hamburger”, and you didn’t want to be a werewolf, why would you say “hamburger”? The first time, sure, he’s testing. I understand that. Why ever after that? The Whiffle Bird’s curse doesn’t make sense. This is why usually the transformation is something the werewolf can’t control, like the moon or splashes of water or something. If Wimpy can’t even hear the word “hamburger” then his friends become a threat.

Which is probably something you’d need a longer cartoon to do. More story time, anyway. Five and a half minutes minus the credits doesn’t give room for a complex story. So maybe this is the most intricate werewolf Wimpy story that the series could support.

Whiffle Bird standing, with a wing raised, atop the unconscious Were-Wimpy.
“Funny thing is now I can’t remember how I thought turning Wimpy into a werewolf was going to solve any of my problems. Well, live and learn.”
[ Boop. ]

The bigger story problem: what does Were-Wimpy know? He’s hungry, sure, but so is Wimpy. He’s more aggressive than Wimpy, although we don’t see him actually being stronger. He just has less body fat. This seems strange for a werewolf. But if he is stronger as Were-Wimpy then the Whiffle Bird’s punishment is weird. “To punish you, you’ll sometimes become much bigger and stronger than you otherwise are.” Wimpy seems to be aware he’s Were-Wimpy, and seems embarrassed by the fact. Is it that he dislikes taking food when he should be cadging it?

The cartoon’s a showcase for Jack Mercer’s voice acting. He’d always done Popeye and Wimpy. To my ear, he’s also doing the Whiffle Bird. It also shows, unfortunately, that Mercer couldn’t think of a way to monster up Wimpy’s voice without doing Popeye. Jackson Beck at least gets a few lines in, as Rough House and I believe the news anchor. (Beck was always getting cast in narrator/news anchor voices.)

I’m probably asking too much for a five-minute cartoon. As it is, the story’s sensible, or close enough to sensible for most folks. If you ever wanted a magic bird to turn Wimpy into a wolf, your choices are this or my DeviantArt gallery. But I can feel the premise trying to be a better cartoon than this.

Any amount of Fangface is probably too much Fangface.

60s Popeye: Time Marches Backwards, or Prehistoric Popeye done early


Now let’s journey back in time to 1960. Time Marches Backwards is another Jack Kinney-produced time-travel cartoon, with story by old reliable Ed Nofziger and direction by Hugh Fraser.

I am once again annoyed, slightly, that there’s no production order information for these cartoons. Mostly that doesn’t matter, as there’s no important continuity. Here’s the exception. If this was not the first O G Wotasnozzle time-travel cartoon, then what’s going on? We have too long and too slow a buildup to explain it as the cartoon filling up on stock footage. There is a lot of time spent introducing Popeye to the distant past. And, in a rare touch for these Wotasnozzle time-travel cartoons, we see him come back. I imagine after two or three of these they realized it wasn’t necessary to explicitly reset the status quo.

So if the frame explains why Popeye is in some weird setting, what explains the rest of the cast being there? Right away Popeye meets Wimpy trying in his ineffective way to catch a cow, or a cowasaurus. Popeye surmises that Wimpy hasn’t changed much in 50,000 years, which is a lucky guess about how far back in time he is, and also not an answer that would satisfy me at age seven. Olive Oyl cries out for Popeye by name, but how could she know his name? Unless there is a proper caveman Popeye that happened to miss the action because present-day Popeye was on the scene.

There is not a lot to this cartoon, once it finally starts. Brutus drags Olive Oyl by the hair, like cavemen always do to cavewomen in cavecartoons. This always seemed the most inefficient way to abduct someone, to me. She cries out for Popeye to save her and there’s what sure sounds like a tape glitch over and over again. You hear it at about 8:57 in the video, and again, many times over. Wimpy crosses the line of action, following without doing much to the cowasaurus. Repeat these starting points for all the screen time you’ve got. In the last iteration the cowasaurus has Wimpy caught on the horns, a good resolution. The cowasaurus’s complete indifference to what’s happening is maybe the best laugh of the short.

Popeye holds up a club. Meanwhile, Caveman Wimpy is carried off on the horns of a cow-dinosaur.
OK, OK, now I see what you all are complaining about with Alley Oop these days.

