FOR BETTER OR WORSER (1935) – Joining in holy headlock

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The following is my first of two entries in The Popeye Blogathon, being hosted at this blog from Sept. 28-30, 2018. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ tributes to the fictional one-eyed sailor!

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

For Better or Worser is so eye-popping (so to speak) on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to begin.

The basic premise is simplicity: Popeye is an unhappy bachelor who decides to marry Olive Oyl (who else?), but Bluto almost beats him to it. But the final elaboration of this premise is anything but simple.

Popeye

First off is this cartoon’s idea of marriage as something to be done as quickly, and with as little thought, as picking up a couple of groceries on the way home. Popeye starts the cartoon in a grungy bachelor pad, burning every food he tries to cook. Hastily, he decides, “I gotta get me a wife!” So apparently, if he hadn’t burned his dinner, matrimony wouldn’t have even crossed his mind.

Brothel

Then there’s the matrimonial agency where Popeye goes to obtain his spouse. The agency’s desk clerk blithely tells him, “Take ya pick!” and points to a wall filled with framed pictures of potential brides. The cartoon does everything but come right out and say, “Popeye has just entered a brothel.” As cartoon historian Greg Ford screams on the DVD commentary soundtrack to this cartoon, “It’s all up there on the screen — it’s not the subtext, it’s the text!” (I highly recommend your listening to Ford’s commentary, which is nearly as funny as the cartoon he’s critiquing.)

Olive

Popeye sizes up the women’s images and picks Olive Oyl, who responds by adding a ton of make-up to a face that, as plain as it was to start with, would be far better off without it. But Bluto is another customer in the brothel, er, agency, and he also chooses Olive’s photo. Naturally he and Popeye butt heads (literally) over Olive, each man trying to drag Olive away from the other.

Street

The back-and-forth chase scene is a feast for the eyes, not the least because the trio are running against a 3D-looking background. Max and Dave Fleischer went to the trouble of making an actual, rotating model against which their drawings were placed, making the cartoony Popeye and his peers look as though they’re making their way through the “real” world. Every time I watch this scene, I think of how, as a kid, my sister and I would derisively point out the same stupid backgrounds popping up over and over in Hanna-Barbera cartoons. This is just one more example of how the Fleischers never cut corners with these remarkable shorts.

Justice

Bluto and Olive make it to the office of the justice of the peace (Wimpy, who barely looks up from his hamburger to officiate in the marriage), and Bluto bleats, “We wanna get married in a hurry!” When you stop to think that, in ’30s movies, quickie marriages = “I wanna get laid!”, you realize there’s more subtext, text, and hyper-text in this cartoon than one should be asked to digest.

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Of course, Popeye gets to the office in time to belt Bluto and claim Olive for himself. But when he gets a look at Olive’s transmogrified kisser, he almost pops out his other eye before declaring, “I do not [take this bride]!” and hightailing it back to his bachelor pad — because after all, a wizened, one-eyed sailor must have standards.

I’d love to know what any women think of this cartoon, because it obviously does them no favors; in terms of its regarding women as sides of meat to be haggled over by near-Neanderthals, it’s probably as offensive to women as some other Popeye cartoons are to minorities. The cartoon’s saving grace is in showing that these matrimonial “rules” were concocted by men who show that they’re not exactly prize packages themselves.

Stars

Though the Fleischers probably didn’t intend it as such, For Better or Worser is a nifty deconstruction of man’s most basic instincts. Plus, it’s an absolute hoot.

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

(If you enjoyed this blogathon entry, click here to read my second entry, a “psychological examination” of Popeye & Co. And click here to listen to my Fleischer Bros.-Popeye podcast!

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Announcing THE POPEYE BLOGATHON!

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After serving for four years as the “breakout star” of E.C. Segar’s comic strip Thimble Theatre, Popeye the Sailor Man made his movie debut on July 14, 1933 and became as big of a hit in animated cartoons as he was in comics. To honor the 85th anniversary of his film career, we proudly announce…

THE POPEYE BLOGATHON!

The rules are simple. Write a blog about any aspect of Popeye you like. Here are some ideas:

  • E.C. Segar’s Thimble Theatre
  • Theatrical cartoons:  the Fleischer Bros. era (1933-1942), and/or the Famous Studios era (1942-1957)
  • TV cartoons: King Features (1960-1962), Hanna-Barbera (1978-1983, 1987-1988)
  • Robert Altman’s 1980 movie adaptation, starring Robin Williams

Again, any aspect of these subjects is fine. (For example, you could write about the entire Fleischer Bros. era, or you could write about just your favorite cartoon from that era.) Also, if you have an idea of your own, let me know, and if it relates to Popeye, I’ll gladly accept it.

My only request: No duplicate entries! At the bottom of this blog entry, I will keep an updated list of blogathon entrants. Be sure to check the list to ensure that your idea isn’t already taken.

How Do I Join the Blogathon?

In the “Comments” section at the bottom of this blog, please leave your name, the URL of your blog, and the movie trio you are choosing to blog about. At the end of this blog entry are banners for the ‘thon. Grab a banner, display it on your blog, and link it back to this blog.

The blogathon will take place from Friday, Sept. 28, through Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. When the opening date of the blogathon arrives, leave a comment here with a link to your post, and I will display it in the list of entries (which I will continually update up to the beginning of the ‘thon, so keep checking back!).

I will not be assigning particular dates to any blog posts. As long as you get your entry in by the end of the day on Sept. 30, I will be satisfied. (That said, the earlier the better!)

