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.

Probably Not A Good Idea To Get Them Playing Diplomacy Though


I was reading Eric Jager’s Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection In Medieval Paris, about the murder in 1407 of Louis of Orleans and the criminal investigation headed by Guillaume de Tignonville, provost of Paris. It’s one of the earliest criminal inquiries for which we have really good documentation, like, depositions and all that. We can follow Guillaume de Tignonville’s careful investigation all the way through to when John, Duke of Burgundy, called the other dukes over to say he did it and then fled Paris. At that point the investigation was considerably simplified apart from John getting away with it. Anyway, in part of the backstory to the murder comes this event from January 1393:

… One of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting was to be married, and, to everyone’s delight, the king offered to host the wedding feast and the dancing to follow at the royal palace. A young nobleman, a friend of the king’s, proposed privately to Charles [VI] an entertainment to add excitement and pleasure to the ball: He and the king, and a few friends, would beforehand and in great secrecy put on linen costumes covered with pitch and stuck full of fine yellow flax that looked like the hair of beasts. Sewn into these close-fitting garments and completely disguised from head to foot as wild men or savages, the king and his friends would burst into the ballroom during the dancing to surprise and amuse the guests. The king thought it a splendid idea, and they set the plan in motion, telling only a few servants whose help they needed.

It all ended in tragedy, because everything in that era ended in tragedy, including for the person who thought to warn folks not to let the torches get too near the people dressed in linen with straw pasted all over them by oil and tied together by ropes. But what’s got me is that the King of France thought this sounded like great entertainment. And apparently the guests did too, just thrilled by how much fun it all was, at least until the tragedy started and spread out to help the nation plunge into civil war because everything in that era eventually plunged the nation into civil war.

So this was grand entertainment. Everybody thought a couple people dressed in linen and flax and tied together and running around was just the best idea. These people were starved for entertainment. One good parlor game could have changed the whole course of what tragedies plunged the nation into civil war.

There’s a longstanding tradition in science fiction stories where someone from the present falls into history and makes his fortune “inventing” new technologies. OK, I think there’s like four of them, one of which I refuse to read. And another of which debunks the whole story idea. Anyway, I realize now this inventing-future-technology stuff is useless. Even if I could figure out how to make a transistor there’s no market for it in 14th-century France. Plus the era was centuries away from even Alessandro Volta’s most basic prototype of the mini-USB plug that doesn’t fit any cord you, or anyone else, has ever had.

But the era still needed amusements. They had some, yes, but in impossibly primitive and needlessly complicated form. The chess board, for example, was three by forty squares wide, yet it held only five pieces, and four of them were bishops. And they weren’t allowed to move. All they could do is excommunicate the Patriarch of Constantinople. You could only take three turns per day, except days that allowed five turns, and none at all on Feast Days, except one after sunset. The game innovator who first introduced the “rook” was branded a madman and sentenced to live in Gascony. “That’s all right, I’m from Gascony,” he said (in Gascon French), so that at least had a less-tragic-than-usual ending, but still, it took his reputation decades to recover. They had backgammon boards, but hadn’t yet invented its rules. They just moved markers back and forth until they got bored, which is all I know about backgammon too. And the video games were none too good, what with the screens being embroidery taking upwards of sixty weeks to render a single frame.

So what I need to prepare for in case of being lost in the distant past is to be able to “invent” some games that don’t involve open flame. Even with my scattered brain I bet I could reconstruct a basic Yahtzee set or put together a minimally functional Connect 4. Paper football matches could change the whole course of how the nation plunges into civil war. And if I spent some time preparing? Think what society could do with eight centuries and the plans for Hungry Hungry Hippos. You may call this problem ridiculous, as long as I’m not in earshot, but I like to think I have this one solved, and that’s at least something going well right now.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

While the Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose five points nobody has any good ideas why and so they’re all very doubtful that this is the way anything should be.

121

This Day In History: 1805


April 17, 1805: Napoleon Bonaparte proposes the building of a stone-arch bridge around the entire world, which his subordinates acclaim as a bold and most challenging accomplishment beyond the dreams of everyone. Napoleon announces that to make the project more practical it will be built as a ring just a couple feet away from the North Pole, vastly farther north than anyone has ever been or imagined it possible to be, and his subordinates admire his vision and daring. He then announces that since the Earth is round you can draw an axis anywhere and make a loop around any spot, so they should just build it in the suburbs of Paris, and his subordinates start to wonder if he’s just putting them on. Napoleon grins inscrutably, and his subordinates are honestly relieved to hear the British are attacking again.


Also, I’ve added an embedded YouTube video link to my bit yesterday about Harold Lloyd’s Number, Please? so the movie should be easier to watch.

Finley Peter Dunne: The Paris Exposition


Finley Peter Dunne is a person I think of as forgotten, probably because you never hear about his fans anymore, although that’s probably just my ignorance talking. I’d be glad to hear I was wrong. In the late 19th and early 20th century he wrote a great many essays presented as the conversations of Mister Dooley, of Archey Road, barkeep and amateur sage.

Much of his writing is about the politics of the day, so if you aren’t up on just what the hot issues of 1905 were he might as well be writing in a foreign language, an impression not helped by his decision to write in dialect. But if you do carry on I think it’s rewarding, funny and with that humane, warm cynicism that’s so much easier to take.

In this entry, from Mister Dooley’s Philosophy, Mister Dooley is skeptical of the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900.


“If this r-rush iv people to th’ Paris exposition keeps up,” said Mr.Hennessy, “they won’t be enough left here f’r to ilict a prisidint.”

“They’ll be enough left,” said Mr. Dooley. “There always is. No wan has gone fr’m Arrchey r-road, where th’ voters ar-re made. I’ve looked ar- round ivry mornin’ expectin’ to miss some familyar faces. I thought Dorgan, th’ plumber, wud go sure, but he give it up at th’ las’ moment, an’ will spind his summer on th’ dhrainage canal. Th’ baseball season ‘ll keep a good manny others back, an’ a number iv riprisintative cit’zens who have stock or jobs in th’ wire mills have decided that ’tis much betther to inthrust their savin’s to John W. Gates thin to blow thim in again th’ sthreets iv Cairo.”

“But takin’ it by an’ large ’twill be a hard winter f’r th’ r-rich. Manny iv thim will have money enough f’r to return, but they’ll be much sufferin’ among thim. I ixpict to have people dhroppin’ in here nex’ fall with subscription books f’r th’ survivors iv th’ Paris exhibition. Th’ women down be th’ rollin’ mills ‘ll be sewin’ flannels f’r th’ disthressed millyonaires, an’ whin th’ childher kick about th’ food ye’ll say, Hinnissy, ‘Just think iv th’ poor wretches in th’ Lake Shore dhrive an’ thank Gawd f’r what ye have.’ Th’ mayor ‘ll open soup kitchens where th’ unforchnit people can come an’ get a hearty meal an’ watch th’ ticker, an’ whin th’ season grows hard, ye’ll see pinched an’ hungry plutocrats thrampin’ th’ sthreets with signs r-readin’: ‘Give us a cold bottle or we perish.’ Perhaps th’ polis ‘ll charge thim an’ bust in their stovepipe hats, th’ prisidint ‘ll sind th’ ar-rmy here, a conspiracy ‘ll be discovered at th’ club to blow up th’ poorhouse, an’ volunteers ‘ll be called on fr’m th’ nickel bed houses to protect th’ vested inthrests iv established poverty.”

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