Today’s short, from 1960, is one of the rare Gerald Ray-produced Popeye shorts. The direction is credited to Tom McDonald. There’s no story credit given. I can offer a small content warning: at two points in the story Poopdeck Pappy tells a tall tale about fighting “Injuns”. If this seems slight enough not to bother you let us proceed with Jeopardy Sheriff.
I mentioned the other day the curse of competence to tend to be boring. It doesn’t have to be, though. Nothing has to be boring. Here, Gerald Ray studios puts together another variation on the Poopdeck-Pappy-gets-in-a-fix plot. It’s got a nice energy to it, and enough action. Someone experienced with stories might not be surprised by the plot developments. But surprise isn’t necessary to stories.
We start with Poopdeck Pappy telling an enthraleld Swee’pea a tall tale about being a sheriff. He backs into Popeye, who “if I told you twice I told you once” doesn’t want Swee’Pea raised that way. Pappy goes off to sulk while Popeye tells a “nice, true fairy tale” to Swee’Pea. On the TV, there’s a report of a bank robbery and of a weird old sailor claiming to be Sheriff Poopdeck Pappy interfering. Popeye knows what happens any time Pappy gets out of eyesight.
The bank robbers — none of them Brutus, this time — have Pappy captured. In the chaos, Popeye’s able to free Pappy, who rides on the back of the getaway car to the gangster’s hideout. Pappy’s captured again, as is the pursuing Popeye. And worse, the gang has a pickpocket who snatches Popeye’s spinach! Pappy’s able to snatch a gun, shoot open Popeye’s spinach, eat it, and punch the whole gang into jail. With his skill proven Popeye is happy to listen to Pappy’s tall tales again.
You can tell how Popeye’s not the protagonist here by how he doesn’t bust up, or want to bust up, the bank robbery. He’s totally able to eat his spinach and punch the robbers from the Lefr Bank all the way to City Jail if he had the power to drive the narrative. But Pappy’s got it, even if Popeye might have more screen time.
No complains here about story structure. Or pacing. If you’re tired of the American Cornball comedy style you might not like the opening scene where Pappy slowly backs up into Popeye while warning about not letting ’em get behind you. But if you like that style, or if you don’t know how that setup must pay off, then it’s a well-constructed joke that only gets better the longer it builds. And there are a lot of nice bits of small silliness, things that the cartoon doesn’t need but is better for. Popeye opening the story of Goldilocks by talking about the three bears, “Moe, Sam, Lefty, and George”, and while you might count four, “those are the bear facts”. Popeye bursting in to the bank robbers crying out “Don’t touch a hair on that old grey head” — I trust it’s a Barbara Fritchie reference — mirrored by his bursting into the gang’s hideout with “don’t touch a head of that old grey hair”. The TV news reporter also drinking a cup of coffee, which I assume refers to something someone in 1960 would recognize. Even good little word manglings, like crying out “are ya comin’ peaceably or do I have to use forceps?”
All told, yes, a competent cartoon, done with enough flair to be pleasant.
There is a curse to competence. It tends to be boring. The last couple Jack Kinney cartoons I looked at had sloppy stories and a lot of animation cheats. But that also gave them this weird, unpredictable nature. Here, Paramount Cartoon Studios, which had been animating Popeye for 27 years already, gets all the craft of cartooning right. But it’s less fun.
The story is an adaptation of Snow White. For once it’s not a story Popeye tells to Swee’Pea. Jackson Beck in his narrator voice sets the stage, in the land of Muscleonia, where the strongest man rules. Little Popeye, whom we meet as an infant lifting his grandmother in her chair, is destined to be strongest in the land. We see it in scenes like Popeye bringing all the cows in the pasture in when his mother asks him to. Also we see Popeye’s Mother, the only time — in animation or in the comic strips — I remember seeing her.
King Brutus doesn’t suspect until the Magic Mirror, Jack Mercer doing his best Ed Wynn, drops the news that the change of might has happened. And so Brutus goes in disguise to kill an unsuspecting Popeye. He tries by dropping stuff that would kill a normal man, all of which Popeye shrugs off. Funny enough. Also interesting: despite the title, there’s no use of magic besides the Wynn Mirror’s ability to tell who’s strongest in the land. And not warn of anyone stronger growing up. Brutus drops his disguise, for not much reason, but gets the drop on Popeye, who eats his can of spinach. I was surprised he had a can. I’d expected the vase he was knocked into to happen to contain spinach.
It’s all done competently. The one moment I didn’t understand was Popeye saying how he couldn’t hit an old lady, and Brutus tearing off his old-woman guise, declaring “So you’re not as strong as the mirror said you were!” But that’s a tiny logic gap, so compelled by the plot needs you might miss it. And there are a few neat bits, mostly animation of Brutus leaning into the camera. But that’s all. You can tell from how much of this essay is recapping what happened that I just watched the story, nodded, and didn’t have deeper thoughts about it. The cartoon proves that not everything this era was badly made. But I know which of the last couple cartoons I’ll remember in two months.
At the end of the cartoon Popeye sings about how he’s Popeye the Sailor Man, even though he’s been established as the Pleasant Peasant throughout, and has not been in the same frame as any more water than the glass he holds. I trust there is an explanation for this blunder.
We come to the finish of this little run of baffling Jack Kinney-produced cartoons. With a story by Osmond Evans (whose only story credit before this was Popeye the Fireman, though he has animation direction credits) and animation direction by Ken Hultgren, this 1960 short takes us on a tour of moments that raise the question, “Huh?” Here is Popeye and the Magic Hat.
So there’s a line here where Olive Oyl says of stage magician Brutus that she thinks he’s a big fake. This comes after she’s gone to see his show. He’s produced fireworks, a stream of water, several brass instruments, and petunias which he gave her. Brutus has taken Popeye as a volunteer. Brutus has made Popeye’s clothes jump off his body, then back on, then turn into a baby’s outfit, then a caveman’s, then a clown’s, then a ballerina’s, and then into a matronly gown. And then had a Jeep — Eugene, I assume — appear, crawling all over Popeye. Then had an apple appear on Popeye’s head. Then made Popeye’s legs disappear, along the way to making all Popeye’s body vanish, right out there on stage. And then gave him a body that would be big for Aunt Eppie Hogg over in Toonerville Trolley.
What sensible reason does Olive Oyl have for calling Brutus a “fake”? What would constitute “real” magic?
I focus on this as representative of this short’s baffling nature. The rough outline makes sense and has been done before. More than one time. (With variants.) The specifics are weird. Why does Olive Oyl call Brutus a fake after that? Why does Popeye say something like “Dreamy Squeamy, [ Brutus ] gives me the popcorn!” Why is Eugene the Jeep hanging around Brutus? Is he actually doing the magic and Brutus only does the patter? How much of this short is made up of Brutus waving his magic wand down and up once? I like Brutus responding to Olive Oyl’s cry of “fake” by turning her flowers into fish. Why does he then turn her into a seal? And then do a stunt of bouncing 10- and 16- and really-heavy weights off her nose and at Popeye?
And then we get a string of transformation jokes. Popeye asks if Brutus is trying to make a monkey out of him, because he hasn’t learned from past cartoons like this. And then he’s a monkey for a bit. Brutus turns them back to normal. Then turns Popeye into a giraffe and Olive Oyl into a flamingo, because of reasons he doesn’t share with us. Popeye grabs the wand, creates a Delux [sic] Giant Size can of spinach and turns everything back to normal. Brutus flees into his hat, and Popeye and Olive Oyl follow. The resulting fight decimates Liddsville, but saves the animation budget because a hat jumping around is easy to animate. (There is a lot this short that’s easy to animate. The characters mostly stand still on a blank background, alone, while looking at the opposite corner.) And then the hat opens out wide and everybody pops up, a happy performing family talking about how “you were both adorable!”
So … uh … what? What just happened and why? Was this all a stunt, with Popeye and Olive Oyl confederates making it look for the TV audience like they were fighting? And now breaking the scene to let everyone know it’s all right? Having written that out, I admit, I can read that as clever. That Popeye and his cast are performing the roles of antagonists in hundreds of these little scenes. There’s a reason his comic strip was named Thimble Theatre.
There are thrills in looking hard at these 60s cartoons rather than, like, the Fleischer cartoons that everybody loves. One is how weird the cartoons could get. There wasn’t the time and money (and maybe talent) available to make clear stories well-animated. This can produce a wild, bracing freedom. Until it happened I had no idea this cartoon would involve Olive Oyl turned into a performing seal. That surprise is a delight and I’ll take that, if the cost is my being sure why these things happen in this order.
Seeing Popeye as a monkey and Olive Oyl as a flamingo got me wondering. So far as I know there hasn’t been a short that cast the Popeye gang as animal versions of themselves. (I’ve forgotten almost all the Hanna-Barbera series, but King Features has got some of it on their YouTube channel. And I’ve seen none of Popeye And Son.) It could freshen up a stock plot if you have new-looking animation and can toss in a bunch of animal jokes among the regular dialogue. I suppose it would cost too much, redesigning the characters and having to replace all the stock animation cycles for the one short. Could be it’s somewhere in the comic books, or should be. I’m interested in seeing adventures of Popeye the Monkey and Olive Oyl the Flamingo.
