Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, and Wimpy in MORNING, NOON AND NIGHTCLUB (1937) – Feets of strength

NightClub

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

“Popito” and “Olivita” are nightly dancers at Wimpy’s Café. Bluto gets his kicks by punching in Popeye’s face from ads posted all over town. (Bluto heartily confesses, “I never did like that guy!” We never would have guessed.)

Bluto waits at Olive’s stage door and tries to pick her up (“What a sweet momma!” he touchingly declares), but Olive snubs him, so Bluto decides…wait for it…to get revenge.

Olive’s opening number is “Why Am I So Beautiful?”, which convinces us that Olive can sabotage her own act quite well without Bluto’s help. Then comes the dance duet (far superior to Olive’s solo). When Bluto’s machinations fail to ruin the act, Bluto pushes Olive aside and dances with Popeye himself. (One gets the impression that these guys are beating on each other to cover up how much they really enjoy dancing together.) Once Popeye downs the spinach, he gets happy feet, which he promptly uses to kick Bluto’s butt (literally).

Something about music just revs these cartoons up. Beautifully animated and scored.

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

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in OLIVE OYL AND WATER DON’T MIX (1942) – Olive gets an escort service

FINAL

Fellow sailors Popeye and Bluto vow to never again lose their heads over a woman. As you might guess, this vow lasts only slightly longer than the opening credits.

Olive Oyl boards the ship and requests a chaperone, and boy, does she gets shown the ship. This very predictable template for future Popeye-and-Bluto-battle-for-Olive’s-hand cartoons is redeemed solely by the flexibility of Olive Oyl, both in personality (she’s very agreeable to both men for a change) and animation (never has Olive’s rubbery, Stretch Armstrong bendability been more amply demonstrated).

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spiinach cans, I give this cartoon: CanCanCan

Popeye, Wimpy, and Bluto in WHAT – NO SPINACH? (1936) – You wanna buy a duck?

download

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

In plot terms, What – No Spinach? is little more than a reversal on We Aim to Please (1934); here, Bluto runs a restaurant, and Popeye is his customer. The cartoon’s pleasures come from the embellishments on the now-well-known characters — particularly Wimpy, whose mumblings here elevate him to equal comic status with Popeye and Bluto.

The cartoon opens with an exterior shot of Bluto’s Restaurant, the menu for which is just as intimidating as its owner: “Ham Sandwich, 10 Cents – With Ham, 15 Cents – Bread, 5 Cents Extra.” One wonders how Bluto would react if you deigned to ask him for mustard on the sandwich.

As if that isn’t discouraging enough, Wimpy is the restaurant’s chef. His first scene shows him delivering “ode to a hamburger” while fixing same with such zest that this clip would be worthy of broadcast on cable TV’s Food Network. It’s almost charming to find Wimpy as this enthusiastic of a chef — if only Bluto didn’t have to steal the final product away to keep Wimpy from eating it.

Then Popeye comes in and orders roast duck (which, as we all know, was a specialty of Depression-era greasy-spoon restaurants). Of course, Wimpy tries to steal the cooked duck for himself; when he fails, he sneaks hot sauce onto the duck when Popeye isn’t looking — under the theory, I’m guessing, that if Wimpy can’t have the food, the customer can’t either.

Popeye exhales fire after trying the duck and then rushes from the restaurant without paying. Bluto thinks Popeye is trying to welsh out of paying for his meal (now Bluto knows how it feels), so he chases Popeye down and starts beating him. Naturally, in the ensuing melee, Popeye’s omnipresent spinach can pops out and helps him fight Bluto.

I know this is “just” a cartoon, but I can’t help noticing: (1) Any guy who walks around with his own supply of spinach probably isn’t or shouldn’t be too concerned with getting roast duck to start with. (2) As with the earlier cartoon, the restaurant gets so thoroughly destroyed in the Popeye/Bluto battle, you wonder if it was worth the price of a lousy meal. “Yeah, my café was leveled, but at least I made him pay for the darn duck!”

In the end, Wimpy walks out stealing an errant hamburger — and the movie.

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

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in SHOEIN’ HOSSES (1934) – Try to make horse sense out of this one

ShoeinHosses

Olive Oyl, the “proprietress” of Ye Blacksmith Shoppe, fires blacksmith Wimpy when he is (surprise!) more concerned with his hamburger-eating than his horse-shoeing. So Olive puts out a sign to get a new blacksmith — “Must Be Strong! Handsome! Willing!” Well, here come Popeye and Bluto — two out of three’s not bad.

Olive can’t decide which man to choose, so she tells them, “Show me what you can do.” She’s lucky she has a shop left by cartoon’s end.