It’s all a very okay cartoon, at least for the series. If you get into this kind of tone-poem cartoon where there’s no plot, just a bunch of beats that it shifts between. If you don’t like its tone-poem nature, then the cartoon’s completely lost. There’s some nice backgrounds and that’s it. Everybody but Popeye and Wotasnozzle is out of their usual clothing, so the animation is even rougher than usual. (That said Popeye and Brutus hitting each other on the head, on that stone arch bridge, sure looks like repeated animation to me. I can’t think what it’s from, though.) Most notable here is how indifferent the mouth movements are to dialogue. I don’t expect the lips to be good. But I do expect them to move just about the same time that someone’s speaking, and then stop.

Popeye running across some primitive, prehistoric spinach made me curious about spinach’s domestication. Apparently it happened about two thousand years ago, in what’s now Iran, and it spread from there east, first. It reached Western Europe in the 9th century, which means. So, like, all the great philosophers of Ancient Greece? Not a single one of them ever had a can of spinach. Except Pythagoras, I’m sure, according to his followers. Spinach turns out to be from the same taxonomic family as beets, which makes sense, since every vegetable we eat is either a beet, a tomato, a mustard, or a potato. So that’s nice to know.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Tea Party, with a lot of casual tea-sing


We travel back in time with Jack Kinney studios to 1960 today. Popeye’s Tea Party has a story credited to Jim Rivind, and direction by Hugh Fraser. Jim Rivind is a new name around here. Hugh Fraser is all over the place.

The title’s almost a warning that there’s depictions of “Indians” and these are not done with an attention to research into the people who actually lived there, or how these people were perceived by white folks of 1773. They don’t do much more than wear feathered headbands, but, still. If you don’t see any reason you need to put up with that nonsense in your recreational reading you are right. Catch you tomorrow.

Once again we start with O G Wotasnozzle and his time machine. I swear, Wotasnozzle did other stuff when he took over Elzie Segar’s Sappo. It does make me wonder what’s gained by using this frame, though. I understand thinking that it helps because it explains why Popeye and company are in, here, pre-Revolutionary Boston. I don’t know that this is a thing anybody needed explained, though. It’s not like Popeye and the Dragon explained why everyone was in this setting, or would have been better for it.

But the frame offers a lot of familiarity, and people love familiarity. We complain about it in kids entertainment, but kids aren’t that different from people in that way. Maybe Jack Kinney understood this would be affectionately remembered. Or appreciated how much time it filled with stock animation.

This time around Popeye’s sent to meet the rest of the cast ahead of the Boston Tea Party. Brutus is the tax collector, proclaiming the tax will be “the same as usual plus 50% for tax collector Brutus”. This reflects the American notion that the Tea Act was the British government imposing big new taxes just to be meanyheads. Wimpy’s cast as the owner of Ye Red Rooster, an inn offering “Tea Burgers, Tea bone Burgers, Tea Spinach, Tea 2c/plain, plus 50% tax for Brutus”. Got that sign up pretty fast. It’s a fair reason to have Wimpy in the action (Brutus was inevitable). Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea are along because the cartoon needed some more ineffective characters.

Not that anyone’s very efficient during the Tea Party raid. It allows for a lot of little jokes, on the order of Swee’Pea shooting arrows at Brutus’s rear end without Brutus ever noticing. Or Wimpy pulling out an arrow to find a hamburger on its end and declaring “I can’t waste this shot!” If there’s a particular charm it’s the dialogue, which has a bunch of good sentences. Popeye declaring “No taxation without resentment,” which is true enough. Olive Oyl calling to a Popeye that’s hurting through the air, “Look out, Popeye!” and Popeye asking, “For what?” Brutus grabbing Olive Oyl with the invitatino to “come up and see my riggings”. Swee’Pea saved from falling in the harbor with the declaration, “A nail in time saved mine!” The patter-heavy dialogue gets away from the cartoon at the end, as Brutus in stocks offers the deal, “I don’t tax you and you don’t tax me?” Popeye, tossing ‘tax’ labels on him, says, “OK, but this is for amusement tax, and that’s tax-free!” It’s got the shape of joking patter but doesn’t get there.

Popeye is trapped in the muzzle of a cannon. Wimpy, wearing a bird feather Indian-style, pours tea almost but not quite into Popeye's pipe.
That’s it, Wimpy! Pour that tea kind of near-ish Popeye’s pipe!

There’s also a surprising number of background voices. They don’t sound like Jackson Beck/Jack Mercer/Mae Questel doubling things up either. I’m curious if they just recorded whoever happened to be nearby. Also why they didn’t just tell the regular actors to do a couple lines of grumbling in a different voice.