Today’s Popeye short continues the journey into Jack Kinney-produced weird ones. It’s from 1960 and the credits — well, the credits have a different style from what we’ve seen already. The credits give Ken Hultgren the story, though, and animation direction. Kinney’s the producer. So here is Sea Hagracy, a title I believe wants to riff on “sea piracy”, which says a lot about how it’s going.
When I at last read Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre comics I came to appreciate something about Popeye. That is that Elzie Segar never began a story with any idea where he was going. Some stories he finished with no idea where he was going. This is not to deny his skill or charm. Just that the stories often wander around instead of having any narrative thread.
My sources don’t indicate that Sea Hagracy is based on a comic strip storyline. It has the feel, though. In particular, it has several momentary thrusts of plot logic. Any one thrust makes sense. How they fit together is a mystery. It would make sense if this were a 16-week storyline condensed. That much time allows for the characters to reconsider what they’re doing. In five minutes? That’s a greater challenge.
The story starts well, with the title card dissolving right into the tax man taking the Sea Hag’s fortune. She hasn’t kept up her ill-gotten gains tax. Good inciting incident and some good lines, like the Sea Hag having stolen these chests by honest piracy. But she needs money, and figures to return to piracy. Popeye won’t let her. So she decides to make him a partner.
Popeye’s having none of it, and one can wonder why the Sea Hag thought that might work. I can imagine the sequence where she makes a more plausible case and gets shut down. Popeye “hates piracey worse’n poison,” and The Phantom argues that’s his line, and we’re done with that thread.
Stave the Third. Sea Hag bribes Wimpy into knocking Popeye out. Wimpy won’t betray his dear friend, of course, not for less than two hamburgers. Solid idea, and if the negotiations go on forever that’s all right. It’s some fun patter. Wimpy sneaks in with the mallet, but can’t bring himself to clobber Popeye. Popeye, by the way, has spent the whole short looking annoyed to be in the short when he wants to read the paper. And once Popeye gets wind of this he decides his rule against hitting women doesn’t mean he can’t spank the Sea Hag. I don’t follow this logic, but I grew up in an era where we noticed spanking was, you know, battery.
That seems like a logical end for the story, so the story goes on again. The Sea Hag decides she should just destroy Popeye, and use magic, since she remembered what she is. This involves sending lightning out to destroy Popeye’s house, which works, and which doesn’t get undone by the end of the short. Popeye eats the tiny can of spinach he keeps in bed, next to his feet. And then absorbs a bunch of the Sea Hag’s lightning bolts, then comes back as a half-human, half-lightning-bolt to zap the Sea Hag. This all is an idea so exciting as to overcome the limited animation. Think what it would have been like in a Fleischer two-reel color feature. And now we’ve got the end of a shorter but more superhuman story.
And one that ends with the inciting incident — the Sea Hag is broke — not just unresolved, but forgotten. Which is again true to the comic strip, and plots written day-to-day.
If you’re like me, you remember the Rip Van Winkle story like this: Rip falls asleep for twenty years, and wakes up to find the town’s sure grown a bunch. Also at some point he goes … bowling with … dwarves? Who make thunder? Turns out that in Washington Irving’s original story there’s not a whole lot more. It’s a slender story to have become such a popular referent. And something adapted into five billion cartoons, including a theatrical Popeye short. Maybe because there’s no story? You have to send your protagonist into The Future but don’t have to hit any plot points or anything. This adaptation of Rip van Winkle, then, skips the whole “tossed into the future” thing. Instead we get bowling while drinking, or as it’s known in the trades, “bowling”.
The story’s framed as Popeye explaining thunder to a frightened Swee’Pea. It’s a reliable setup. The close gets spoiled by not having a punch line. Popeye explains “so thunder ain’t nothing but a game of bowling!” I guess that’s what you’d say to your kid, if you were telling this story, but as the close of a cartoon it feels like the rough draft.
The transition into the framed story is nice. Popeye takes a book off the shelf and I noticed how many animators’ names were on book spines there. Rip Van Popeye stretches out, his feet going outside the borders of the book’s picture, as the story starts. I liked that, so I’ll call it clever, but I’m not positive it wasn’t an animation error. Sometimes error works.
Rip Van Popeye flees Olive’s nagging to the top of a hill, that turns out to be in the clouds. Brutus’s bowling up a storm and the ball floats around Popeye. Brutus shares his Spinach Squeezins, a thing mentioned about every eight seconds for the rest of the short. And then we really get into this dreamy logic. The squeezings reach out and pinch Popeye’s nose. Drinking them gives the Popeye-the-Sailor-Man fanfare, but Popeye doesn’t seem particularly powered up. He is up for “that game with the iron ping-pong balls”, which seems an odd way to describe bowling. Olive Van Winkle scolds Popeye from her house, which is the same one Popeye and Swee’Pea live in, in the future. Brutus calls her a “ludicrous nonentity”, giving Popeye a reason to punch Brutus, who’s otherwise been friendly the whole short.
Brutus passes out unconscious under the spinach squeezings, and Rip Van Popeye worries he’ll drown. He’s not so worried as to move, but that’s all right, as Brutus gets the Popeye-the-Sailor-Man fanfare, tilts, and rockets out of frame. He rolls the barrel of spinach squeezings at Popeye, and it falls over, knocking out Olive. Who also gets the spinach squeezings poured into her mouth, something Popeye does not worry will drown her. Maybe he supposes Brutus’s experience will carry over. It does. She gets the Popeye-the-Sailor-Man fanfare, and rallies. She goes to a rock wall and tosses the same two rocks into the sky, over and over, building a lightning bridge to race up to her good-for-nothing husband. Once up there she decides this is nice, let’s stay and bowl.
I don’t have quite the same doubts this was written for Popeye, rather than having his name slapped on. I guess because the Spinach Squeezings are mentioned so much and so relentlessly. That’s curious, though, since the story would work as well if they were corn squeezings from Snuffy Smith’s relatives. Maybe there have been enough Popeye-tells-a-story cartoons that this seems in-character.
We are entering into a Jack Kinney zone. King Features bundles these 60s Popeye cartoons into quartets, “episodes” long enough to be worth YouTube putting commercials in. For whatever reason this block — Episode 44 — is all Jack Kinney-produced and directed videos. So, hope you like those weird title cards! I like them.
Today’s is a 1960 short, story by Ralph Wright and animation direction by Hugh Fraser. Sit back and enjoy the Double Cross-Country Feet Race. If you don’t enjoy that, then enjoy learning that Brutus weighs 245 pounds while Popeye, being a sailor, apparently cannot be characterized as having any weight at all.
This short has one of the biggest mismatches between strong plotting and weak animation that I’ve seen. From Jack Kinney’s studios I’ve come to expect animation that’s expressive and usually funny to look at. But in trade it’s not smooth and it’s loose with the models. That trade often works. Look at Popeye, tied up in the starter’s rope, at about 1:15. It’s hideous, but it does convey Popeye being discombobulated.
Still, for most of the short we have pretty respectable jokes undercut by poor drawing. Popeye and Brutus run into the corn belt. It’s an actual literal belt, seen (briefly) on a giant map, with shirt buttons running past it. They run so fast the road catches fire, and the fire causes the corn to pop. The audio tells us so, anyway. The picture is a couple kernels of popcorn flowing up, and causing nobody any particular trouble. Or take when they get to Los Angeles, “the fastest-growing city in the world”. The city popping into existence around them is good. I’ll even stand up for buildings popping in suddenly, without animation. But the freeway appearing under Popeye and Brutus happens in an edit that obscures things. It’s reasonable to think they wandered onto the freeway, a much worse joke.
At Los Angeles Popeye declares “I’ll get a head start back!” Brutus declares “Oh yeah?” And there’s space for some response. Popeye’s mouth even moves, silently. What joke was meant for there and how did it get lost? A few moments later Popeye and Brutus run along the border of … something? A reasonable green landscape and a featureless blue-grey void. Popeye declares hey, no fair, but what are we supposed to see?
I’ll go along with the scenes that are a black dot moving in the distance. They let the animation budget concentrate on the important scenes. But were these the important scenes? There’s a quick shot of the New York City Off Ramp, to establish our racers getting closer to the city that … we already saw them racing towards. That seems like a joke got cut somewhere. Popeye brakes himself to a stop to eat his spinach because he needs a strong finish. All right, but why brake to a stop? Did his feet catch on fire and that’s why he stopped? I shouldn’t have to infer that.
This is one of those shorts where I wish the story had been taken up and given to Paramount Cartoon Studios to animate. The animation and editing would likely have made this work better.
And something I liked, so you won’t suspect me of being a sourpuss: referee Wimpy holds his megaphone backwards. It’s a trifle, given no attention, there only for people paying attention to the pictures. It’s nice seeing it.
Not to spoil the next couple shorts? But you know how with this one, you mostly know what’s going on and why? Hold on to that memory.
I don’t know why the Paramount Cartoon Studios cartoons are all from 1961 lately, while the other studios are stuck in 1960. Of all the things I don’t understand about how King Features is ordering these shorts, that’s one of them. The story here is by I Klein. Direction and of course production are crediteed to Seymour Kneitel. Have your picnic baskets ready as we visit The Rain Breaker.
