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.