The animation’s a bit cheaper than usual, to my eye. There’s what feels like a lot of cartoon where it’s just the characters clinging to a mast that rocks back and forth. And one moment (at about 1:55) where Popeye floats off the bottom of the screen, revealing he’s legless below the knees. There’s a bunch of misaligned characters or characters fluttering through objects too. There’s a few attempts at having a character moving toward or away from the camera. Popeye falling into the harbor. Brutus dragging Olive Oyl into the riggings. They can’t make much of an impression against characters disappearing or appearing. Well, they wouldn’t spend so much time with Wotasnozzle if they weren’t trying to save on the animation budget.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Used Car, and the return of Milt Schaffer jokes


Popeye’s Used Car is another 1960, Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story’s credited to Milt Schaffer, of that fascinating Popeye-versus-Woody-Woodpecker showdown. The direction is credited to Hugh Fraser who’s got a lot of credits already here.

After several peculiar cartoons it’s almost a comfort to have a slightly boring one to write about. Boring’s not a fair terms, really. There’s a reasonable pace and flow to Popeye’s Used Car. It’s just that after a couple weird ones, a basic competent narratively-linear cartoon feels less exciting. It’s a basic, easy-to-follow plot. To keep up with Brutus, Popeye buys a car, and doesn’t really know how to drive. There’s no threat of breaking the time barrier here.

What I do like is the decorations put on this structure. There’s some fine little visual jokes, such as the freeway sign warning, “Enter at your own risk”. Or, on the dashboard of Popeye’s car, buttons for drift, draft, droop, and drip. A traffic signal working as a slot machine.

Ridiculously overcomplicated car dashboard, with many buttons and dials and switches and levers, including buttons for the Curb Feelers, the drift, the draft, the droop, and the drip. Popeye has pressed the 'Snack Bar' and the car is producing from a slot in the dashboard a coffee cup and a hamburger.
Who says they didn’t have cupholders in 60s cars?

Better is the dialogue, though. Popeye describes his bouquet of flowers as “a bit of fragrant frivolity perhaps, but they’re from my heart”. It’s a complicated way to say what he’s doing, and that’s good. It’s got personality, if not for Popeye then for the cartoon. People put things in funny ways throughout the short. When Popeye crashes his car into Olive Oyl’s bedroom she scolds, “Your manners are atrocious!” An angry driver yells at the too-slow Popeye, “Move it or milk it!” This is a funny enough image that I’ll probably use that next time I encounter someone doing 35 mph on the Interstate. Popeye’s traffic-school certificate graduating him “magna cum louder”, which could be the certificate or Popeye being silly. Popeye speaking of how Olive Oyl’s “heart is swayed by the glitter of chrome and whitewall sidewalls”.

Wimpy gets cast as the used car salesman. It’s hard thinking of Wimpy as having a job, but this feels close enough for him. His spinning that out into offering driving lessons feels weirder. That seems like more of an effort than I expect from Wimpy. He’s not as fun a driving teacher as I’d hope. I could see this work. Wimpy moving with an airy indifference to the chaos around him should make for good driving jokes. This might be the point where Milt Schaffer ran out of writing energy.

I do like the charming casualness with which Olive Oyl and Popeye take his smashing his car into her bedroom. They’ve been through this sort of thing before, and they know they’ll be through it again, and it’s not worth getting upset about.

60s Popeye: Astro-Nut, in which Popeye just breaks the universe


Gene Deitch gets to direct this next King Features Popeye cartoon and you know what that means: I have no information about who the story’s by. The producer’s William L Snyder, though, and the production date is 1960. And now this … is Astro-Nut.

There was something glorious in the early 60s, when all you needed to join the space program was to be a cartoon character. If Top Cat and gang could be astronaut candidates just because Officer Dibble questioned their patriotism, the doors were open to everyone. I’m sure that when I get into King Features’s other cartoons of the 60s I’ll find one where Snuffy Smith joins NASA.

For this Gene Deitch production, Popeye joins the space program to do a simulated long-duration flight. Can a person survive in a tiny capsule with no human contact for sixty days? Cartoon NASA is getting ahead of its game with this test; nobody would spend sixty full days in space until Skylab 4/3, in 1973-74. (Skylab 3/2 came in about six hours short of 60 full days.) Still, better to know sooner than later, I suppose.