At what point, watching this, did you realize it was all a dream? Me, watching this just this weekend, I figured it was a dream the moment I saw Popeye fall asleep without anybody else on-screen. We’re trained to tolerate, at least, dream stories, but they have to play fair, like by giving us the last moment we can say something definitely happened. Here it’s an overstuffed Popeye falling asleep during a lovely day for picnicking.
I don’t remember how long I needed when I was a kid. Plausibly it wasn’t until Popeye woke up that it occurred to me. Popeye is someone who has astounding adventures. Why not get so annoyed that the weather forecast is wrong he goes up to the clouds to figure out what’s wrong? And, once there, why shouldn’t the problem be that Thor has imprisoned Iris until she agrees to marry him? It’s interesting that Paramount Cartoon Studios felt the need to blanket that as an imaginary story. This is a series that’s had Popeye meet flying saucers many times over. He’s gone to Lilliput. Paramount Cartoons would even have him meet the cheese men of the Moon and the missile men annoying King Blozo. Why not the goddess of the rainbow, sunshine, and the sunny weather?
Once we get there it’s some routine stuff. There’s a nice bit where Popeye finds a window into Iris’s dungeon too high up so he pulls it down. That’s the kind of joke Popeye’s been doing since black-and-white cartoon days. Always works for me. There’s also a moment where Popeye and Thor stand in midair in front of the mountaintop castle. That’s a rare animation mistake for Paramount. Counterbalancing that is the moment of Thor’s lightning bolt melting against Popeye’s spinach-supported chest, which is a great look even in this limited animation.
I don’t fault the writing for making this all a dream story. If it makes it easier to justify Popeye punching out Thor who happens to look like Brutus, all right. That’s more interesting than Popeye punching Brutus. And it’s part of how kids learn to recognize that something’s become an imaginary story. It’s strange that the cue is “Popeye is having an adventure in too-interesting a place”.
Today’s Popeye is another Jack Kinney production. Animation direction’s credited to Ed Friedman. The story is credited to Tom Hix. The name seems to have no other credits — for anything — on the Internet Movie Database. I don’t know how to explain this. Maybe a friend of Kinney’s needed some extra cash. Maybe it’s a pseudonym for someone who was under contract. Whatever the explanation, here’s 1960’s The Super Duper Market.
And check out the weird copyright on the title card. I would guess this was one of the Kinney studio’s first shorts, before everything was quite organized.
It’s hard to say this short has a plot, or even story. It’s a bunch of spot jokes set in a Super Duper Market. It’s a grocery store that looks to be nearly half the size of a modern Meijer’s. Well, these things were less familiar back then. There are some decent ideas working up to being spoofs of the supermarket idea. The guy who’s been lost for fifteen years, for example. Or Brutus having to oversee matters using televisions and control panels and radio calls to Clerk X-9.
I don’t know that X-9 is a reference to Dashiell Hammett and Alex Raymond’s Secret Agent X-9 action comic strip, still a going concern in 1960. There was an agent named X-9 in Rocky and Bullwinkle, made about the same time. But it might just be that X-9 makes a good-sounding name. The clerk’s given a voice evoking Sheldon Leonard, who before he became a TV producer had a good gig as racetrack tout on The Jack Benny Show.
There is something about all this which evoked Jack Benny’s show to me. It’s in the casual way we move from spot joke to spot joke, I think, with some callbacks. This particularly in the guy who’s been lost for fifteen years. His reappearances give a decent running joke and a decent way for Popeye to get his spinach.
More than that, though, it’s got this light, dreamy feeling. There’s the usual events. Brutus figures to get Olive Oyl on his own and figures assaulting her will make her love him. Popeye eats his spinach and punches him out. There’s not much build in suspense or drama, though, and certainly not in pacing. There’s some good cutting between Brutus harassing Olive Oyl and the frozen Popeye and Wimpy and Lost Guy, though. Makes for a decent hang out with some people it’s nice to see.
This seems to be one of those cartoons where Brutus doesn’t know Popeye and Olive Oyl at the start of the action, but intuits that Olive Oyl is not going with Wimpy. It also features Popeye and Olive Oyl and Wimpy singing a tuneless sort of song about having a party. There’s no good reason for that to amuse me like it does, but it does.
Good news, everyone! The Whiffle Bird is back, and she’s a she again. We have Rosemary O’Connor to thank for this story. Direction is by Rudy Larriva, and the producer Jack Kinney. This is Rosemary O’Connor’s lone writing credit on the Internet Movie Database. She gets a good number of credits as background artist for the King Features Popeye cartoons (including this short). She has other shows from the 1957 Crusader Rabbit revival through to the 1984 Alvin and the Chipmunks revival. Here with us from 1960 is The Square Egg.
Nobody ever says Brutus’s name, this cartoon. I wonder if this was made early in the production run. Sometime before King Features had decided what to do about their (mistakenly) thinking they didn’t own the Bluto character.
And, as the teaser said, we have the Whiffle Hen back. She’s a hen, too, hen enough to lay a square egg. Brutus swipes the surely valuable egg, and then it’s all a chase to get it back. Brutus is foiled when the egg cracks, but happy news: there’s a cubical Whiffle Chick inside. There’s a little tussle over who’ll take the Whiffle Chick, quickly resolved to “the kid will stay with the Hen”.
Thing is, this script feels like a first draft. There are a couple of good bits. Seeing that Brutus keeps the stolen egg in a birdcage. Or Popeye looking over the smashed ruins of his henhouse and declaring “everything looks normal”. The hallway-of-doors chase between a bunch of trees that ends with Brutus popping up in front of the camera to say, “I’m surrounded!”
Against that, though: when Popeye slowly reads the ransom note he declares, “Well blow me down! … Oh my gawrshk! … Well blow me down!”. It’s like Jack Mercer ran through all the plausible responses and they didn’t decide which to pick. I get lingering on the note so the audience can read it, but why not “Oh my gawrshk! We’ve been egg-napped?” All right; that’s a sloppy edit.
But consider earlier on. When Professor Wotasnozzle arrives, he’s stunned by the news of the square egg. What did they tell him he was coming out to see? Shortly after Olive Oyl says “Oh, Professor, you say such scientific things.” This after he said the egg would cause “a revolution in egghead circles”. What’s a scientific thing about that? Or the ending bit, with the newly-hatched Whiffle Chick growing quite large and then … being asked to pick where he’s going to go.
These aren’t major issues and I can imagine small dialogue changes that would fix them. Which is why I say it reads like a first draft.
I’m disappointed the Whiffle Hen doesn’t get to show off any of her natural extraordinary good luck. Or, as she’d become in other shorts, magic powers to do plot-generating stuff. But at least she gets to be mother to an oddly cute child considerably larger than she is.
We continue in the wilderness of shorts for which King Features’s YouTube collection includes no credits. The style of the title card gives away that it’s a Paramount Cartoon Studios production, from 1961. Seymour Kneitel is the producer and, per the Internet Movie Database, director as well. Irving Dressler has a story credit. He seems to have gone without mention here before. Here, now, learn the mystery of The Mark of Zero.
Zero, here, is the hero of a bedtime story Popeye tells. He’s a dashing, sword-wielding force standing against Brutus and his gang. There’s a good bit to like in Zero’s story. For one, he’s got a lighthearted tone. Zero quipping about how he’s kind of a cut-up is the sort of joke Jack Mercer would mumble if this short were made in the 30s. And that includes some nice cleverness, such as by disarming Brutus’s band of thugs by using a magnet.
Also, Brutus’s band of thugs is well-populated, especially for this era, and by more than one character model and voice. And his battle of wits with Zero develops. It’s got a proper introduction, build, and climax. Brutus declares “dames is Zero’s weakness,” on grounds not evidenced on-screen, and puts on a dress to catch Zero by surprise. The framing device excuses Brutus giving Zero the precious bit of spinach. This is the rare bit of suspense where you know how things are going to go the hero’s way.
It’s all done in the lumbering, steady pace of a Paramount cartoon, of course. Look at when Zero’s caught in a barrel with Brutus sitting on top. We get a good solid reminder that Zero has a sword, before he swipes Brutus’s rear end. The joke setup is sound. Set up the action and pay it off. What it’s not is fast. With better pacing the cartoon could be twice as good.
So the mystery. It’s not why frame this as a bedtime tale. It’s why tell the tale to Deezil Oyl? Why not Swee’Pea? Deezil was a character created for the 60s cartoons, I think to have a kid who could be more rambunctious and chaotic than Swee’Pea could be. (Also to be a companion in case the plot needed two kids.) The closing scene, with Deezil having zero-swiped her whole bedroom, would be unusual for Swee’Pea, but I don’t feel it’s out of character. There’s no need to set up telling Swee’Pea a bedtime story either.
She never got to be a regular in the cartoons, and as far as I know never appeared in the comic strip proper or another Popeye series. So I don’t want to cheat her of her few appearances. I’d like to know why she got this, though. Maybe they were looking for things to do with Deezil? But you get a lasting character when they do something someone else in your cast can’t, and “hear a bedtime story” is well-covered already.
We have Gene Deitch to thank as director for today’s short, from 1960. William L Snyder gets the producer credit. The writer? The animators? They get nothing. I’m sure they’re all just glad to be thought of. Here’s The Lost City of Bubble-Lon.
