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: how to be a Matinee Idol


Suggested soundtrack: Sparks, Academy Award Performance.

This week’s King Features Popeye cartoon is, it happens, directed by Gene Deitch, and produced by William L Snyder. There’s no story credit to it. Matinée Idol Popeye, another in the microgenre of cartoons where Popeye makes a movie.

Though I’ve called it a microgenre, there really aren’t many cartoons where Popeye is making a movie. At least one of the times he is, it’s a clip cartoon recycling one of the two-reelers. The benefit of doing a let’s-make-a-movie cartoon is you can put Popeye in any scenario without needing any setup or resolution. But, then, when have we ever needed a reason that Popeye should be in Ancient Egypt? It’s old-style cartoon characters. They could just do that.

The setup is Popeye and Olive Oyl making some Anthony-and-Cleopatra film. Brutus is director, sensibly enough. I’d wondered if this was a riff on the infamous Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton Cleopatra, and it seems … unclear. That movie, released 1963, had started production in 1958. So a 1960 cartoon could riff on it. But apart from its five-million-dollar budget what would stand out, in 1960, about the project? Probably it’s more generically a riff on that era of epic-style filmmaking.

We get early on some nice visual jokes. Popeye turning into a ham when Brutus accuses him of being one, that sort of thing. It reflects one of the good lessons of limited animation: if you can’t show complicated action, at least show a bunch of funny pictures. Brutus tries to woo Olive Oyl, taking out of his pocket a heap of flowers bigger than he is; that’s better than anything which would make physical sense.

The premise of the cartoon becomes that Brutus wants Popeye out of the way, but can’t fire him, so he has to get Popeye to quit or die. Bit gruesome, but, makes sense. We get the gag of Popeye’s head caught in a lion’s mouth, and him puffing his pipe to make the lion release him. That’s been done before; in the Famous Studios Tops in The Big Top Bluto even puts a slab of meat on Popeye’s head to ensure the lion tries to eat him. Here it’s just luck for Brutus that the plan starts to work. It’s a missed chance to make Brutus more villainous, but on the other hand, do we want Brutus to be that mean?

Popeye's head is caught in the mouth of a slightly annoyed lion. Popeye's arms are raised as he figures to maybe do something about this.
Popeye: “Why does this keep happening to me? … All right, it’s only happened maybe three times? But when you consider how often this happens to anyone else that’s still a lot.”

Brutus chuckles “that’ll be good for the end title” when a vulture rests on Popeye’s head. It is, and it’s a missed resolution that the end of the short doesn’t have the vulture on Brutus’s head. We get some nice and really exciting music as the elephant comes in. It raises questions about what the filming schedule for this film was supposed to look like. I wouldn’t want to try to shoot a lion and an elephant and a crocodile scene on the same day. Obviously Brutus is throwing stuff together in the opes of getting Popeye to quit, but he does seem to be filming all this. Without giving Popeye direction of what he should accomplish in the scene, though. If this were an actual film it would be a heck of an avant-garde piece. It’d have some weird verite-like style anyway. Brutus is optimistic to think this will win an Academy Award, but it will have a good shot at being a cult classic.

Brutus finally turns to just grabbing Olive Oyl, because he has not learned how people work yet. Popeye does a slick bit of crushing his can open by dropping a beam of wood on it; that gets us to the fight climax. More time’s spent on Popeye making a sphinx of himself than the actual fight. I’m curious whether they were trying to limit the violence or whether Deitch (or storywriter) thought that punching was the least interesting thing Popeye did. Before we know it, Brutus is harnessed and hauling Popeye’s chariot. This seems like it should violate a Directors Guild rule, but we have reason to think the production is outside proper channels, what with how there’s no other crew.

This isn’t a lushly animated cartoon and after the initial business with the ham it doesn’t get too fanciful either. It does well with what animation there is. And it avoids having too many scenes that look like police lineups. We get a lot of close pictures of characters’s faces, or from chest up. Not so many of them standing in a line viewed from afar. I regret that it doesn’t show off the experimental energies I was talking so much about yesterday. But sometimes a cartoon’s just executed successfully after all.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? How did Valiant escape the lions? September – November 2019


This plot recap for Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant should get you up to speed for late November 2019. If you’re reading this after about late February 2020, you may find a more up-to-date recap at this link. Thanks for reading at all, though.

Prince Valiant.

1 September – 24 November 2019

All the player-characters were in North Africa last time I checked in. Fewesi the Healer had kidnapped Makeda, Queen of Ab’sabam. Bukota, Makeda’s exiled lover, caught up to them. She escaped Fewesi’s mind-control enchantment, and she and he team up to chase down Fewesi. And Prince Valiant, trailing all this, is busy fighting some lions. He’s doing all right but, after all, they have a whole hunting party while Valiant is off on his own.

As luck would have it, though, not for long. Fewesi is fleeing back the way he came. This takes him to the oasis where Valiant and the lions are having it out. Bukota and Makeda surround Fewesi, on the ledge. Fewesi lunges for Makeda; she whacks him good and sends him plummeting. He lands near enough Valiant. The lions break off from Valiant, going for the pre-dead delivery meal now that they can.