Popeye seems poorly briefed for the space-related mission he’s signed up for. I know, it’s to give the audience useful exposition. But there’s room to ask whether this was the actual space program Popeye was working for. I mean, Popeye’s only human contact is supposed to be one tape of his friends’ voices, that he can listen to over and over, making use of the world’s slowest rewind feature? And they didn’t check the tape to make sure that Brutus didn’t use his time to taunt Popeye about how he was going to steal Olive Oyl away? Maybe they thought this was playful teasing? Popeye did sign up for a 60-day simulated flight, after all. What did he imagine Brutus was going to do?

Popeye, in a spacesuit, looking angrily at the camera. Behind him is a reel-to-reel tape with two buttons on the player, Rewind and Play.
“What? Not one tape by The Tornadoes?”

We get a montage of Brutus dating Olive Oyl. Seems like they’re doing a lot, too. We see them swimming (he pushes Olive Oyl into the water). Going for a car ride (Olive Oyl has to hold the car up and run, a scene that looks like a separate car-themed cartoon broke out; watch this space). Going to the horse races (Brutus steals some money form her). Going to the amusement park (they ride an improbably steep coaster). All this in what we learn is just two days.

Popeye’s torn between his duty to stay in the capsule 60 days and his intense jealous need to punch Brutus. So there’s only one thing to do and I’m not sure just what it was. He swings his fist, anyway, and the capsule spins, and the instant spray spinach starts to spray and then the capsule launches from the ground, heading into space at the speed of light. This, of course, will cause Earth time to go backwards while the capsule progresses at sixty times normal time speed. And somewhere, the young Python Anghelo nods, understanding. All Brutus’s dates with Olive Oyl wind backwards and the capsule lands again. The generals congratulate Popeye for … having done a 60-day endurance test in an hour and Brutus and Olive Oyl are there and don’t undrestand how much time has passed. I feel this is a cartoon whose plot I probably understood when I was a kid. I’m too old to follow its logic anymore. We close out with a song, at least, “Through space in an hour / On pure spinach power / I’m Popeye the Sailor Man”. Also he sprays spinach into his mouth, so I guess his bubble helmet was open the whole time.

Popeye, in a spacesuit, shaking a general's very long arm. He's outside a space capsule which has a sharp bend in its midsection, and a door that bends to match that, so it's not clear how the hinges would work on that. The deadbolt-style time lock is on the hinged side of the door, instead of where it would most effectively block the door.
“Congratulations, Popeye! I, too, have no idea how that door is supposed to open on that hinge! But I also don’t know how the time lock was supposed to lock that door! I guess this is why we couldn’t get Roger Ramjet into that thing!”

So, it’s weird. It’s Gene Deitch, what do you want. There’s good bits here. Popeye sees a vision of Swee’pea in his pipe smoke, for example, while hearing his voice, and that vision’s wrecked by Brutus coming in. Popeye acts reasonably crazed with jealousy as he thinks about Brutus and Olive Oyl together. The repeated rewinding of the tape to Brutus’s sneering “I’m keeping company with poor lonesome Olive” is a good tension-builder.

But the cartoon gets stuck at the dilemma Popeye outlines. He can desert his post or he can give up on Olive Oyl for at least two months. He can’t do either and still be Popeye. Rather than break Popeye, we break the universe, and do the ending of Superman I 18 years early. It’s an interesting writing lesson: it’s easier to break all narrative logic than it is to defy Popeye’s nature.

Also, sixty times an hour is two and a half days. I know, it doesn’t matter. It’s a messy way out of the problem, but there’s not a good way.

There is no good reason for me to remember any Top Cat story. I apologize for the inconvenience.

60s Popeye: Barbecue for Two, which has to be good since Popeye’s in his old outfit


So this is a weird one. It’s back to the Jack Kinney studios, with a cartoon produced and directed by Kinney himself. The story’s credited to Dick Kinney and Al Bertino. And it’s dated 1960, in a title card that sure looks like the copyright was superimposed later. The credits warn that it’s going to be a cartoon to pay attention to. The production credits are given this striking rhombus background, for one thing. And the music is abnormally long for the King Features run. We’ll get into more of these peculiar things in Barbecue for Two.

So if you’re not alert to the subtleties of animation production, like, if you’re a kid watching these cartoons, you maybe realize something’s strange about this. We settle in to Popeye’s suburban home, although it’s not his usual Boring Suburban Home from Kinney productions. But the real giveaway is our first look at Popeye. He’s not in the white, Navy-derived sailor suit. He’s back in black/navy-blue, like in the comics and the 1930s cartoons. Also he looks … somehow more squished and angular at once.

