60s Popeye: Deserted Desert (could use a few fewer people)


We’re back to Jack Kinney here. Kinney gets credit for the story as well as production. Animation direction’s credited to Eric Cleworth and Bill Keil. So here’s 1960’s Deserted Desert.

The easy joke is that these shorts had eight bars of music and had to make them last. In truth, yeah, they had libraries and not much time or money to go outside that. I have the feeling each of the studios had their own music libraries. What starts me thinking about that is how this short starts with a peppy, anxious background music. This for Popeye driving alone in the desert. He crashes into the one tree soon enough, but the music feels like a bad fit for the scene. The have more laid-back music. It’s used for Popeye walking in the hot sun, or even when he’s grabbed by a vulture for some reason. Was the tense music opening a mistake?

This cartoon’s got a very slight plot. Popeye’s in search of the Lost Dutchman Mine, and he has a bunch of mishaps on the way there. Really he endures everything but a flash flood and JJ Looper holding a gun on him. It’s one of the rare cartoons where Popeye is mostly on his own. Brutus doesn’t show up until almost four minutes into a five-and-a-half minute cartoon. Olive Oyl and Wimpy appear for the tag. In the main, this is Popeye battling nature. The vulture, the extreme heat of the desert day and cold of the desert night. Oases.

The exception is the population of the ghost town. We don’t get to see the ghosts as characters, though. They’re strange outline figures making weird noises, in a scene that looks like it was fun to storyboard. The ghosts are usually out-of-focus outlines slid past the camera, but that’s some merry action. Popeye tires of this fast enough and punches them. It’s a fun gag. The superfan remembers that ghosts are the rare thing Popeye actually fears, because he can’t punch them. But the superfan also admits the comic strip has probably retconned that long, long ago. And Popeye just ploughing through troubles has a compelling logic to it, too.

Popeye, sleeping unprotected in the desert, has his head on a pillow. The sun has just risen but he's encased in a block of ice. He's snoring.
This bit with Popeye using a rock as a pillow reminds me of a Hagar the Horrible that I read somewhere around 1980 . Hagar and Lucky Eddie are settling down in camp for the night. Lucky Eddie gets a rock because he just can’t sleep without a pillow. Hagar calls this being a ‘softie’. The paradox enchanted my young mind and apparently I’m still captivated. I’m not surprised the joke was done before Hagar. Just delighted it could be done by Popeye.

I’m a bit disappointed when Brutus enters. Popeye lurching ahead through the elements, and muttering to himself, is interesting enough. And the cartoon makes time for some fun animation. There’s the blurry outline ghosts doing their bits. There’s Popeye tossing a rock to break the Sun, and muttering, “Uh-oh, now I went and did it.” There’s also Popeye’s shoes opening their maws and barking, after Popeye says how the sand ‘makes me dogs start barking’. It’s a throwback to 1930s cartoons where idioms get drawn literally.

Brutus, in comparison, isn’t so interesting. And Popeye’s a jerk for declaring the mountain not big enough for both of them when the gold mountain is. Their fight has more action and more punching than a lot of cartoons where Brutus actually deserves it.

I don’t know how you’d resolve a version of this cartoon without Brutus. I think I’d like the fight they have put into a cartoon where it’s more justified, though. Instead end this cartoon the way the first three minutes and fifty seconds were going. Popeye was doing quite well in the desert by himself.