The characteristic word for a Gene Deitch cartoon is “weird”. I can name some weird pieces to this. No Olive Oyl, for example, or mention of her. Brutus gets introduced to Popeye as though they don’t know one another. At least it’s ambiguous. Popeye does not have a can of spinach on him. That last is a minor running theme for Gene Deitch. Popeye was similarly uncanny in Which Is Witch. He left all his spinach in the hold below decks in Hag-Way Robbery. Popeye takes his spinach from Brutus in Potent Lotion.
Choosing to separate Popeye from his can of spinach has good reason behind it. It fails to preempt the question of why Popeye didn’t eat his spinach already, since we don’t know he doesn’t have it. But it does at least say why he didn’t eat his spinach faster. And it makes getting the spinach something that requires action, or as in here, luck. It’s also more consistent with the comic strip origins, where Popeye talked about spinach much more than he ever ate it.
The story structure here feels like one respecting those comic strip origins. Popeye minds his own business until a chance encounter leads him into Professor Underwater’s deal. Which is using this silly invention to search for the Lost City of Bubble-Lon. And this involves a never-before-suspected land of weird cute creatures. Brutus is there as the assistant. They go in, they get captured, Popeye sees Brutus stealing the Bubble-lonian treasury, and he goes to fix that. Luckily the Professor’s air pills are made of spinach. Spinach as a wonder substance is even more a theme of the comic strip than the cartoons, if you can imagine.
I don’t know Gene Deitch’s feelings about Popeye as a character. Nor those of whoever wrote the story, so please take “Gene Deitch” to mean whoever composed this story. I know the generic attitude is that animators tend to like the cartoon, but really love the comic strip. That they’d prefer to work with the Segar origins as much as possible. The cartoon feels in line with that. I like the cartoon, surprising no one. I’m glad to have a more specific reason than usual.
So stop me if you’ve heard this one. It’s a 1960 Jack Kinney-produced cartoon, with a story by Raymond Jacobs. And it’s got Popeye and all in the Old West, Popeye facing down a gunslinger played by Brutus. You’re wrong. This is not Pest of the Pecos. This cartoon has animation direction by Rudy Larriva, instead of Harvey Toombs. Let’s see what a difference that makes. Here’s Bottom Gun.
My recent experience with Raymond Jacobs-penned shorts set me up to expect a sloppy cartoon. Not only that the story might not quite hang together. A lot of the King Features Popeye shorts lack story logic. I mean, like, the weird edits and scenes held a bit too long to make sense. Not so, though. This is much closer in spirit to Pest of the Pecos. So much closer it even copies the joke about Wimpy being the undertaker, and offering a lay-away plan.
This time around, Popeye isn’t the marshall. He’s a chicken farmer. And Brutus the Kid isn’t a particularly wanted desperado, although he is a notorious gunslinger. He’s also hitting on Olive Oyl, who hits back, with sacks of sugar. Popeye challenges him to a duel, but sets up a surprise. A cheat, if we’re honest: he pours enough molasses into Brutus’s holster that there’s no getting the gun out. Great credit to Popeye for thinking his way out of danger, This generates a lot of funny scenes, too, as Brutus fails to get his gun out. He eventually rips off his pants and gets himself knocked out.
Thing is, especially with Popeye shooting all the time, it gets to feeling unfair. It makes Brutus hapless, in much the way Marshall Popeye was in Pest of the Pecos. It’s hard not to sympathize with Brutus, who doesn’t get to look dangerous. (Granted, since Popeye takes about 800 shots without most of them even appearing on-screen, he’s not dangerous either.) When Brutus comes back, furious at his humiliation, it’s hard not to sympathize.
Sometimes I feel I write these looking for things to call “wrong”. Here’s a story that sets out a decent premise. It carries the story forward sensibly. It’s got a big center piece showdown with two solid joke setups. Popeye and Brutus stepping toward each other and then missing one another, with Popeye falling into a puddle, is great. The long sequence of Brutus trying every possible way to get his gun out is good too. And here I am sulking that the moral balance of the cartoon feels off. Still, Brutus deserves to be beaten, but he needs to be a bigger threat first.
When the Fleischer Brothers were destroying their cartoon studio making Gulliver’s Travels into a movie, they considered casting Popeye as Gulliver. Probably the picture would have been better if they had. Popeye has charisma; their animated Gulliver is unburdened by personality. But it wouldn’t have been respectable. Popeye looks disreputable, even scary, to be the star of something taken seriously back then. You can clean up Popeye, but make him less interesting that way. I’m not sure it’s an accident the only feature-length Popeye movie was in the late New Hollywood era. Still, we can imagine what the 1939 movie but with Popeye might have been like.
Or we can watch a five-minute synopses, as here. And it turns out, it’s pretty good overall. That might mislead. An idea that’s fun at five minutes can be leaden at 76. At this condensed length Paramount can focus on the good stuff: Popeye waking up, bound by miniature people and wheeled into town. Walking through a town he towers over. Wading out against a tiny navy. With another 71 minutes there’d have to be some dull stuff too, like coming up with a reason for Lilliput and Belefuscu to fight. I grant the original satirical point was about how many wars are about stupid issues. And not giving any issue is consistent with that point. Still, sometimes a war is about something that matters, too, and it bothered me to not establish that there was a dumb reason for this war.
I also don’t know why the rival nation becomes Belefuscu here. Was it to make it easier for kids to say? It strikes me that in the 70s Hanna-Barbera changed the pronunciation of Mister Mxyzptlk to something less hard to say. Could be they were being kind to the voice actors.
I’m not sure whether the Kings of Lilliput and Belefuscu are meant to resemble their Fleischer Movie versions. I see a loose resemblance. But it’s not like “thin guy and fat guy” is a unique concept for a pair of characters. Their outfits haven’t got any resemblance to the movie’s kings besides “looks like a cartoon king, all right”.
Popeye starts the short with a voice-over narration. I don’t remember that ever happening before. There’s also a great cutaway, after he washes up on shore. The next scene is the bound Popeye being dragged into town. It’s a good dramatic dissolve. And it stands out, given how Paramount Cartoon Studios tends to make sure we see every step of the action. (In the movie Gulliver takes an unaccountable forty minutes to wake up.)
In the end, Popeye guarantees peace through the threat of squishing, exactly like how the War of 1812 ended. He uses a small sailboat to go off and sings his couplet: “Whether you’re a giant or mite there’s no reasons to fight, says Popeye the Sailor Man!”. Popeye. Popeye. The classic cartoon character most likely to be found in a fight cloud. The character who has no end of comic strip panels of him congratulating someone for giving him the best fight he’s had since Singapore.
We can rationalize it. There’s a clear difference, after all, between choosing to get into a bar fight and going to war. But that rationalization is ad hoc. Popeye used to be incredibly popular. That brings an obligation to not screw up people who model themselves on you. He had to become more respectable, even if it makes him less Popeye. It hasn’t destroyed him, but it is hard to believe in a Popeye who hates violence.
With The Blubbering Whaler King Features’s YouTube page starts a new and unwelcome change. It cuts all the credits before the title card off the first short. You know, for everyone who thinks the unlikeable part of Popeye is one of the three most successful bits of theatrical-short-character music since sound came to movies. (I’d put it behind “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down” and ahead of “The Woody Woodpecker Song” and “No one But Donald Duck”. The Mickey Mouse song was composed for the TV Clubhouse so I don’t have to have an opinion on that.)
Still, from the title card it’s obvious this is a Jack Kinney production, and that it’s from 1960. The Internet Movie Database offers that the animation direction was by Jack Kinney, and the writing by Raymond Jacobs.
I am not disappointed! This short is full of strange fade-outs, including one that comes seconds after the short opens. Or scenes that linger a bit longer than they ought. It adds this weird, awkward timing to everything. It would be fantastic editing for a comedy-of-embarrassment show and I don’t know how Popeye got this treatment.
As often happens it’s a story with a frame. Swee’Pea promises to sleep if Popeye tells the story of how he sang whales to sleep. Popeye does get there, in the smallest and least interesting part of the story. It’s hard to not suspect they did a bunch of whaling-cartoon gags and then remembered they had to show Popeye sing to whales.
The story Popeye tells — and feigns sleep to get out of resolving — is of his being on a whaling ship, under Captain Brutus. When they spot a mother and child whale together, Popeye refuses to harpoon either. Good for him. Standing up for animals is one of Popeye’s best, if inconsistent, traits. (After all, he signed on to this whaling voyage.) Captain Brutus orders the whale harpooned, Popeye accepts and then rejects the order, and then they get into a fight.
Still, we’ll make time for odd moments like a view of some whaler who’s not Brutus or Popeye or seen a second time. Or Popeye holding his spinach up triumphantly … and holding … and holding, long enough for a wave to wash it overboard. There was no possible way to avoid that except by Popeye eating his spinach the way he does every other time. But that does mean the mother whale gets to eat Popeye’s spinach, a rare chance for an animal to get the power-up.
The mother wrecks the whaling ship, a most understandable action. This sets up Popeye’s best line, identifying the pair as “the fountain … and its youth”. The line sounds clever enough it doesn’t matter that its meaning is elusive. It’s merry enough. But the editing is sloppy. And the music is the usual shuffle of Kinney background music. It’s not forgettable like that bowling one a couple months ago was. But I wonder if Raymond Jacobs was an inexperienced story-writer.