The Popeye Wikia says this was “the pilot” for the King Features Popeye cartoons. The Internet Movie Database says it was the first short made for TV, but that Hits and Missiles became the pilot. Who’s right? Clearly, impossible to know. But this sure reads as the pilot, particularly for having different models for all the characters. And for how studiously they avoid naming Brutus. The closest we get is an admiring Olive Oyl saying of Popeye’s neighbor, “What a handsome brute [ something ]!”

Popeye holding in his arms Swee'Pea, Wimpy, and Brutus. Popeye's wearing his old blue sailor suit. The sky behind is the same pea-soup-green as the lawn.
I suppose Popeye knows what he’s doing, but, Swee’Pea on the left and Wimpy AND Brutus on the right? That’s a heck of an unbalanced load. I’d put Wimpy and Swee’Pea on one side and Brutus on the other. Save your hips the agony.

The premise is that Popeye wants to have Olive Oyl over for a barbecue for, well, it’s there in the title. Brutus intrudes, becoming obsessed with getting in on the action. This would be obnoxious except Popeye starts the aggressions here, swiping petunias from right under Brutus’s nose. Wimpy joins the action because he can smell the hamburgers. Swee’Pea jumps in because he’s very young and should have some adult at least within screaming range. Brutus starts hitting on Olive Oyl by singing the rock-and-roll she loves. His lyric, “Don’t drop no mustard on my clean white shirt, baby”, is just wonderful, and his swaying, like he’s me trying to dance, is an extra nice goofy bit.

Olive Oyl rejecting Popeye’s square music evokes Coffee House, the Beatnik cartoon, certainly. The other Jack Kinney cartoon this makes me think of, though, is Popeye’s Car Wash, for its plot structure. Particularly for the way Popeye has to run between several stations — hamburgers to Wimpy, the swing for Swee’Pea — before getting back to fighting Brutus, or trying to.

I like this short, but have to admit it’s a complicated liking. The models for the characters are weird. Our first view of him is the skinniest Wimpy apart from the weight-loss cartoon I’m sure they did. There’s some snappy lines in it, such as Olive Oyl declaring, “If there’s nothing I like the least, no-gentlemen is the most”, or observing, “What’s that? A plane? A train? A rocket? It’s Wimpy!” Or there’s weird lines. Thinking here of Brutus taking off Olive Oyl’s shoe and dropping lumps of sugar in. Less good, and more baffling, is Brutus’s rage at being called Junior. I cannot see how this is a “sissy” name and I wonder if some other name got changed to Junior in the recording. His declaration “My name is … ” before Popeye punches him across the continent (and knocks the world off-axis) is a funny bit for everyone who noticed the avoidance of Brutus’s name.

Olive Oyl and Brutus singing together, caught at a moment when Olive Oyl's mouth is wide open and looking a bit Pac-Man-ish, really. The sky behind them is this solid green mass.
I know this isn’t a very good look, but that muddy green is just what the sky looked like before the Clean Air Act.

Much of the music sounds, to my ear, like leftover Famous Studios sound cues. This makes sense for a pilot. There are a few bits where Popeye huffs his pipe. It’s a faint thing, softer than the huffing he does in other shorts.

It’s always easy to like the first, or first couple, episodes of a series. They tend to be weirder, and that stands out. I suppose if the whole cartoon series were like this then this one wouldn’t stand out. As a one-off, showing a way that Popeye might have been animated and wasn’t? It’s compelling.

Popeye’s still being a jerk about those petunias, though.

60s Popeye: Popeye Thumb, the most Seymour Kneitel-iest of cartoons


There are a lot of King Features Popeye cartoons that do fairy tales, yes. But how many of them have a story by Seymour Kneitel, and direction by Seymour Kneitel, and are produced by Seymour Kneitel on top of that? You’d think there was no one else at Paramount Cartoon Studio in 1961 to help with Popeye Thumb, our cartoon for the day.

There’ve been a bunch of Popeye fairy-tale cartoons. Most of them seem to be framed as Swee’Pea demanding a story. Here’s one with a bespoke frame, though, in which the fairy tale is supposed to illuminate some problem on Swee’pea’s part. I like this as structure for a story. It must take a bit more work to introduce a bunch of generic kids playing baseball and for Swee’Pea to have woes with them. It does slow down getting into the “real”, fairy tale, story. But we open with Popeye walking along, scatting, so they can’t have been too pressed for time. It’s not the full scat, though. Just an abbreviated version.

