60s Popeye: The Blubbering Whaler (fade out, fade back to the same scene)


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.

With credits given now, let’s watch.

Raymond Jacobs’s name is given as writer for ten Popeye TV shorts. These include Plumbers Pipe Dream, which was bonkers. Also Popeye and the Dragon, which was pleasant without quite making sense. Also Popeyed Columbus, a cartoon full of odd moments. So I come into this expecting a bunch of odd little moments.

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.

Popeye salutes, but is angry. Also in the frame is a bearded sailor wearing a striped shirt, leaning in from the opposite side of the screen from Popeye.
Congratulations to the winner of Cheerios’s “Appear On Popeye The Sailor” Sweepstakes!

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.

Little Bits of Gratitude


When I got to thinking the other day about stuff to be grateful for, most of my thoughts came back to me not singing. I don’t want to suggest that you should stop being grateful I’m not singing for you. It’s just there are plenty of other things to think about with gratitude. Some of them are obvious; for example, if you’ve got a roof over your head, that’s something to be grateful for. There should be a bit of sub-gratitude reserved for the walls which hold the roof up above your head, since if the roof is just resting on the ground you’re probably doing a lot of crouching and that’s not good for your knees, if they’re very much like mine. I don’t want to complain about that, and you can be grateful for that too.

I’m No Good At Music


There are a number of things that any of us should be grateful for. I estimate the number of things to be at least fourteen. But I think the biggest thing any of us can be grateful for is that I’m not singing for you right now. Very likely I’ll never sing for you. You probably won’t believe just how very good this is for you. Fundamentally, I’ve got a deep incompetence about music.

I used to play the violin in elementary school. They trained us in the classic sequence: “Jingle Bells”, and then “Memory” from Cats, and then the Theme to Masterpiece Theater, and I was all right on the notes where you don’t have to put your fingers on the strings, which are like one-eighth of the notes any song expects. For the rest, again, there’s this wondrous sequence of approximate notes that nobody even knew violins could produce, and certainly not that they’d produce on purpose. The violin teacher was nice, though, and often interrupted class to ask whether the song was “Memory” or “Memories”, which could take the whole day to not resolve, while she walked down to the far end of the hallway. I gave up the violin in middle school, where the hallways were shorter.

Heck, I’m even shaky at listening to music. Like, I’ve seen other people turn on the radio and they get all kinds of songs and musicians and musical styles and such. I try it and it’s pretty near always playing “Friday I’m In Love”. It’s a fine song, sure, but there must be something I’m getting wrong if that’s always on. If I try the Internet radio then they’ve got Dennis Day singing “Clancy Lowered The Boom”, which is a less fine song, the kind that makes me want to walk to the far end of the hallway.

I’m not talking about my voice just being untrained, although it is, because the last music teacher who listened to me singing looked sadly at me and walked to the far end of the hallway, and that was elementary school, when they had a good thing to say about your skills in coloring because you managed to stay mostly within the bounds of the school building.

There’s this part of singing, though, where your voice is expected to hit some note. Most songs are kind of fussy, you’re supposed to get this one particular note that the songwriter expected and was planning around. Maybe you can go into a different octave and find some compatible note, but, that’s not me. I have a hard enough time hitting any note, whether or not it’s in the song and whether or not it’s any note that any human agency has ever been capable of. The correct response to stop paying attention to me and hope I’ll stop, and since I’m not paying attention to me, I keep going. I know, but it makes sense in the middle of the tune.

Worse, most songs require whole dozens of notes, some of them not the same one you started with, and there’s just no hoping I’ll get to any of those either. My chance of getting back to the note I started on are pretty much nothing either. This is why I’m better off sticking to my skill in turning songs into Morse code and a string of humming. Nobody cares about what note you’re humming, because if you’re humming people either don’t pay attention or else they’re looking for things to complain about what you’re doing, and either way it doesn’t matter what you’re doing.

You’d think some practice could train me out of this, but, no. I’ve tried playing Beatles Rock Band, for example, and that gives this little indicator about whether the pitch is too low or too high, and I find, like, in the midst of “Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” that Ringo gets out from behind his drums and slugs my avatar and George just walks sadly down to the far end of the hallway. Paul and John just bury their heads in their hands.

Overall, I like music, and think it’s a fine concept. I’d like to be on better terms with it, but I just haven’t got the knack. I’ve got the Cure, but see where that’s gotten me.

Musical Breakthrough


Forensic musicians have announced a major breakthrough in trying to figure out what exactly the guy at the delicatessen has been singing all this time. Computer-aided analysis indicates he probably has been whistling what was originally the first twelve notes to the theme of The Towering Inferno, somehow. Also it turns out there was a theme to The Towering Inferno, which goes far towards explaining why it’s been so hard to figure out what it was. Further research into just why anyone would be whistling this tune must wait for a researcher brave enough to actually ask the guy, for crying out loud.