After a bit of Jack Kinney we get back to the comfortable grounds of Paramount. Once more we have story, direction, and production by Seymour Kneitel. This for 1960’s Valley of the Goons.
Considering his name Popeye doesn’t spend that much time at sea. Especially in the King Features shorts, where he got stuck in a boring suburban house. Here, he’s finally at sea — and even in a sailing ship! — but it took being shanghaied to get him there.
I like this one a lot. Not just because it has Goons, although that does help. It does a lot of things right, including getting Popeye on an adventure. It’s also a strongly-plotted adventure. Poachers hoping to make a fortune in goonskin shanghai Popeye, presumably because they need the extra muscle. Popeye, being a hero, isn’t having it. He breaks out of the brig and gives the Goons the spinach they need to kick the pirates out. And the spinach seeds so they won’t have to rely on him anymore. The story’s sensible, the motivations clear enough, and Popeye is resolutely heroic for it all.
As seems to happen, I wonder if this was a condensed version of a comic strip or comic book adventure. Neither the Popeye Wikia nor the IMDB suggest it was. And it’s unfair to say that because a story is coherent and entertaining it must come from somewhere else. There’s no reason Seymour Kneitel can’t write good stories. Still, a condensation would explain why Rough House isn’t suspicious when the Captain takes the knocked-out Popeye.
We get introduced to Goon Valley as “A Backwards Country”, along with some jokes about things being done the wrong way around. Putting a mailbox in a letter, for example, or a mugger forcing cash on someone. (Who seems happy about it, too.) A serious critic might consider the colonialist implications of these pirates raiding a country explicitly labelled “backwards”. And being saved by the white guy coming in and defending them, and encouraging them to adopt his own techniques to fend off future incursions[*]. Me, I’m considering: is this a ripoff of Bizarro? The character first appeared, in Superboy, in 1959, and was popular for good reasons. But he was a lone “backwards” figure. Bizarro’s world (Htrae) first appeared in April 1960, if Wikipedia doesn’t mislead me. It’s … conceivable that this was filling out a couple minutes of screen time with a Bizarro World riff. But I find coincidence is the more compelling explanation. It’s not a unique genius that would think of “what if everyday life, but backwards?” It must have antecedents.
The captain of the poachers isn’t a Brutus figure, although Jackson Beck does the voice. Beck also does Rough House’s voice, using a southern-fried accent I think is unique to this short.
[*] One might ask whether I’m trivializing a serious and worthwhile form of criticism by putting it to a disposable cartoon from the 60s. I don’t intend to trivialize, no. I argue, first, that we learn how to think seriously about things by first thinking lightly about things. Whether by shallow thoughts or by simple topics. If the text doesn’t have enough of a point of view to criticize, it’ll fall apart under examination, and it’s worth learning how to spot that, too. And some serious thinkers would agree that the pop-culture stuff shoveled into kids’ heads deserves examination. But, again, these are for real critics, as opposed to what I do around here.