The fairy tale itself is a version of Tom Thumb, like the title suggests. Popeye’s cast as Tom. Poopdeck Pappy’s cast as the father. I don’t recognize Popeye Thumb’s mother. She’s circling around the Sea Hag character design, but not, you know, ugly or anything. Olive Oyl’s cast as the Good Fairy who hears their wish for a son. They don’t make the wish aloud, but I suppose fairies don’t have to hear only what you say. Pappy did neglect the part of the fairy tale where he wishes for a son, even if he were only as large as my thumb. So giving them a tiny son seems like a weird passive-aggressive bit of spontaneous wish-granting on Olive Oyl’s part.

Scene of Poopdeck Pappy, dressed as a farmer, in a rocking chair; he and his wife are thinking of a son, who's Popeye in overalls with Elvis hair holding up a bushel of apples. Olive Oyl, as a fairy princess, watches over and waves her magic wand at this scene.
Writing challenge: 30 minutes writing a story to fit around this image. Advanced level: explain why Popeye is Roy Orbison.

That’s an unimportant quibble. What gets me about this tale is that Popeye Thumb doesn’t have any real conflict. I mean, in the original fairy tale, Tom Thumb spends his days getting swallowed by stuff. In the 1958 George Pal movie, he has some adventures at a carnival and saving his mother from the guards and whatnot. Here? He plants a spinach seed, and uses the strength from that to plow the fields, and uses the profits from that to buy his parents a castle with a TV and a butler who turns the TV on. I guess it’s nice having a story where everything works out well. It seems like it undercuts the value of it as a parable about not letting small size stop you from achievement, though.

No matter. Swee’Pea takes the hint, and Popeye’s spinach, and intrudes into the baseball game to hit a home run. Everyone loves this and wants him on the team and we’ll never see the baseball players again.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

60s Popeye: Kiddie Kapers (could stand some more capering)


Today? We’re back to Paramount Cartoon Studios. Also to 1961. And not only is Seymour Kneitel the director of record (I believe he always is, for Paramount), the story again one by Joseph Gottlieb. So here’s some thoughts about Kiddie Kapers.

This is another cartoon I’d almost think was a leftover 50s-Paramount script. The presence of the Sea Hag foils that, of course. I don’t know whether Famous Studios/Paramount lacked the rights to use the Sea Hag in the 50s, or whether they just lacked the interest. The 60s cartoons opened up the character bundles.

But we have another cartoon with a pretty good, even fresh, premise that sort of peters out. It never does anything wrong. It just somehow leaves the idea under-used. It also feeds into that question about whether the Famous Studios animators were on Bluto’s side. Brutus, with a drop of the Sea Hag’s youth potion, is a handsome fellow, and he’s able at least for a while to act like a pleasant person. This was a workable scheme.

The action starts with Olive Oyl fed up with Popeye, one of her traditional modes. This over their relationship being frozen, the way these cartoons (and the comic strip) demand. She uses this as reason to call him old, and Brutus pounces on that with supernatural speed. Then he figures if he were young, he’d have a better chance with Olive Oyl, and what do you know but the Sea Hag can help with that.

I like that Popeye sees through Brutus’s scheme right away, although given how different Brutus does look it’s fair to wonder how. Maybe he knows there’s only like six people who are ever in these cartoons. Still, it can’t be his voice giving him away, not with how many parts Jackson Beck does.

Popeye spots the Youth Potion, because nobody in these cartoons ever leaves valuable stuff at home where it’s safe. Taking from the directions that one drop made Brutus young and handsome, he takes a big swig. This is dumb but it’s dumb in a realistic way, and we get Popeye turned into an infant for … this has to be at least the third time. I know he turned into a kid once when Martians kidnapped him and put him under their ageing ray. I don’t remember the second time but feel like there’s got to be another. This is a daft paragraph and I should get out of it. Anyway it’s not the first time Popeye’s been turned into a kid and I’m just guessing it’s not the second.

Olive Oyl and Popeye, both toddlers, sit on the porch playing patty-cake.
Ooh, I can’t wait to see how being toddlers and having to grow up all over changes the course of the Popeye Cinematic Universe!

