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

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in HOSPITALIKY (1937) – Taking a turn for the nurse

Hospitaliky

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Olive Oyl is a hospital nurse. To get Olive for himself, Popeye and Bluto each knock on the hospital door and try to garner Olive’s sympathy with their fake illness. (Popeye’s histrionics result in one of the great unheralded pieces of animation in this series. Love that chicken from Popeye!)

When Olive realizes The Boys are both faking, she tells them that someone must be very sick or in great pain to be admitted to a hospital, and then she leaves them to their own devices. If this isn’t a situation pregnant with comedy, blow me down.

Popeye and Bluto add new meaning to the phrase “an accident waiting to happen,” as they practically will themselves to get killed, only to come out of each situation annoyingly unscathed. (The all-time winner is when Bluto crashes a motorcycle into a wall, only to have two dutiful ambulance drivers zip in and rescue the motorcycle.)

Popeye and Bluto end up fighting each other for a spot in front of an oncoming train. (In a welcome piece of nostalgia, it’s the train that makes its own face, from Popeye’s debut cartoon.) In a beautiful twist, the fight ends with Popeye breaking out the spinach and making Bluto eat it; thus, Bluto beats Popeye sufficiently enough to garner Olive’s attentions.

Maybe it’s time for Bluto to re-open his fight club and re-hire Olive as its nurse (Can You Take It?).

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

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in ME FEELINS IS HURT (1940) – Olive switches allegiances again

Poster2

Popeye comes ashore and gets the latest in Olive Oyl’s never-ending series of “Dear John” letters:

Letter

Sure, Olive, and last week it was aviators. What next, podiatrists?

Popeye sails his tugboat across the country (literally — that sucker does better on dry land than it does in the water) to Olive’s current residence, the Bar None Ranch. Olive is mooning over…wait for it…cowboy Bluto, who calls Popeye a “tenderfoot” and gets the logical response, “Me feet ain’t tender, I always walk like that.”

Bluto gives Popeye a wild bronco to ride and then has huge laughs at Popeye’s expense when the bronco gives Popeye a hard time. But Popeye eventually subdues the horse, winning back in record time the affections of Olive (well, that’s certainly worth a lot). Then Bluto tries to steal Olive back, Popeye whips out the spinach, you know the drill.

A fairly routine storyline, saved by full-bodied and funny animation.

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

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in STEALIN’ AIN’T HONEST (1940) – Not quite comedy gold, but close

StealingAintHonestPopeye and Olive Oyl are heading a ship for Olive’s secret gold mine (to which they are easily directed by a big neon sign reading “Olive’s Secret Gold Mine”). But old reliable Bluto gets there first and tries to grab the gold for himself.

This cartoon sometimes relies too heavily on the gratuitous violence of which 1950’s parents so often accused these cartoons. But it’s balanced out somewhat by some very good gags, the best of which is Bluto’s fey remark when he can’t quite reach his goal: “Sometimes I get so discouraged!”

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

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in PLEASED TO MEET CHA! (1935) – Time to clean house

PleasedToMeetCha

Suitors Popeye and Bluto arrive at Olive’s house (Bluto at the back door, Popeye at the front) to court Olive. Olive can’t decide which doorbell to answer, but it’s a moot point when they both burst in and start whomping on each other. Olive tries to make peace by having them both sit with her on the couch, but they still whomp on each other when she’s not looking.

When Olive says one of the guys will have to go, Bluto offers that the guy who does the best trick can stay. The “tricks” involve more whomping, and Olive seems unusually content to watch her two beaus beat each other up, at least until they start destroying the house. (It’s always funny until somebody puts a house out.) Popeye opens his spinach can unusually elaborately, gets Bluto out of the way, and cleans the house 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 MY ARTISTICAL TEMPERATURE (1937) – But is it art?

download

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The cartoon opens outside the Sweet Art Studio. (Speaking of “artistical,” you gotta love that subway shadow at the fade-in. Some of these unheralded Fleischer moments put even Walt Disney to shame.) The studio’s come-on signs read: “Portraits Painted – If It Looks Like You, $10; If It Doesn’t, $15,” and “Sculpturing Done Without Chiseling.” Ten points for guessing which he-man does the painting and which one does the sculpturing.

Popeye is sculpturing a woman holding a vase upward, but the arms keep slipping, so Popeye rips the arms off and turns her into a Venus DeMilo. But jealous painter Bluto lobs some black paint at her and turns her into Al Jolson.

Customer Olive Oyl enters and says she’ll sit for a portrait and a sculpture and then pay for whichever looks the best. (Nice. She ought to just come right out Wimpy-style and say, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a work of art today.”)

Popeye sculpts a brilliant likeness of Olive, except that the likeness comes out standing on her hands, so Popeye makes Olive do the same. Olive is surprisingly agreeable to this, but of course Bluto isn’t, so they beat each other up by way of tearing apart their studio. (Do they do this with every customer?)

The ensuing violence is actually quite funny, as The Boys’ fighting inadvertently “turn” each other into famous works of art. As The Three Stooges taught us, trying to teach culture to those who aren’t prepared for it can often be a dangerous thing.

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

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in BEWARE OF BARNACLE BILL (1935) – Olive gets fickle again

BewareOfBarnacleBill

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Popeye comes to Olive Oyl’s apartment and gives her the “important news” that he’s going to let her “axe” him to marry her. As difficult as it would be to turn down such a romantic proposal, Olive tells Popeye she has fallen for “Barnacle Bill, the Sailor” (Bluto by any other name), giving Popeye and Olive an excuse to sing the old song about the two-faced old sailor.

Bluto shows up to take Olive away, but he barely gets out his usual blustery greetings before Popeye knocks him into the ocean. Olive quickly concludes, “Popeye dear, I love you best,” but for once Popeye is having none of it. He declares all women unfaithful and storms out of the apartment. Sure enough, Olive cries that “the Navy” has left her behind…”but still, there’s the Army!”

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