It’s another Paramount Cartoon Studios short today. This one has slightly less Seymour Kneitel than yesterdays. Kneitel gets the producer credit, of course, and the director credit. But I Klein gets the story credit. From 1961 here’s Sneaking Peeking.
I mentioned how Paramount Cartoon Studios shorts seem to have one gear. This one has better control of its tempo. Maybe I Klein’s better at pacing things. Or maybe it’s about the stakes of the story. There is something in an unstoppable spirit demolishing a castle that isn’t there in the question of whether Olive Oyl can bowl.
The frame is that Swee’Pea was sneaking into his birthday presents, so he’s to get a lesson in the form of a story that he’ll drift away from. In the story, a King (Poopdeck Pappy) sends Mercury (Wimpy) to dispose of a box containing something terrible. Mercury stops at the castle of the Happy Prince and Princess (Popeye and Olive Oyl) for lunch. Mercury’s not taking as literal the King’s direction to “tarry not” in disposing of this. The Princess sneaks a peek inside because what can it hurt?
Turns out inside is Mister Michief (Brutus, looking good for his captivity in a magic briefcase). Mister Mischief promises to do favors, creating fresh chaos. Cleaning the chimney gets the Prince and Princess and Mercury covered in soot. Cleaning them off gets them soaked by a fountain. Drying them off gets all the furniture in the castle set on fire. Pushing the castle away from the fire gets it knocked over. The Prince has enough of this, eats his spinach, and stomps Mister Mischief back into the box.
I like this one. Brutus as a chaos agent makes sense. And his chaotic steps have a good range. Each step is a legitimate way to fix the previous problem, while staying obvious how it’s going to make a new, bigger problem. (Keeping that obvious lets the viewer savor the Prince, Princess, and Mercury catching on.) The short picks up a good bit once Mister Mischief gets out. It’s a shame that doesn’t happen sooner.
But there’s nowhere to get time from except from the frame, which is almost as short as it could be. I suppose we could put in the setting by showing the pages of a book of fairy tales and have Jackson Beck introduce this as once-upon-a-time.
The small point left unaddressed, that I’ll bet I Klein hoped nobody in the audience would wonder. So was the King’s plan to drown Mister Mischief, in that box, at sea? Is that why he wouldn’t tell Mercury what he was doing and why it was important to tarry not? Would Mercury have followed directions if he knew why it mattered? The true lesson is that you can’t expect people to follow instructions if they don’t understand why these rules matter.
Today’s is a Paramount Cartoon Studios cartoon. It’s one of the most Paramount cartoons, too. The ever-reliable Seymour Kneitel takes the credit for story, direction, and production. From 1960 here’s Strikes, Spares, an’ Spinach.
This is Popeye’s first bowling cartoon, isn’t it? I can’t think of an earlier bowling cartoon. Bowling gags, yes, such as against the Forty Thieves, or when Popeye met Rip Van Winkle, but not one a whole cartoon built around a bowling alley.
The other day I quipped I needed more Popeye cartoons where all I can say is this was a Popeye cartoon. I didn’t have this one in mind, but it is close to that. Most of the action is Popeye teaching Olive Oyl to bowl. Meanwhile Brutus leans in through one of those huge windows bowling alleys are famous for and sabotages the lessons. Mostly by, like, pouring rubber cement into the bowling ball holes. That kind of gag. Popeye has enough of this, eats his spinach, bowls Brutus out to the trash.
The interesting story choice is that the cartoon explains why Brutus is trying to sabotage this lesson. It’s revenge, or jealousy, over Popeye cancelling their bowling date. Why was that motivation needed, though? Granting it’s rude at least that Popeye didn’t tell Brutus before he came all the way over. Or invite Brutus to teach with him. That setup would have made it easy for Brutus and Popeye to compete in sabotaging each other.
But granting they wanted to give Brutus a particular reason to be a jerk for once. They chose to use time having Brutus run over and lie to Olive Oyl about Popeye not making their date. This justifies all that time spent in Popeye bathing and getting dressed and all. If we didn’t see that, it would be less credible that Brutus had time to get to Olive Oyl. But all the time spent on that means a minute and a half, of five minutes’ screen time, is spent getting to the bowling alley. And that’s all stuff that could start any cartoon. Were they short of bowling alley gags to use? Or did they write that setup, which would have less overloaded a seven- or eight-minute theatrical short? And then not cut bits once they reached five minutes of screen time?
I’ve sometimes described the Paramount Cartoon Studios shorts as having one gear. This is another example of that. There’s no change in tempo over the short, no acceleration of events as we reach a climax, nothing. It’s a string of decent enough jokes until Popeye decides to eat his spinach now (with a well-timed “Uh-oh” from Brutus) and then we’re done. All that’s okay enough. But I’m already forgetting this cartoon and if you watched it, you are too.
And now for another 1960-dated flying saucer cartoon. This one’s produced by Larry Harmon, so of course the story is by Charles Shows. Direction’s credited to Paul Fennell. Please enjoy, best you can, Ace Of Space.
There’s a moment this cartoon where Popeye says he doesn’t believe in flying saucers because he’s never seen one. The Popeye Wikia warns this cartoon is “Not to be confused with Popeye, the Ace of Space.” Good luck; the titles and premises are close. But Popeye, the Ace of Space is a big, sometimes frightening, theatrical cartoon released in 3-D. This is a more modest affair.
This one has a neat little twist. The typical Earth specimen that the aliens — robots, this time — pick is Olive Oyl. Popeye seems almost slighted, and lassoos the flying saucer to get back in the action. That’s also a little twist. Usually this sort of cartoon the alien has to drag Popeye in. Once Popeye’s aboard, Olive Oyl is back on her erratic anti-fighting thing. She scolds Popeye for “this nice space man! He’s just taking us for a ride!” This might set the record for Olive’s fickleness.
The Martian robot spaceman brings out a ray gun and shoots Popeye. The ray gun doesn’t seem to do much, but Popeye still gets out his “spinach ray”. This is him eating a can of spinach and blasting … a spinach flame from his pipe? Something? I’m not sure what exactly’s supposed to happen. You know, as is usual for Larry Harmon studios.
It’s not that anything is specifically wrong. But, for example, Jackson Beck, as the news reporter for K-PLOT radio, says a flying saucer was observed “flying south over North Dakota”. It’s got the shape of a joke, but isn’t quite one, although a kid might laugh anyway. Better joke-shaped is a bit where Popeye demands Olive Oyl from the flying saucer, and the Martian Robot squirts a bit of motor oil. “Not motor oil, Olive Oyl!”
There’s a cute reversal of fortunes at the end. The robot floats out of the flying saucer, and Popeye commandeers it to fly back to Earth. The robot ends up in Popeye’s suspiciously-tiny-trunked car, though, driving that happily along. It’s a cheery enough ending to question the Popeye Wikia’s characterization of the Martians as “sinister”.
I think this is the first Hillbilly cartoon in the King Features run, at least as they’ve ordered things. Hill Billy Dilly is a 1960 short from Jack Kinney studios. Story by Wesley Bennett, a new name around here. Animation direction by Harvey Toombs, not a new name. Producer, of course, is Jack Kinney, a pretty well-worn name by now.
The premise is that Popeye and Olive Oyl, looking for a picnic, accidentally wander into the middle of the Hitchfield-and-McGoo feud. They take a while to tumble on to what’s happening. I wonder if there were any impulse to have Popeye and Olive Oyl never suspect they’re being shot at. I imagine that would give a great comic tension. But leaving that unresolved might be moer than the kid audience would bear. (On the other hand, it’s not like kids couldn’t handle Mister Magoo.)
There is a lot of talking in this cartoon about two gangs of Brutus Clones who won’t stop shooting each other. I’m distracted trying to figure out who voiced the Hitchfield Brutuses. (They’re the ones wearing the blue shirts, like normal-model Brutus.) I didn’t think either Jackson Beck or Jack Mercer had this range, but it’s easy for me to be wrong about that. Beck, particularly, was on every radio program of the 1940s so he knew some things to do with his voice. The talk doesn’t get far — a punch line about how nobody remembers what they’re feuding over — but maybe I’m outside the audience that would find that a killer revelation.
And then to pad the screen time we get Olive Oyl being fickle. She set up, properly, that she was tired of Popeye finding someone to fight all the time. But then after the McGoos and the Hitchfields get to fighting over who’s protecting her, she blames Popeye for fighting. It’s a weird beat, allowing Popeye to spend some screen time doing she-loves-me/she-loves-me-not with flowers when Olive Oyl cries for help. Popeye beats up the Hitchfields, producing a funny pile of Brutus clones. Then the McGoos insist if anyone beats up the Hitchfields it’s going to be them. So Popeye needs his spinach to punch up another pile of Brutus clones.
That bit of Olive Oyl complaining about Popeye is diagnostic of the cartoon, though. It’s reasonable for Olive Oyl to be tired of Popeye always fighting. And it can produce good comic tension if Popeye’s restrained from fighting. But it’s brought up at a moment, in a scenario, where it doesn’t make sense. So we have another cartoon where the flow of events is mostly all right, but the characters talk as though responding to a different plot line.
It’s all okay, but does feel like Popeye versus two mobs of Brutuses should be more wild.
