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.

60s Popeye: Popeyed Fisherman, which can’t land a whale pun


After a trip into 1961 — and 1936 — with Myskery Melody we’re back to 1960. And to the Jack Kinney studios. This is another cartoon with story credited to Jack Kinney. Animation direction is given to Murray McClellan, a new name in my records here. This is the only time he’s credited as animation director for a Popeye cartoon, too. The Internet Movie Database has him listed mostly as animator, for things ranging from a bunch of Disney shorts through to 60s made-for-TV animation like The Archie Show, the Batman/Superman Hour, and Fantastic Voyage. Also, this is the first I learn that there was a cartoon based on Fantastic Voyage. I don’t know how many stories I expected could be told about a team of heroes who get really small. They made 17 of them.

That takes me off point. But it is a wonder. Here’s the cartoon he has an animation director credit on, though. Here’s Popeyed Fisherman.

This cartoon suffers from coming right after Myskery Melody, I admit. I couldn’t say enough about that one; this is just a normal cartoon. It’s got a nice absurdity. The prompt is that Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea want to learn fishing. Its first joke is given by Popeye in the tag: “inexperience is the best teacher”. For all Popeye’s patient instruction and legitimate-sounding advice about how to fish, Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl are actually able to catch fish. Traditional setup for a fishing joke.

It gets bigger and loopier with fishing from a boat, as Swee’Pea determines to catch a whale. While Popeye instructs them and ignores everything, the boat’s swallowed by a white whale. Popeye finally freaks out, and gets kicked out of the whale. Swee’Pea declares he wants to eat the whale for dinner and Olive Oyl, embracing the daftness, gets out a mop and pail to get ahead on cleaning the ‘fish’. The whale eventually returns to Fishland amusement park, and the cartoon concludes that the whale is Fishland’s somehow and Swee’Pea gets a reward and there we go.

A passed-out Popeye slumped over the tail of a white whale. The whale, on the surface of the water, glides through the sea gate of 'Fishland', clearly some kind of water park; there's a King Neptune figure on the side of the gate. Men along the line of the pier wave their hats and cheer.
Though it’s not my intention to critique the realism of this cartoon, I will say I’ve been fishing twice and nothing like this has happened to me.

It’s easy to claim that any cartoon that doesn’t make sense is ‘dreamlike’. This has a better claim than most, though. It starts from a reasonable, even dull, premise. Going to sea and having weird things happen is an escalation that makes sense. Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl behave daftly once the whale swallows them, but perhaps they’re wiser than Popeye is about how dangerous an early-60s TV cartoon could be. Though what happens is ridiculous, it feels thoughtfully so. It does not make me wonder how the story is supposed to make sense.

60s Popeye: Forever Ambergris (it’s actually less than three minutes of ambergris)


Jack Kinney’s back in the producer’s chair for today’s 60s Popeye short. Eddie Rehberg is listed as director; the story’s credited to Ralph Wright. Here’s the 1960 short Forever Ambergris.

The title alludes to Forever Amber, Kathleen Winsor’s 1944 novel which sold 480 kajillion copies and inspired a 1947 movie. The cartoon somehow has nothing to do with the novel’s plot of a woman who seduces or marries her way into post-Restoration English royal society.

What we do have struggles to be one of the Popeye-tells-Swee’Pea-a-story cartoons. It takes almost forever to get there, though. At least a minute and a half, in a cartoon with a five-minute run time, not counting credits. Olive Oyl’s going out, and wants a babysitter. Popeye tries to flee, calling babysitting not-manly. It’s a bad look for him. Yes, I know he’s expressed similar attitudes, like once finding Olive Oyl’s dog too sissy for him to walk. It was a bad look for him then, too. I guess it’s needed-for-plot, so that Olive Oyl can use her perfume to make Popeye babysit. And then so Popeye has a reason to talk about ambergris, which goes into perfumes. But did we need to justify Popeye watching over Swee’Pea? If he’d just announced he was going to tell a story about finding some ambergris, would it have jarred too much?

But time spent getting to Popeye’s story is time they don’t have to spend on Popeye’s story. Which may be needed; there’s not much to it. While at sea Popeye spots some ambergris and he, Brutus, and Wimpy collect it. And then put it in a treasure chest. And lock the treasure chest. And guard the treasure chest. This allows for a pleasant pattern of Brutus declaring, say, he’s going to lock the treasure chest, and Popeye declaring “me too” and Wimpy “I also”. The many repetitions give it an appeal this action wouldn’t otherwise support.

Three people coming across an unexpected treasure makes me think of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Or at least the many spoofs I’ve seen rather than the actual Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The cartoon doesn’t go for this, though. So why is Wimpy in this cartoon? He’d have been great in a Sierra Madre scenario descent into paranoia. He naturally plays people against one another; that could feed a real story. Instead he seems to be an unneeded buffer between Popeye and Brutus, who swipes the treasure when the ship crashes somehow into Paris.

Popeye standing, but his head is lowered in weariness, and his body is drawn all jaggedy, as though he had been crumpled up and quickly straightened out again.
2021 is treating us all just great!

Brutus carries it up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Popeye follows and punches the treasure chest, which falls into a cement mixer. “And ever since, that street in Paris has been forever ambergris”, Popeye explains, an ending that makes Swee’Pea mad. I’d thought that was fair — Popeye’s story feels like a shaggy-dog story with a punch line not related to the setup. But, on review, Popeye did claim only to be telling the story of the time he found some ambergris. So it is a shaggy-dog story but at least it was about the dog he promised. Olive Oyl gets home as Swee’Pea’s crying, and won’t hear any excuses, so she crashes a jar over Popeye’s head. It’s not a good look for her, either.

