Jane Russell Friday # 15

Happy Jane Russell Friday! In her autobiography, Jane claimed that for her movie The French Line, her dance costume initially consisted of only a bikini (a bathing suit new to America at the time). Jane said that when she displayed herself in the bikini, she felt embarrassed standing “before my mortified [movie] crew, feeling very naked.”

Here is a photo of Jane in a bikini. Does this woman look embarrassed to you?

jane-russell-swimsuit-pic

Popeye, Bluto, and Wimpy in CUSTOMERS WANTED (1939) – Not quite worth every penny

CustomersWanted

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

How is it that in a huge city, Popeye’s and Bluto’s businesses always end up right next to each other? Here, it’s The Boys working rivaling penny arcades. What’s worse, whoever’s doing Bluto’s voice sounds as though he’s trying to imitate Popeye instead.

Wimpy, sans hamburger for a change, is unfortunate enough to be The Boys’ only interested patron. All three parties get ripped off. Wimpy keeps borrowing pennies from The Boys to watch their own movies, which are the same at each arcade and are clips from Let’s Get Movin’ and The Twisker Pitcher, making this a “cheater” cartoon in every sense of the word.

(Oh, and you gotta love the nickelodeon that advertises “Bluto in Never Kick a Woman,” a Popeye cartoon in which he never appeared. Call the Better Business Bureau!)

Best gag is the closing one, where Wimpy makes money selling tickets to Popeye and Bluto’s inevitable grudge-match.

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon:  CanCanCanHalf

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in THE PANELESS WINDOW-WASHER (1937) – Amazing stories

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This cartoon takes skyscraper-climbing to heights even Harold Lloyd wouldn’t have dreamed up.

It begins with Bluto as a window-washer, albeit in his typically sleazy style. In order to “drum up some business,” he uses a hose to spray muddy water onto some windows across the street from his office. Then, his idea of cleaning the windows is to throw some soap on them and then scrape them in an “X” motion, not even removing all of the soap. But then, who has the nerve to question Bluto about his methods?

Well, maybe one person will. Popeye happily cleans the windows in the office of “Olive Oyl, Public Stenographer.” (She does her job well, too, considering the carriage of her typewriter nearly flies out the window after each line.) On a ledge far above the city, Popeye happily one-ups Bluto by dancing and shaking his fanny, while he not so much cleans a window as shaves it. Bluto thinks he’s hot when he’s hanging off a flagpole to reach one window after another, but then Popeye hangs by his suspenders from Olive’s window and makes like a human fly all over the building.

Popeye and Bluto get into the inevitable fight, only this time they’re bouncing from building to building as they do it. Bluto tries to literally hang Popeye out to dry (from a flagpole), until Popeye makes with the spinach (because he hadn’t been able to bounce around 20 stories of building very well before that).

This short is just breathtaking, with perspectives amazing enough that you have to pinch yourself to realize you’re just watching a cartoon. And you keep wondering what further heights Popeye and Bluto will set their sights on just to show how macho they are.

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon:  CanCanCanCan

Charlie Chaplin in EASY STREET (1917) – An old-fashioned comedy classic.

EasyStreet (1)

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Chaplin’s detractors complain that much of his work is old-fashioned and melodramatic. I don’t find anything wrong with that, when it’s done well. Easy Street is a perfect example of that. If Chaplin hadn’t already used the character names “David” and “Goliath” in Behind the Screen, they would have fit perfectly here; you’ll never find a more perfect story of a little guy taking on a huge bully and beating the odds.

Our first sight of Charlie is him curled up near the entrance of a mission house; no romanticizing the Tramp on this occasion. Contrasting Charlie’s derelict situation is the mission’s organist (Edna Purviance, never lit more angelically). Charlie hears the music and is literally taken in. After the service, given a righteous pep talk by Edna, Charlie sees the light. He’s so serene in his newfound ways, he even returns the collection box he had intended to steal.

Charlie sees a “Help Wanted” sign for a police station on Easy Street; he applies and is accepted instantly. That’s because of the station’s high mortality rate, due to Easy Street’s violence orchestrated by its gang leader (Eric Campbell, in the dastardly role he was born to play).

This is another of Chaplin’s great comedies that it would be sacrilegious to spoil by giving away the plot twists. Suffice to say, the heroism that Chaplin couldn’t quite give himself over to in Essanay’s The Bank is given free rein here, and it works beautifully.

And for those who say Chaplin was a routine movie director, watch how he builds tension by cross-cutting between Charlie’s prolonged cigarette break after subduing Eric, and Edna’s being locked in and nearly raped by a heroin addict. Hitchcock couldn’t have done it better.

Easy Street is unashamedly old-fashioned, without an ounce of irony. Watch it, and be surprised how well you can still respond to such a thing.

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in LET’S CELEBRAKE – Dig that crazy granny!