This one’s cute enough but still comes off like a template for the more routine Popeyes of the 1950’s and after: Popeye and Bluto have an I-can-do-it-better-than-you contest, Popeye wins, Bluto unloads a can of whup-a** on Popeye, the spinach comes out, blah blah blah. The only thing that saves this one from formula is some of the individual gags and the animated expressions (gotta love those horses getting shoed in two seconds flat).

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

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in BRIDGE AHOY! (1936) – It takes a can of spinach to build a bridge

BridgeAhoy

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The cartoon begins with Bluto running a ferry-boat and not exactly endearing himself to his customers. When Popeye and Olive’s car takes up the last of the space on the ferry, Bluto gets another car on board by ramming it into Popeye’s vehicle and squishing it like an accordion. When Wimpy tries to mooch a ferry ride, Bluto throws him into the water, and Popeye has to save him. Popeye vows to build a bridge across the river so he won’t have to endure Bluto’s high fare and obnoxious behavior.

Popeye’s is one slick bridge-building operation. High atop the uncompleted bridge, Olive cooks hamburgers and sends them one story down to Wimpy, who responds by sending up a hot rivet, which Popeye tap-dances into the proper beam. Who needs government workers?

Bluto sees Popeye’s success and of course has to thwart it. He climbs a ladder to the top of the bridge (now, how tall would a ladder like that have to be, anyway?) and sends Olive dangling from a girder, until Popeye uses a jackhammer as a pogo stick to reach Bluto and stop him.

Bluto ends up laying waste to the entire bridge, until Popeye pulls out his can of you-know-what. He sends Bluto and his ferry crashing into a building, eats a second can of spinach (watch that digestion, Popeye!) to give him strength enough to turn a girder into a huge magnet, and then, in twenty seconds, rebuilds the entire bridge and has city-wide traffic flowing onto it.

And lastly, the big spinach question.

And lastly, the big spinach question.

Okay, I gotta address this, ’cause I’ve had all I can stands and I can’t stands no more. For decades, the main theme of these cartoons is that Popeye is downtrodden by Bluto until he eats his spinach and saves the day. But if you knew that spinach could give you enough power to build a bridge across a river in twenty seconds, wouldn’t you be inclined to skip the formalities and just swallow the stuff right at the start? On one level, Popeye is a national hero, but let’s face it — on another level, he and Bluto were just macho members of their own Fight Club long before Brad Pitt was even in diapers.

That said, the cartoon is another triumph of skewed perspective for the Fleischers, who get their characters nonchalantly duking it out just a misstep away from certain death. Watching this one and A Dream Walking back-to-back makes you never want to go above the second story of any building ever again.

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

Popeye and Bluto in CAN YOU TAKE IT? (1934) – Hand over fist, a first-rate cartoon

CanYouTakeIt

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Popeye sees a sign for the “Bruiser Boys Club – Can You Take It? – We Dare You To Join.” Inside, Popeye sees muscle-bound men doing their best to bludgeon each other into hamburger. Then he finds that the club’s president is Bluto. So, ya think Popeye would want to join this place? The only thing missing is a free can of spinach to new members.

Bluto derisively shakes Popeye’s hand and gives him an enlarged, sore thumb. Popeye responds by turning his other hand into a vice when he shakes it with Bluto’s.

That would be enough for most he-men, but not for Bluto, who puts Popeye through a club initiation that looks like The Ninth Circle of Hell Amusement Park. When Popeye ends up in a hospital bed and is told by Bluto that he can’t “take it,” well, it’s all over but the spinach. Popeye finally becomes president of the club, but that’s pretty easy to do once you’ve decimated all of the other members.

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

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in THE ‘HYP-NUT-TIST’ (1935) – Swami, how I love ya

HypNutTist

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Popeye and Olive Oyl attend a performance of Bluto, “The Great Hypnotist.” But even though Bluto levitates a drum and makes a cane walk off the stage, Popeye says, “I don’t believe in such t’ings.” (Bet’cha Popeye couldn’t do that stuff even after eating a can of spinach.)

Bluto hypnotizes Olive Oyl into coming onto the stage. He then convinces her she’s a chicken, and she does a frighteningly accurate impression of one, to the point of laying an actual egg.

Popeye blows his pipe and then his fuse in frustration, uttering for the first time in a cartoon, “That’s all I can stands, ’cause I can’t stands no more!” Popeye jumps to the stage to fight Bluto. Bluto tries to hypnotize Popeye into being a monkey, but Popeye puts a full-length mirror in front of himself, sending the “whammy” back on Bluto, who turns into a climbing, shrieking monkey.

When the spell wears off, Bluto hypnotizes Popeye into being a donkey (looking an awful lot like the spellbound Pinocchio in Walt Disney’s later feature-film cartoon). Popeye’s spell wears off as well, and when the inevitable fight-and-spinach ballet goes on, Popeye tugs at Bluto’s turban and flips him out to the balcony like a yo-yo. Olive-as-chicken returns, and Popeye knocks her back into reality for the final shot.

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