Paramount Cartoon Studios gives us today’s 60s Popeye. The producer is, as ever, Seymour Kneitel. He’s credited as director as well. Story is by Joseph Gottlieb. From 1961 here’s Hamburgers Aweigh.
The Popeye Wikia does not say this cartoon was adapted from the comic strip. I do wonder, though. It’s got a curious structure, feeling as though important pieces are missing. For example, we start with Popeye and Olive Oyl setting off on a voyage. To where? For what purpose? The cartoon ends at sea, with all their food eaten, and there’s not a hint of what they’ll do about that. (Granting the comic strip often forgot to resolve whatever the instigating event of the story was.) Popeye is able to call on the magical Whiffle Hen Bird. The Whiffle Hen Bird is an old and important piece of Popeye’s story, older even than spinach. But why is the Whiffle here? Why is Popeye able to call on him for a wish? (Eugene the Jeep hangs around Popeye enough that his presence doesn’t need explaining. But his magic seems defined in a way that the Whiffle Bird’s isn’t, and that would prevent what’s needed here.) Why did the Sea Hag stow away on Popeye’s ship? It can’t be the Whiffle Bird: she never knows this fantastic wish-granting creature is on board. Is it related to the unknown objective of Popeye’s voyage? (She offers to split the hamburger cargo with Wimpy, but that is the thing to bribe Wimpy with.) If this is condensed from a comic strip story, the condensing was done well. None of these questions really matters, apart from why the Whiffle Bird happens to be here.
This is a cartoon with far more mind control than I expect from Popeye. And all about mind control of Wimpy, which also seems unusual. Wimpy is almost one of the magic cast himself, wandering through adventures barely touched. It’s weird when he’s turned into a werewolf or, here, gets the most important element of his personality wished away.
There’s some good plotting here. Particularly, the Sea Hag orders Wimpy to toss all of Popeye’s spinach overboard. Good thinking. It’s dumb ironic luck that the spinach cans land where her vulture drops Popeye. It’s particularly nice as the Sea Hag had just cackled how everything was going according to plan. I’m not clear what the plan was. It involved tying up Olive Oyl, only to have her walk the plank. Also it involved catching Popeye unaware, except also flying her flag so anyone could see she was up to something. I don’t quite follow her reasoning, but children’s cartoon villains sometimes have to cut some story-logic corners.
Popeye, unable to hit the Sea Hag, has no trouble giving Olive Oyl spinach so she can hit her. He’s ethical but he’s not above obvious loopholes. Meanwhile Wimpy’s used the Whiffle Bird to take all the magic spells off of him. Interesting that he’s aware of all the mind control and that nobody wished for him to be content with his new programming. If she had thought of it, the Sea Hag … well, she would have been in the same fix. But Popeye and Olive Oyl wouldn’t be doomed to starve at sea after Wimpy eats all 200 cases of canned hamburger. Live and learn, mm?
It’s all a competent, reasonable done cartoon. Something about it gives me the feeling there’s more to this story. Or it could be Joseph Gottlieb conveyed the tone that there was more going on than they could show. I’ll still be thinking about this one a while.
Here we have a more normal story. It’s much easier to like as it’s easier to say what’s going on and why. Popeye decides to go to Olive Oyl’s costume party as a spaceman. Brutus gets Popeye arrested for this. But then he mistakes a tiny blue-skinned guy for the costumed Popeye, and accidentally gets the aliens to go to war with Earth. Or, well, with Olive Oyl’s underpopulated costume party. Popeye, having broken out of jail because he didn’t see any reason to stay there, gets to the party in time for the aliens to roughhouse with him. Brutus declares this is dire enough he has to feed Popeye spinach. More fanfare, Popeye punches the aliens, and throws their spaceship so it gets stuck in the moon.
There’s nothing this cartoon does wrong, and compared to Partial Post it does a lot more well. It’s always clear why people, including the aliens, are doing what they’re doing. The only truly baffling moment is Brutus mistaking a tiny blue guy for Popeye. Maybe Brutus is even worse at recognizing faces than I am. The cartoon’s well-paced, and pretty well-animated too. Freeze the video at any spot and the picture’s expressive. (And character walk cycles match the pace at which the background moves.) And we get Brutus recognizing how he’s out of his league here and turning the whole fight over to Popeye. It’s the touch that makes Bluto/Brutus’s relationship with Popeye interesting.
But there is this curse to competence. Partial Post is full of stranger, more alien choices. That sticks more solidly in my mind. I’m curious whether that’s because I am impressing so many of these cartons into my brain, and it looks for the novel and the weird. And so There’s No Space Like Home seems less good. This even though it’s clearly the better 1960 Gene Deitch-animated cartoon about Popeye versus flying saucers to show someone.
Today’s is a cartoon from 1960. I always lead with that, but I want that year particularly remembered. The story is by Ed Nofziger, and the animation direction by Eddie Rehberg. So you know the producer (and director) was Jack Kinney. So, again, from 1960, here’s Popeye in the Woods.
This is another cartoon that feels like two cartoon ideas pushed together. In particular, it feels like a regular cartoon onto which a public service announcement was grafted, like Gene Deitch’s Tooth Be Or Not Tooth Be. Here, it’s a camping cartoon plus a warning about not setting the forest on fire.
So it sends Popeye and Wimpy out to the woods, past a quick shot of commanding billboards, to sleep. They’re out in the open, without even sleeping bags. Popeye is kept awake by the quiet sounds of the woods. Apart from a squirrel dropping an acorn and a frog beating its chest, these are all insects. Or mushrooms popping up. I’m not sure why it’s almost all insect noises, except I guess for the comic exaggeration that a caterpillar is so very slight a sound.
There’s also the good comic instinct that Wimpy falls asleep and stays asleep. This after complaining he wanted hamburgers that Popeye said they couldn’t cook here. Wimpy snores, so we know he’s asleep. But he’s also interrupted by mutterings about hamburgers. And the most interesting one is a muttering, “hamburger with cheese and bacon”.
So, do you know the story of The Bacon Cheeseburger? Granting, yes, it’s always hard to track down where foods actually started. But the least-disputed claim is that bacon cheeseburgers first appeared at an A&W restaurant on then-US 16 in Lansing, Michigan. In 1963. (The road is now either Grand River Avenue or Cesar Chavez Avenue, depending on where the restaurant was.) Then-franchise-owner Dave Mulder thought the cheeseburger would be even better with bacon, and what do you know, was right. (Mulder would go on to be chairman of A&W, so, good instincts all around.) Granted, it’s absurd to suppose that no person ever had the thought of putting bacon on a cheeseburger before 1963. This still seems like an early publication of the idea.
And this is not Wimpy’s only act of food pioneering this cartoon. After Popeye finally silences the forest, the quiet wakes him up. Again, good story structure there. Wimpy sees the mushrooms that appeared and declares “mushroom-burgers are delicious”. He sets them grilling on what seems more like a mushroom kebab than anything else, but, still. Today, restaurants offer portobello mushrooms, for vegetarians who want something like a burger only disappointing. When did that start? When did that become widespread? People aren’t copying Wimpy’s inspiration here, right?
Wimpy’s campfire starts a forest fire, and Popeye eats his spinach so he can stomp it out. Wimpy has to jump into the water to put himself out, and ruins his mushroom-burger-kebab. And Popeye explains how bad forest fires are, starting from the killed trees to the displaced animals to the floods and human misery that result. And then cooks a chagrinned Wimpy some hamburgers, in a proper grill, because he’s Popeye the safety-in-the-woods man.
As with the tooth cartoon I’d like to know if this was meant to be a public service. I wouldn’t think it hard to fill a whole five minutes with camping jokes, especially since so much of the time was jokes about not being able to get to sleep. It makes more sense they couldn’t find five minutes of jokes about woodland fire safety, at least not before deadline. It would also make sense of Wimpy feeling regret about the innocents he might have harmed.
And I would so like to know whether Wimpy bestowed on us all the bacon cheeseburger and the portobello mushroom burger and didn’t even make a fuss of it.
Nothing against today’s cartoon. It’s a 1960 cartoon with the story by Jack Kinney. So you know what that says about the production. Animation direction is credited to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. It’s just that there’s already a really good baseball cartoon out there. Still, we didn’t stop making space movies when there’s already the bits from Battle Beyond The Stars that I kind of remember from when I was sixteen. So let’s extend the same courtesy to other premises. Battery up!
We get a nice rousing start, with Jackson Beck doing his best sports-announcer voice. I haven’t listened to actual radio broadcasts of the 50s but it all sounds plausible enough. Introducing the characters with newspaper mockups is a good device and also lets them save like a minute’s worth of animation budget. From the headlines we see Thompson Tries for Records at least twice on the same page, so Thompson’s having a good season.
After that? Well, we get your basic jokes for one difficult half of an inning of baseball. It’s Popeye versus a team of Brutus duplicates. Brutus hits everything Popeye tosses at him, which is lucky because Popeye doesn’t have a catcher. It’s curious that having a team of nine Brutuses is okay in a way that nine Popeyes could not be. In the Fleischer cartoon The Twisker Pitcher Popeye and Bluto had anonymous teammates.
But even with a minute of staring at still pictures there isn’t the animation budget for teammates. There’s also no animation budget for crowds; the only person in the stands is Olive Oyl. She has a nice, underplayed joke where she has everything at her seat, including a coffee percolator, a TV set, and an alarm clock. It’s a surprise to have an understated joke, in this era; I’m glad seeing it.
