I don’t know why this is set on a showboat. Like, what about this cartoon couldn’t be done at any theater in any town? The only joke here that would need to be rewritten is Brutus’s comeuppance, where he’s forced to run along the paddle wheel.
This isn’t to say the cartoon is wrong to set things on a showboat, or to set it in some generic Mississippi River town. It’s that Meyer and Mercer decided they wanted this set on a showboat for some reason, and that reason isn’t obvious in what came out. Did they discover in writing there weren’t any good story bits to do that involved the boat? Or at least weren’t bits that they had time for, once the essentials of the plot were out of the way? Or did they want nothing more than to give Mae Questel the chance to try a Southern accent?
The plot’s all good enough. It’s almost archetypical for a particular kind of Popeye cartoon. Popeye’s a performer, Olive Oyl the manager, and Brutus is the stagehand and janitor and ticket-taker and all. He’s jealous so figures to sabotage the act and take Popeye’s place. The sabotage works long enough for Brutus to run on-stage in his caveman skin. But Popeye’s finally aware that he wasn’t tossed greased bowling pins by mistake. So, he grabs some spinach and lifts Brutus who’s himself lifting a whole lot of weights. Even juggles them with his legs, which is quite the feat. There isn’t a fight after this, not really; we just go to Brutus tied up and trapped on the paddle wheel. This supports the idea they just ran out of time for the premise.
It’s all done with the general, steady competence you’d expect from Paramount. It had much of the feel of one of the theatrical shorts. It’s certainly in the vein of Tops in the Big Top, where Popeye and Olive Oyl are circus acrobats. In that one Bluto’s the ringmaster, and has only jealousy of Popeye’s relationship with Olive Oyl to motivate him. Here he’s motivated by a desire for celebrity. So it’s the unusual cartoon where Brutus isn’t interested in Olive Oyl. Just in being on stage.
The index rose seven points today on rumors that there was some kind of debenture in need of examination or maybe coming due or something and that’s left everyone in a good mood of feeling all financial and whatnot.
I ran across this bit in Anthony Slide’s The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville:
Of the genuine freak acts, one of the most revolting, but popular, was Willard, the Man Who Grows, billed as “the star attraction of the Wintergarten, Berlin”. Clarence E Willard was featured in vaudeville during 1913 and 1914, and could add 7 1/2 inches to his height of 5 feet, 9-3/4 inches. He could extend his arms to anywhere from 8 to 15 inches, and could make one leg 4 inches longer than the other. As “Wynn” noted in Variety (October 17, 1914), “Willard is one of that strange species of novelty that one must see to appreciate.”
I really kind of have to agree: I’m not entirely clear how “becoming seven and a half inches taller” could be an act, exactly, yet I’d be interested in seeing it, so apparently that is an act. And that fact means I can’t fairly make a joke about how, like, yeah, in 1913 the only other public entertainment options were watching baseball from before they bothered mowing the lawns inside the ballparks and catching the latest Balkan War. But I also don’t see what extending an arm eight to fifteen inches could do to be revolting. The best I can get is creepily unsettling. Maybe I’m not thinking about it hard enough.