Fewesi had sought to circle behind and ambush Bukota - suddenly, there before him stands Makeda! He had not considered her ferocious resolve! He attempts to again exert his will over the Queen, but he is exhausted, and Makeda is now on guard. In desperation, he lunges at her. Before she was queen, Makeda was an adept warrior - she decisively counters Fewesi's awkward attack and now the man called 'The Healer' plummets, screaming, toward the roars that echo up from far below. A moment, and a thud, later, the angry lions circling Val pause, as the thrashing of a broken body has caught their attention. Their pursuit of Val has proven wearisome and painful ... and this gift from above offers much easier pickings. And, so, the healer did save someone in the end.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 22d of September, 2019. And with this fresh supply of meat, the lionesses put off their rebellion against Scar for another two weeks. “Maybe he had a legitimate purpose in that Ukraine phone call,” they assert, once their bellies are not so empty. “Who are we to judge?”

So that’s some major crises settled. Valiant cleans his wounds, and then the gang all run into the Idar Uhag. These are Fewesi’s people, the ones who taught the Healer his mind-control powers before turning him out as gads such a loser. Makeda asks why, when Fewesi brought her to them, they didn’t free her then? They hadn’t wanted any part of Fewesi’s stupid hold-Makeda-as-hostage scheme. The chief explains how, y’know, you don’t waste energy making Wile E Coyote’s scheme blow up. Anyway, they give Makeda, Bukota, and Valiant some camels as a parting gift.

They head back toward Paraetonium, where they landed in Africa. And meet up with the cavalry: Valiant’s daughter Karen, with her husband Vanni, and the armed party from the Misty Isles there to rescue Makeda. They start flashing back to Karen’s adventure when (rolling 1d10, checking the encounter table) an Egyptian army comes over the hill. They’re from the local government and somehow all testy about the Misty Isles sending an armed party through their city and into their lands.

Val and the leader of the Egyptian force meet to parley: 'I am Patape, Governor of Paraetonium, and ... ' the little man, whom Val recognizes, hesitates, 'Do I know you?' Val answers: 'We met, but unintentionally. I fell into your boudoir in the midst of your ...' A shock of recognition lights Patape's eyes, and he glances nervously at his stern seconds. Val sees that the Governor does not wish his affair to be divulged. 'Or perhaps I have the wrong man. But I believe you are a reasonable sort, who must see that our presence here is only by mistake - we bring no threat. Escort us back to our ships and no blood need be shed.' At that, Patape looks both relieved and conflicted. 'Unfortunately, the good people of Paraetonium have already been offended by your incursion. My hand is forced. And if word ever got back to Justinian's generals in Alexandria ...' Suddenly, Vanni rides up, waving a handful of herbs. 'Perhaps I can offer an agreeable solution. These medicinal herbs I found in your market would have much value in the Misty Isles, if we could accomplish a contract for export.' Patape brightens; this talk is more to his liking. 'As it happens, I have much influence with the growers and distributors of this most excellent fenugreek!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 3rd of November, 2019. I know it’s a real herb. I see references to it. I sometimes see it on the store shelves. I believe our spice rack has it. If it does it’s among the dusty glass jars of things that look like dried brown leaf shreds that have always run out when we do need the contents. I just can’t make myself believe that ‘fenugreek’ isn’t a name someone came up with when they had to bluff their way through a conversation about herbs.

At their head is Patape, the Governor of Paraetonium. He’s met Valiant. He and Bukota fell through his roof when they were chasing Fewesi through the city. Valiant tries to explain how they really don’t want any trouble. Patape points out there already is trouble and there’s no way they can’t have more. Vanni has an idea that could solve things, though: what if the Governor got a bunch of money? You know, in exchange for the fenugreek growing around Paraetonium. The Governor finds interesting this plan where he gets a bunch of money. Remember, they lived when it was acceptable for public servants to use their positions to directly enrich themselves. (And yet, for my snarking, I agree with the plan of seeing if there’s a way to buy our way out of a pointless, stupid fight. That it can be done as a trade agreement satisfies me that it’s at least honest corruption.)

So Valiant and party get to head home and all looks happy. Except that, yeah, Valiant took a bunch of scrapes from the lions. And now he’s got some infection. He collapses. Vanni puts some “herbs and honey” on him, and that’s the suspenseful hook on which we end today’s strip.

Next Week!

Wait, have Steve Roper and Mike Nomad really been brought back out of the void? If anyone could do it, Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy could do it. Check back here in a week for that, barring surprise developments. Also if you like comic strips that explore mathematical themes please try my other blog. Thanks for reading in any case.

On Reasons Not To Visit Prehistoric Australia


Yes, I also saw that news report about Australia’s prehistoric “marsupial lion”. According to it, according to a study, the marsupial lion turns out to be a thing that (a) existed and (b) could climb trees. I don’t know what a marsupial lion would be doing in a tree. And it’s not actually any of my business. Why shouldn’t a marsupial lion climb a tree in Australia, if it can find one?

Except I know anything about Australian wildlife. And therefore I know the marsupial lion must have been poisonous, venomous, razor-tipped at no fewer than 68 points of its anatomy, and prone to exploding as a defense mechanism. BBC News’s report on it says they would have been “a threat to humans”. Not this human. I’ve never gotten closer than 1,700 miles to Australia, and I haven’t got closer than about 42,500 years to marsupial lions. I’d like to think I’m outside the blast range. If I’m fooling myself, don’t tell me. Let it be a surprise. I just know it’s coming.