Most of the cartoon’s time is spent on silly pitches and silly fielding. Nothing at all wrong. Worst you can say about it is that there’s only one big, surprising joke. That’s the baseball heading right for the camera and then Popeye apologizing for breaking your TV. That’s a great moment of energy and if there were two more jokes like that I’d call this a great baseball cartoon. (Olive Oyl’s pile of stuff is funny and gets better each time you see it, but it’s not a big joke.) Instead, it’s pretty good for the cheap TV leagues.
A curious point here. Popeye gets around to his spinach, yes. But there’s no point where Brutus and the Bruclones are cheating. They hit everything Popeye throws at them, but they’re hitting fair and square. (And even at that, they hit one pop fly that’s so easy Popeye doesn’t have to move to catch it.) At least in The Twisker Pitcher Bluto did stuff like mess with Popeye’s clothes and swap his spinach out for grass. It throws the moral balance off. And there’s a curious not-quite-resolution. An unconscious Brutus accidentally hits a ball that knocks out Popeye and Olive Oyl. It’s a good idea for how to end the action, since we don’t have time to set up a way for Popeye to win the game. But without someone — it would have to be Wimpy — to observe anything, it leaves the cartoon petering out. Poor form. It’s essays written online reviewing things that are supposed to peter out, not cartoons.
1960’s Jeep Jeep is a Jack Kinney Studio production introducing Eugene the Jeep. 1960’s Jeep Is Jeep is a Paramount Cartoon Studios production introducing Eugene the Jeep. I’m curious whether all five 1960s King Features studios did their Introducing The Jeep cartoon.
This time around, it’s Swee’Pea who discovers the Jeep, after he wanders far from home. I like that as an idea. Travel as a way to encounter and be changed by magic fits. Even if Swee’Pea is only nine miles from Popeye’s Boring Suburban Home. Nine miles is a pretty good journey for someone who can’t walk upright yet.
Swee’Pea brings Eugene home. Popeye’s willing in the end to accept a magic pet who can broadcast music and CW ham radio. (I couldn’t make out what Eugene’s Morse code message was. I suspect it was nonsense.) Brutus and the Sea Hag decide they’ve got to steal a dog who knows how far away the Sun is. I understand this was shorthand for “knows everything”, but from what we see? It’s a dog that can help you win pub quiz night. Also not sure why Brutus and the Sea Hag teamed up on this. Or why it takes two villains.
Their plan: kidnap Swee’Pea so they can kidnap Eugene. This seems like one kidnapping too many to me. Maybe the Sea Hag figures it’s the only way to keep Eugene from attacking her. Anyway, Popeye has a plan, which is to give the villains what they want, and then wait for their plan fall apart. And this works. Eugene’s treasure map takes them, by plane, by train, through swamps, to the desert, to dig into jail. Popeye barely has to get up from his chair.
I want to like this cartoon more than I do. It’s Jeep-centered, for one. The resolution involves out-thinking the bad guys instead of just punching them. But the story’s too ramshackle for me to quite buy. Like, why do Brutus and the Sea Hag grab Swee’Pea and not Eugene? Why do they take this long yet very quick journey to dig into a jail? How did they not notice they were next to a jail? (I expected Eugene to have them dig into Fort Knox, malicious compliance with their wish for a place with tons of gold.) Was there nothing Popeye could do besides follow these adventures over his hand-held Jeep TV set?
Could be I assumed a Jack Kinney cartoon is going to have more comical weirdness to it. Or I want too much out of a Eugene the Jeep cartoon. Hard to say.
The hosts of bad-movies podcast The Flop House once offered that a common bad-movie mistake is explaining wrong things. Too much time on backstory that doesn’t matter, not enough on why characters would want to do this thing now. A Poil For Olive Oyl is an example of this explain-the-wrong-things error.
Popeye wants to get Olive Oyl a birthday gift. She looks at a $12,000 mink coat and then a $5,000 strand of pearls. This setup takes about as long as third grade. I don’t mind giving Popeye a reason to go pearl-diving. But how long did we need the jewelry store owner to spend figuring out 20% off of five thousand dollars? We could have started with Popeye on the boat, saying, “And now I will collect the poils for your birthday presenk, Olive!”. We’d lose the not-quite-jokes about Popeye being a cheapskate. But the cheapskate jokes also imply that Olive Oyl can’t guess, to within four thousand dollars, what’s a reasonable cost for a birthday gift.
When Popeye gets to the oysters we have a modest but actual flight of fantasy. The beds are literal beds, oysters tucked in under blankets and all. The whimsy isn’t bad or unprecedented. Paramount Cartoon Studios was the Fleischer Studios reorganized. Surreality was the Fleischer’s greatest strength. But it has been a while since this studio put this sort of fantasy in its Popeye cartoons. I like the intent behind putting this whimsy in. But giving the oysters eyes and beds and pillows anthropomorphizes them in a way that makes taking their pearls more like theft.
Even more like theft: the Sea Hag says Popeye is stealing from her oyster beds. Popeye insists that’s false, but … is it? I’m not asking about the actual maritime law about ownership of oyster beds. If she’s been farming oysters and she’s come out to chase off a tresspasser? Explain it to me like I’m a seven-year-old who’s accepted the folk-Lockean notions of the origins of property that every American grows up with. Because that gets the end of the cartoon, and finally some action, on a bad footing. Which is a shame. It’s the rare example of Olive Oyl eating the spinach and punching the bad guy. You don’t want that foiled by doubts about who’s right.
So there’s the problems here. We spend a lot of time justifying why Popeye would dive for pearls. But we don’t get to hear why the Sea Hag hasn’t got at least equal rights to the pearls. The cartoon counts on “she’s the villain so she must be being villainous” and that doesn’t work. My quick fix? When Popeye gets to the oyster beds, ask for volunteers to donate pearls to Olive Oyl’s necklace. Then Popeye’s not stealing from the anybody while the Sea Hag is. And start the cartoon at the oyster beds. We don’t need it explained why someone might gather pearls to make a necklace.
Another cartoon, another small business that Popeye’s running. He must go through so much seed capital in-between shorts. This time, no pizza; he’s running a gas station.
The cartoon spends a lot of time establishing what Popeye’s Service Station offers for free. Jackson Beck reads the whole list twice, once in Narrator voice and then later on in Brutus voice. It’s fair to spend the time on this. Half the cartoon is everybody demanding the free stuff, and without the narrator kids who can’t read fast could be confused. Does mean it takes a while for the action to get started. When the action does start, it’s Popeye chuckling odd resigned phrases like “what’s the use?” at how many cars don’t need service right this minute.
Eventually we get Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus together on-screen and things proceed as you’d imagine. Brutus tries wooing Olive Oyl away from Popeye, by having his car eat Popeye. Brutus runs Popeye over, flat, twice. I was shocked by that in the (Paramount) Oil’s Well That Ends Well, but not so bothered here. I don’t know why it plays different this time around. Anyway, Popeye eats his flat spinach, there’s punching, Popeye keeps Brutus trapped on the car elevator for hours upon hours, the end.
I suspect I’d like this cartoon more if I hadn’t just seen Popeye’s Pizza Palace. By any of the ordinary measures of story this is better-made. At no point do I wonder why a character chose to do that. Nor do I wonder how one action caused the next. I could describe the plot without it sounding like a dream. Popeye’s Pizza Palace throws together so many bizarre choices that the result delights me. Popeye’s Car Wash (from Harmon studios), another short built on a similar theme, has the repeating refrain of Popeye washing a conveyor belt of Very 50s Cars as an image. At Popeye’s Service Station, we have simple competence, the loopiest gag being the fellow who needs his camel refilled as he’s off to a caravan. I’m afraid that’s doomed to be forgotten.
It’s hard to imagine now but there was a time when just mentioning pizza was a sure-fire laugh line. Foods go through this as they become part of The American Diet. In the 80s, sushi was such a crazy idea that saying someone liked it was the shorthand way to establish they were Not From Around Here. Possibly not from the planet. I recall a Fred Allen quip, circa 1940, where he described a bagel as “a doughnut with a hangover”, an image funny enough it doesn’t matter it doesn’t make sense. Somewhere in my copybook is a note about H L Mencken protesting the people who eat olives instead of a good normal salty food like anchovies.
So. The late 50s/early 60s were pizza’s turn to be really hilarious as everybody in America discovered they liked the basic idea. This observation gives us the premise, sure. It also gives us the choice to fit the word “pizza” into every line of dialogue. It’s a bold choice, one that works in a way I’m not sure Rehberg intended. Like, I believe Rehberg figured he was stuffing the dialogue with a zany funny word. But the endless repetition ends up creating this absurdist word music and I got into that.
The whole — I can’t really call this a story. The whole scenario has this absurdist air. It starts with Popeye juggling pizzas and shuffling a stack of pizzas like cards, and ignoring Wimpy’s pleas for hamburger pizzas. The absurdity grows as Popeye lists a bunch of bonkers pizza concepts. This includes the doughnut pizza you eat from the inside out, the sun bonnet pizza, the parasol pizza, and the Leaning Tower of Pizza. (Every time my Dad drove me up Route 17 in North Jersey he’d point out where the Leaning Tower of Pizza restaurant used to be in the 60s.) There’s not a one of them that customer Brutus is at all interested in. It sneaks up on those Monty Python “dictionary” sketches where they run through asking the same thing four hundred different ways.