Again, be sure to leave me a comment and grab a banner, and have fun with your blog entry! Here’s the line-up so far:

Movie Movie Blog Blog – the 1935 theatrical cartoon For Better or Worser, and a “psychological examination” of Popeye, Olive Oyl, Wimpy, and Bluto

Caftan Woman – the 1936 theatrical cartoon Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor

Movierob – Fox TV’s 2004 CGI special “Popeye’s Voyage: The Quest for Pappy”

The Midnite Drive-In – Robert Altman’s Popeye movie

Talk About Cinema – Seasin’s Greetinks! (1933), Let’s Celebrake (1938), Mister and Mistletoe (1955), and Spinach Greetings (Popeye TV cartoon)

It Came from the Man Cave! – “There Goes the Neighborhood,” Episode 12 of Hanna-Barbera’s “Popeye and Son” (1987)

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Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto: The ultimate love-hate relationship

BugsDaffyElmerFinalThe following is my entry in the My Favorite Movie Threesome Blogathon, being hosted at this blog from July 28-30, 2017. Click on the banner above to read bloggers’ tributes to real and fictional trios from throughout the history of cinema!

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(The following is based on viewings of the original series of Popeye cartoons produced and directed by Max and Dave Fleischer from 1933 to 1942. If you have not treated yourself to these delightful animated films, allow me to introduce you to them by way of my tribute-website. Click here to visit my site filled with reviews of these groundbreaking cartoons.)

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ABOVE: Bluto as Sigmund Freud??

Sometimes, a character’s psychological quirks are so conspicuous that you can’t help commenting on them, pretentious as it might sound. After multiple viewings of Popeye cartoons, I’d have to say that the psyches of Popeye & Co. are ripe for picking as well. And so…the doctor is in.
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Popeye

Popeye puts on a very elaborate facade to disguise a very damaged psyche. It is assumed that he got his nickname (and his condition) from a very violent brawl. Nevertheless, to have such a moniker as your only given name — he is never referred to in any other way, in the comic strips or the movies — is to have a major loss of identification and individuality.

Further, other than his belligerent father — who, at first, does not even want to be rescued from imprisonment on an island, much less reunited with his son — we know almost nothing about Popeye’s formative years. What of his mother? Was Popeye perhaps born illegitimately, and is that why he looks upon single mother Olive Oyl’s upbringing of baby Swee’Pea with nary a shrug? This man appears to have psychological scars he finds far too painful to be re-opened.

Popeye compensates for his multiple pains in the same way many men do — with his over-abundant machismo. He has built up his upper torso to the point that his muscles look abnormal. He also deludes himself into thinking that downing cans of raw spinach at pivotal moments make him stronger-than-average. While spinach does have well-known nutritional value, there is no evidence that instantly absorbing such spinach will provide abnormal musculature in just a matter of seconds. Therefore, we can conclude only that spinach serves as a placebo for Popeye — a way for him to swallow his internal pain when circumstances become too much for him.


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Olive Oyl

Though this is never specifically stated in the cartoons, one surmises that Olive Oyl gave her heart to a man who was the love of her life, only to be deserted by him and left with his baby (Swee’Pea). It was after this heartbreak that Olive decided she would never again leave herself so vulnerable to one man’s machinations. Thus, she has two rivals for her affections (Popeye and Bluto), and she constantly wavers between the two of them in a classic example of passive-aggressiveness.

She also has difficulty maintaining a home and a job. In the early cartoons, she is seen living in a large (if not lavish) house, but later she is reduced to residing in a shabby apartment. In each cartoon that shows Olive at work, she is always at a job different from the previous ones (child caretaker, stenographer, scriptwriter, etc.). This, too, indicates the instability into which she was thrown when her erstwhile lover left her.

Lastly, even the only two men with whom she will associate often physically abuse her — each one pulling her by a separate arm, sometimes knocking her unconscious, getting her head used as a door knocker when Popeye calls on her, etc. Olive’s sweetness and outward cheer belie a case of extremely low self-esteem.


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Bluto

Simply and obviously, Bluto is the classic bully. He feels he can get what he wants only through loudness and brusqueness, and he has accomplished so little in life that he derives satisfaction only from tearing down other’s achievements.

Bluto is especially annoyed by Popeye, the one person in the world who stands up to him. Nearly all of Bluto’s encounters with Popeye end in a violent fight, usually lost by Bluto once Popeye downs his spinach. One would think that Bluto would eventually admit defeat and deal with his sense of rage, but he continues to fight Popeye every chance he gets.

This battle — both between Bluto and Popeye, and Bluto and himself — has gone on for so long that, as with Wile E. Coyote and his single-minded pursuit of the Road Runner — it is the fight itself that has become Bluto’s reason to live. In the few instances where Bluto and Popeye try to remain civil, the old pattern emerges and they come to blows all over again.

Most troubling of all is Bluto’s documented abuse of animals — horses, parrots, monkeys, etc. — which is a blatant symptom of psychotic behavior. In a way, it’s almost a relief that Bluto has Popeye to beat up, so that he doesn’t inflict his hostilities on others around him (though Olive receives her share of Bluto’s abuse too, as noted above).

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Sadly, Bluto’s rage and lack of self-reflection briefly resulted in his having a split personality, his other persona going by the name of Brutus. Fortunately, this lasted for only a brief period in the 1960’s.

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In conclusion, my pseudo-psychological musings only prove how well-rounded and -thought-out these delightful characters are. I encourage you to seek them out, on YouTube and wherever you can find them.