Brutus uses Popeye’s whining as excuse to spank him, a move that offers no subtexts and no prospects for cheap jokes either. Olive Oyl’s ready with the spinach and to my surprise it doesn’t age Popeye back to normal. He spanks Brutus, again a move you can’t write anything about, but he stays a kid. To close the cartoon Olive Oyl takes a swig of the anti-age potion and luckily gets enough to become Popeye’s new age. It’s not how I expected the cartoon to end, but it’s an interesting end.

So if I keep finding pieces of the cartoon interesting why don’t I like the whole thing? I’m not sure I dislike the whole thing. I feel, though, like “Brutus is a handsome young man and Popeye is a bawling infant” should make for a cartoon with more unique scenes than what we get here. It might be that with five and a half minutes of screen time, credits included, that’s just impossible. A seven-minute version of this cartoon could fit three or four extra scenes, letting Brutus be a fake Popeye parent. Lose 90 seconds and something has to go.

60s Popeye: Which is Witch, inviting the question: what was Popeye’s objective here?


We’re back to 1960 now, and back to Gene Deitch’s studios. So there’s no story credit and the producer credit is William L Snyder. I don’t know what the organization of these videos is. So here’s Which Is Witch to watch.

Something it’s hard for kids to learn is that just because a good guy does a thing doesn’t mean they’re doing something right. A hazard of stories, especially short ones with familiar characters, is jumping to the action without justifying it. This is a good example. Popeye and Olive Oyl are sailing to Sea Hag Island. Why? They’re going to surprise her. All right, but why? Sea Hag eventually mentions she’ll get back to piracy. But it’s not clear she was doing anything before Popeye stirred up trouble.

Yes, yes, of course. Sea Hag’s a villain, we know she’s villaining even when Popeye isn’t there. But, as of the start of the cartoon, what has she done that needs a response? Going off living on an island shaped like her, and running an army of off-model Goons? (They’re the same model Goon as in Goon With The Wind, so I suppose this is how Gene Deitch liked them to look.) There’s warnings there, but what is Popeye responding to?

If we get past the motivation problem, though, we’ve got a pretty snappy cartoon here. Popeye’s sneaking up fails. Sea Hag has, of course, a duplicate robot Olive Oyl ready to dispatch and stir up trouble. We’ve had duplicate Popeyes before; I’m not sure if this is our first duplicate Olive Oyl. We also have the Sea Hag’s pet vulture. In the comic strip he’s named Bernard. Here he’s Sylvester. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.

Olive Oyl pointing an accusatorial finger at her robot duplicate, who's turned away, frowning, with its heart dangling sadly on a long spring. Popeye looks on at the confrontation.
Trapped in a dungeon with his girlfriend’s heartbroken robot twin, or as Popeye knows it, “Monday”.

There’s also a bunch of little points that almost but don’t quite make sense. Olive Oyl sees Popeye kissed by a woman about Olive Oyl’s height and about Olive Oyl’s weight and wearing Olive Oyl’s clothes, on the Sea Hag’s island, and her first suspicion is not “the Sea Hag’s pulling some stunt”? Popeye left his spinach behind in the boat because … ? The Robot Olive Oyl is more in love with Popeye than willing to follow the Sea Hag’s directions. That one I’m all right with, actually, since the slightly-too-perfect duplicate is a good bit.

Despite my doubts about the plot, the cartoon’s got a lot to commend it. A good pace. Pretty fluid animation considering its limits. A lot of camera pans to make a little bit of motion seem like more. A plot with twists, too, as the Sea Hag outsmarts Popeye’s sneaking-up, and the Robot Olive Oyl betrays the Sea Hag. Some pretty lively voice acting, too, especially from Jack Mercer.

This is another cartoon with a wrong title, though. Which Is Witch, and a premise that there’s a duplicate Olive Oyl, implies a story where it’s hard to tell two Olives Oyl apart. Popeye’s a little confused, but it doesn’t last, and it doesn’t complicate the story any. I wonder if the title fit the story outline, but the finished product mutated away and nobody had a better title.

I’m still left wondering, in an echo of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 riff: what was Popeye’s plan? Go in, get captured, and escape? Mission accomplished, I guess?

60s Popeye: My Fair Olive, a mis-named cartoon


We’re back to 1961, and Paramount Cartoon Studios, today. It’s a story by Joseph Gottlieb, who’d also done Scairdy Cat. The director is Seymour Kneitel, as tradition dictates. My Fair Olive.

What’s the reputation of Famous Studios/Paramount Cartoon Studios Popeye cartoons? At least for the 1950s? Mostly of being boring. Also of sometimes squandering a decent premise. Here I’m calling out Popeye For President, which turns into Popeye and Bluto doing farm chores.