The cartoon frustrates me. I’m not satisfied with it. But I also can’t point to anything it’s doing wrong. Like, Wimpy doesn’t have a reason to be there. But he doesn’t have a reason to be in Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor either, and that’s not a problem there. Popeye’s ambergris find comes to nothing, but what did I expect it to? Him finding something that would make him rich forever would break the loosely-defined basic setup of Popeye. Him finding enough to buy a new car (or something) is maybe plausible but too boring to make a story. He has to end up getting nothing, or near-nothing, out of it. That nothing being a great-smelling sidewalk in Paris satisfies that. But it feels like something I acknowledge is funny in principle without laughing at. (I concede a lot of my own humor-writing is stuff that is only funny in principle.)

I think Olive Oyl smashing her perfume jar on Popeye’s head was a bad ending.

No, The Space Whale Probe Can Hold Off, Too


Remember back when the world was young and Star Trek IV: The One With The Whales first came out in theaters? Me too. There’s this scene where Kirk and Spock are riding a bus because it’s the mid-80s, and there’s this young punk playing annoying music too loud. So Spock neck-pinches him, and he falls over, knocking his boombox off. Everyone on the bus applauds because, hey, so far as they can tell this man wearing a bathrobe in public has choked a kid to death for being snotty! And everyone watching the scene chuckles too because, hey, don’t we all want to choke the youth to death? Yes.

What’s haunted me, as an annoying Star Trek fan, is the lyrics for the punk’s music. They run like this:

Just where is the future, the things we’ve done and said
Let’s just push the button, we’d be better off dead

‘Cause I hate you, and I berate you
And I can’t wait to get to you too

The sins of all the fathers been dumped on us, the sons,
The only choice we’re given is how many megatons?

Thing is, in the universe of Star Trek, that kid on the bus is less than a decade away from the Third World War. So is whatever British Punk Band That Works “Berate” Into Its Chorus that recorded the song. (In the full version they let “eschew” into the verse. My music tastes run more towards “sounds like that theremin’s calving”, but I can appreciate solid punk writing when I hear it.) And I keep thinking: what did that kid, and what did that band, think later on when The Bombs were falling?

(Yes, yes, I am very aware that as this was an Original Series movie the Third World War that bus punk would experience was explicitly non-nuclear. It was conventional warfare that killed 37 million people and that’s better I guess? It wasn’t until the more optimistic and utopian Next Generation that they rescheduled the Third World War to the mid-21st-century and killed over a half billion people.)

We’ve been thinking about a civilization-wrecking nuclear war for a long time. Or at least we’ve been thinking we’re thinking about it. We don’t really picture nuclear destruction, though. We don’t even picture ordinary destruction. What we imagine is a tense half-hour listening to news anchors trying to keep it together while the camera keeps drifting off-center, and the newsroom is weirdly quiet apart from off-camera voices sometimes shouting. Also taking phone calls from estranged friends with last-minute repentances for wronging us. Good luck those getting through. Even if the phone lines weren’t jammed apparently we’d all be having consequence-free sex with people we’d never see again anyway? Or so you all might. I’d be busy trying to download my Twitter archive so I could re-read some choice digs I got in on someone back in May.

We’ve got vague thoughts about what happens after, too. Post-apocalypse planning works out to be thinking we’ll get to pick the best stuff out of the landscape. Maybe go into business as a local warlord, trading supplies and shelter with trustworthy-looking stragglers. This from people who can’t handle there not being a dividing bar on the checkout conveyor belt at the farmer’s market. What if the guy ahead of us gets my two bunches of curly parsley? These aren’t the thoughts of someone up for handling the thirtieth day in a row of eating cream-of-celery soup. It was the only thing left that better scavengers didn’t get to first at the Neighborhood Market that mostly sold cell phone cards and lottery tickets. It’s reconstituted using water from where the now-former paint factory is leaking toluene into the aquifer. And it’s cold.

We’d need help, that’s all there is to it. And I don’t know what to do. On my bookshelf alone I have enough World War II books to teach how to win the war, except for how to fight. But they all end with lots of people in rubble-strewn cities. Even the ones about the postwar situation skim over what there is to do in it. There’s dramatic photos and talk about people clearing away rubble. Then it’s 1948 (for Europe) or 1950 (for Japan) and the United States decides the rubble cities should have an economy again. That’s over three years of people clearing away rubble. They had a lot of rubble, yes. But they also had to agree on where to put the rubble. And that takes social organization. And I don’t know where that comes from either.

This may be controversial, but I say ending civilization and destroying the world is a bad move. We should tough out our problems as they are and try fixing what we can. Thanks to YouTube you’ve seen all the footage of news anchors trying not to lose it that you could possibly need, and it’s about the same every time. Trust your estranged friends when they drop hints that they’d take an apology happily. Drop your estranged friends a hint that you’d take an apology happily. Stop looking for consequence-free stuff to do with or to people. For me, I’m going on TrekBBS to yell that they do not build the whale tank out of transparent aluminum. They build it out of the six-inch-thick plexiglass they traded the transparent aluminum formula for. Come on, people, watch the movie you’re watching. We can at least get that right.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell eleven points today as traders started getting all giddy thinking about how they used to be at, like, 80 points and now they’re up so way high nobody can even see 100 or even 200 anymore, which doesn’t sound at all like the sort of hubristic declaration that leads to incredible pain.

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