Capture

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Even in a cartoon series known for its wacko imagery, this cartoon’s first shot is pretty startling: Popeye and Bluto, both in full tuxedo, manning a horse-and-carriage and happily singing a duet. Up to now, there’s been no hint that these guys were anything but, at best, icily polite rivals. When did they go all Brokeback Mountain on us??

Turns out that the occasion is New Year’s Eve, so I guess we’re meant to guess that Popeye and Bluto got their Christmas stockings filled with sufficient supplies of spinach and…well, whatever makes Bluto happiest, so for now they’re buddy-buddy (at least until Olive spurns one of them at the matrimonial agency again).

The Boys arrive at Olive’s house and are greeted at the door by Olive’s sweet old grandma. Olive is ready to leave, but Popeye decides it would be cold-hearted to leave Granny by herself on New Year’s Eve. This is obviously heartfelt and would be nice to savor, except that Granny is one of those stereotypes worn thin by years of sitcoms, cutely misinterpreting anything that’s said to her because of her poor hearing. Between this, Popeye and Bluto’s sudden chumminess, and the cartoon’s not-up-to-par animation, it doesn’t seem like an occasion for dancing in the ballroom with Guy Lombardo.

After Bluto and Olive hit the floor for a dance contest, Popeye tries to do the same with Granny, but he can’t get her to shake a leg. He rushes back to the table, where the waiter is leaving dinner trays. From the tray, Popeye grabs a can of spinach (which apparently was being served at all the finest New York ballrooms on New Year’s Eve), feeds it to Granny, and gets her high-stepping enough for her and Popeye to win the contest.

The cartoon is more funny/cute than funny/ha-ha and is sometimes depressingly close to the dispirited tone of the limited-animation Popeye cartoons of early-’60s TV. The climax underlines the cartoon’s lack of energy, with seemingly the same three couples dancing in front of the camera over and over, and the gorgeous 3D backgrounds of previous cartoons replaced by lots of little circles meant to represent an onlooking crowd.

If this sounds like carping, it’s only because the Fleischers themselves have set such a high standard up to this point; it’s rather like hiring Buster Keaton at his peak and then casting him as a doofus dad in a sitcom. Happily, this downslide in quality doesn’t last, and the next cartoon (Learn Polikeness) gets things back on track.

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon:  CanCanCanHalf

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in KICKIN’ THE CONGA ROUND (1942) – Shake it like a Paramount Picture

KickinTheCongaAround

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

On shore leave in South America, sailors Popeye and Bluto compete for the affections of one Olivia Oyla. Ay carumba!

Something about sassy music seemed to inspire the Fleischers. This one’s a gem from the start, with Popeye and Bluto shaking their thangs with as much liberty as great animation will allow. The cartoon is peppered throughout with superb throwaway gags, from Bluto’s photographic memory, to the “CENSORED” sign that briefly covers a Latin dancer’s suggestive region.

When they get to the local cafe, Popeye claims he “can’t dance no conjure.” But when Bluto rudely steps in, Popeye downs the requisite can of spinach, and it’s Morning, Noon and Nightclub all over again. The ending is novel, too — instead of Olive getting her men, the local military police nab them instead, for trying to start a riot — which they do, at least for the happy cartoon-viewer. An absolute hoot.

On a scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon:  CanCanCanCan

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in SHAKESPEARIAN SPINACH (1940) – A farce by any other name

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The marquee for Spinach Theatre (!) reads, “Tonight – Popeye and Olive Oyl in Romeo and Juliet.” Bluto comes to the theater and, certainly not to my surprise, has a fit over seeing a poster of Popeye as Romeo. He rips the poster away to see his own poster crossed out beneath Popeye’s, with the added message: “Dear Bluto: Your services are no longer required. – YOU HAM!! — The Management.” Suffice to say, Bluto is not about to handle this by filing suit with the Theater Guild.

Upon their entrances, Olive and Popeye launch into a horrifyingly musical version of “R & J,” and it quickly becomes clear that Bluto could easily ruin the show just by writing a review of it. Instead, Bluto fiddles with the lighting and special effects to mess up the show and generally yank Popeye’s chain. Eventually, Bluto removes Popeye and tries to take over for him on stage, but Olive will have none of it.

Popeye makes it back onto the stage in female garb, replacing Olive as Juliet, and pulling Olive away before Bluto can…er, what, co-star with her?? What all of this has to do with “R & J” is anyone’s guess, but the crowd loves it. Bluto uncovers a placard reading “Death Scene” (which always occurs at least four minutes into the play, right?) and uses it as an excuse to wail on Ms. Popeye, who either is dead (yeah, sure) or is acting out Juliet’s demise.

Bluto-as-Romeo cries, while from the wings, Olive throws an R.I.P. wreath made of spinach onto Popeye. The play ends with Shakespeare’s famous “To eat some spinach and kick Bluto’s butt or not, that is the question” soliloquy. (Well, not exactly, but it makes as much sense as anything else in this mishmash.)

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon:  CanCanCanHalf