The title made me guess the premise was “try to make a gentleman out of Popeye”. Starting out in the Museum of Antiquities, with Popeye making dumb jokes about the exhibits? Squabbling with Brutus, who’s the museum guard or maybe docent? That reinforced my expectations. The premise has been circled before, in the Fleischer era with Learn Polikeness and It’s The Natural Thing To Do. It’s hardly exhausted, though.

So, inspired by the King Arthur exhibit, the cartoon diverts into Popeye and Brutus jousting for Olive’s hand. And that’s all right, I guess. It sets up some of the obvious jokes. Popeye has to wear a stove because the town Antique Armor Shop hasn’t got anything in his size. He has to ride a mule instead of a horse. Brutus creams him, of course. Olive Oyl, who’d urged them to have this joust in the first place, then feels bad for Popeye. Brutus grabs Olive Oyl, and Popeye eats his spinach. It’s that 1930s pattern of Big Bully/Damsel In Distress/Brave Little Squirt returning.

Popeye, wearing a cast-iron stove as a suit of armor, runs while holding a mule on his shoulders.
The three-legged race has gone horribly wrong.

This is all competent enough. There’s even a couple good moments, such as Brutus on his horse charging at the camera. It does feel very 50s Famous Studios, though. Especially in how Olive Oyl pushes for a joust that leaves Popeye helpless and Brutus getting assault-y. Also in how the title card and the direction of the first couple minutes seem to get tossed away in favor of a stock Popeye-and-Brutus fight. I’m curious whether this started as a possible script for a late-50s cartoon that got shelved. But all Gottlieb’s other story credits are from 1961 too.

I suppose the title “My Fair Olive” parses for a story about joust LARPing. It belongs on a cartoon about making Popeye a gentleman, is all.

60s Popeye: The Troll What Got Gruff


Today’s cartoon is another Jack Kinney production. It’s got a fairy tale theme, so of course the story is by Ed Nofziger and the animation direction credited to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. I’m not sure they were the team for fairy tale stories, but at least those names seem to bundle together. Here’s The Troll What Got Gruff.

This is another cartoon framed as Swee’Pea wanting a fairy story. A Popeye fairy story, he says, and I think that’s a new qualifier. It would make sense to do a Popeye series of nothing but fairy tales. The Popeye cast has a good blend of fixed and flexible traits. It could have been their own take on Jay Ward’s Fractured Fairy Tales. The Popeye cartoons never did drop the frame entirely, though they did forget to come back to Popeye and Swee’Pea this cartoon.

The story is a loose riff on the Three Billy Goats Gruff, here with Brutus playing the troll and Swee’Pea, Olive Oyl, and Popeye as the goats. Brutus also seems to be having the most fun this cartoon. He goes into the toll-bridge business because the fishing’s bad and there has to be an easier way to make a living. He never manages to collect any tolls, but he does get to mess with a couple of people. There’s something nice and preposterously fun in Brutus’s escalation in bridge management techniques. Easy enough to start by hitting the bridge with a log to shake Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl off. Building that up to where he’s moved his house up, and installed a mechanical foot and a net, gives it some fun escalation. That Brutus somehow puts together a spring-loaded drawbridge too is some fun business.

Popeye in a spinach patch leaning forward at the camera. His eyes are shut and his mouth gapingly wide open so that he looks more like a merry cow than anything else. He has a *lot* of mouth in this pose.
Say what you will about Popeye, but he is one happy eater.

I suppose there’s a plot to this cartoon. I’m not dismissing it when I say that. There’s a nice clear scenario, and we get to the Popeye-versus-Brutus stuff in pretty good time. But most of the Popeye-versus-Brutus stuff could be shuffled and you’d have as sensible a story. There are a lot of good little lines, though. Brutus under the bridge grumbling that “I ain’t getting rich down here”. Then, later, grumbling, “Imagine that, just ’cause I swiped this bridge they won’t pay toll.” Popeye amazed to find he’s landed in a spinach patch, and being asked, “What did you expect, horseradish?” Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl doing the It’s-a-bird/It’s-a-plane/It’s-Popeye patter, echoed later by “It’s a buzzard!” “It’s a flying troll!” There should be another false identification, though. I don’t see why that’s missing. I like Brutus’s declaration that “there must be an easier way to earn a living”. It’s a good balanced conclusion to the setup.