As a story there’s not much here to make sense. Wimpy trying to cadge “hamburger pizzas”, sure. Turning to Brutus when Popeye won’t even answer him? Sure. Brutus offering to buy Wimpy pizza? All right. Popeye then asking Brutus what he wants, leading to the long string of baffling concept pizzas? Introducing the weird pizza conveyor belt? Brutus deciding he wants a tamale pizza and Popeye getting red-hot furious at this idea? I can’t figure any motivation here. It’s all people tossing off strange sets of words into an absurd universe.
Because it’s an odd moment, to close off a string of odd moments, let me share Popeye’s closing rhyme:
I’m Popeye the Pizza Man
I’m Popeye the Pizza Man
I beats ’em and rolls ’em
As fast as I can
‘Cause I’m Popeye the Sailor Man!
My generic joke about the King Features Popeye cartoons of the 60s is that they were produced in less time than it takes to watch. Obvious hyperbole, of course. But there is the feeling at least that no one cartoon ever got much attention. Many stories feel like first drafts, not quite developed enough to where they fully make sense. (And there are a fair number that overcome this and have good solid stories anyway.)
Popeye’s Museum Piece gives that impression of being a first draft. The premise seems good enough. Popeye’s a museum employee. Brutus breaks in to steal a masterpiece. Eugene the Jeep sounds the alarm. Everybody slips some and falls over things they shouldn’t. It never quite works for me and I’m trying to think out why.
I notice the slapstick. There’s a steady joke about, like, Brutus tripping over a mop causing him to fall down the stairs. The thing is that he could hardly avoid anyway. Later he trips in a water pail as he’s crashing into a wall. And this feels emblematic of what doesn’t work. The characters tripping over stuff makes sense, for the plot and for the comedy. But tripping over something to send them into an accident they were going to have anyway? That’s sloppy writing. You can’t be running so fast toward the stairs that you’d have tumbled down even without the mop in the way. There’s another bit, where Popeye trips over Eugene the Jeep and they fall in a heap, with Eugene wearing Popeye’s hat. That works. That pratfall makes sense.
There’s the usual little animation errors. The one that did distract me is Popeye looking at the new masterpiece Professor Wotasnozzle’s declared is so important. Popeye declares he can’t see what’s so great about it. Perhaps because the painting isn’t anywhere on-screen and he’s actually looking at the space between two unrelated paintings. It’s not an error that wrecks the cartoon. But would it have been harder to use a background with the painting in it?
This isn’t a misbegotten cartoon, or even one that’s far from being good. I’m not clear why Popeye is the janitor-and-security-guy at the the city museum. I suppose because if he weren’t, we wouldn’t have a museum cartoon. Given that, Brutus stealing a painting makes sense. Why is Eugene the Jeep popping in and out and occasionally flashing his nose? Why is Popeye so determined to ignore Eugene freaking out over something? These answers might not matter. My impression, though, is the writers didn’t have any reasons in mind for all this. The story ends up sloppy, Brutus tripping over a mop he doesn’t need to as he falls down the stairs.
Popeye refers at one point to “the valuable painting!” which fell into his arms. He doesn’t seem to have reason to think it’s that. But I appreciate the Animal Crossing vibe of naming it “The Valuable Painting”.
We’re back with Paramount Cartoon Studios today, in a 1960 cartoon. Quick Change Olie has a story by I Klein, and direction and production by Seymour Kneitel. And two special guest stars, too! Let’s watch.
We start (and end) at the Rough House Cafe, getting a view of Rough House himself. We don’t get any dialogue from him. But what could he do that would be useful? Complain about Wimpy calling his food poisonous?
They have some talk about ye olden days, with Wimpy imagining the chance to eat things like roast venison, roast boar, or roast full oxen. Wimpy’s gluttony shifting from hamburgers to “just lots of food” is a change of character although not a ridiculous one, seems to me.
A still-hungry Wimpy catches the Whiffle Bird with plans to eat her, because he did not learn from that time he got turned into a werewolf. Yes, yes, that cartoon’s from 1961 and only a fool demands continuity between Popeye cartoons anyway. Whiffle explains how rubbing her feathers grants wishes. Wimpy wishes them back in Ye Olden Days, and they’re lucky the Whiffle Bird doesn’t think this is a caveman cartoon or something. A minute and 57 seconds into the cartoon we’re finally at a castle.
A king crying woe is me, and who for a wonder is not Blozo, tells his tale. Olie the Wicked Magician kicked him out of his castle and kidnapped the princess. Popeye doesn’t need much encouragement to go saving the day. Wimpy, who got everyone into this fix, meanwhile vanishes.
Olie turns out to be Brutus, wearing robes, saying “ye” instead of “you” and sometimes affecting a generic accent. He’s a legitimate magician, though, using his powers to disappear when Popeye tries to punch him, or turn to flame when Popeye grabs him. Popeye counters with spinach magic, and a jackhammer punch that shrinks Olie to half Popeye’s size. This drives him off, because the cartoon is running out of time. Otherwise, like, this is the first thing Popeye’s done that’s at all effective against Olie. And I’d think if you can make yourself a giant at will it’s no great threat to be shrunk.
But as I said, there’s not time for more action, or something that would exhaust Olie. So the King has his castle back, and Popeye would get to marry the princess except — ho ho — she’s ugly! And fat! And has a grating voice! Not to worry; Wimpy’s reappeared in the story. While he was out, it seems, he couldn’t find anything to eat, so he grabs the Whiffle Bird who also decided to be in the story again. Wimpy figures to eat her, an unaccountable lack of insight from a normally sharp operator. Popeye knows what to do and wishes them back to Rough House’s Cafe. Or restaurant, whichever.
I feel like these descriptions get more plot-recappy the less I like what’s going on. There’s a fair enough premise here. And I liked in principle that Ye Olden Days characters weren’t King Blozo and, for the princess … well, I don’t know. Olive Oyl if you want the princess to be attractive, the Sea Hag if you don’t. But that creativity’s messed up by having Olie be Brutus in a new costume. I like Olie being actually able to do enough magic to mess with Popeye. And, yeah, once Popeye eats his spinach the villain is vanquished. This all felt too abrupt, though. An extra half-minure or so in Ye Olden Days could have done very well. Let Olie come back from being shrunk, and Popeye punch (or whatever) him out of the castle. Then I think I’d be more satisfied.
I don’t understand the cartoon title. It nags at me. I want to say it’s an old theatrical or vaudeville, term. Maybe meaning something that explains why the villain isn’t called Brutus. I can’t confirm or refute that, though.
Less fun: the next King Features Popeye in their YouTube channel’s order is the Jack Kinney-produced Spinachonara. It opens with Popeye offering Swee’Pea an “Oriental-type kind” of fairy story so uh yeah yikes. I trust they meant to respect that non-white-people should get to be the stars of stories too. But I’m not paid to deal with Jack Mercer, Jackson Beck, and Mae Questel doing their Japanese Or Chinese Or Whatever Accents. You want me to do 600 words on that, ask for my PayPal.
What we have here is another Popeye-and-Brutus compete cartoon. This time not to do a job but complete a task. That task? Bring back the North Pole. This because they happen to be in front of a statue of Admiral Peary when Olive Oyl has enough of Popeye and Brutus’s quarreling. The reward? A date with Olive Oyl, you know, like the one Popeye had been on when Brutus interrupted. All right. Popeye and Brutus are lucky they weren’t in front of the Science Center’s Planet Walk model of Saturn.
The premise is a bit goofy. Brutus buys a very slow rocket from a surplus store. Popeye hits up the surplus store too, getting an 1886 hot air balloon. And somehow this is not the only cartoon that I have reviewed that’s about flying a balloon to the North Pole. What the heck?
There’s this absurdity at the heart of the cartoon. At many of the details, too. Like, Popeye takes his burst balloon, builds a replacement using an inner tire and a car engine, and catches up with Brutus’s rocket? But it’s all well-constructed. The more I think of the story the more impressed I am with its fitting together. Like, does a kid notice the absurdity of a hot air balloon catching up with, and overtaking, a rocket? That is a joke they wanted us to notice, right?
And then there’s little bits of crafting. Like, Popeye secures the North Pole by landing his doughnut-tire airship around it. There’s some foreshadowing there, as Brutus tries to pop this second balloon but misses because his rocket slides through the hole. (I assume that’s how we’re supposed to read that scene. The animation skimps on what we do see.) Or, when Popeye’s trapped in ice? He’s freed by the little flame of his own homemade engine. That flame’s there because Brutus is stealing his balloon, but doesn’t know how to work it. That’s a good reason for Brutus to have the flame pointed at Popeye and not turn it off. And, of course, it’s a thing that couldn’t have come about if Brutus hadn’t popped the original hot air balloon.
This is in the upper tier of the King Features shorts. The premise is absurd and if you can’t get into that, there’s nothing for you here. But grant the premise and the story makes solid sense. The animation’s the typical Paramount Cartoon Studios competence. There’s a couple of nice shots, like seeing Popeye and Olive Oyl and Brutus walking together from a camera above their heads. The closing joke is a weird one, but it does get everyone out in good order.