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 Wimpy in PLUMBIN’ IS A “PIPE” (1938) – Great comedy on tap

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

To clean her apartment floor, Olive Oyl spreads soapy water across her floor, attaches towels to her feet, and skates across the floor to soak up the water. (Is this really the same woman who can barely stay upright five cartoons later, in A Date to Skate?)

Then a pipe on the side of the wall springs a leak. Olive plugs the leak while she calls a plumber — ever-helpful Wimpy, who offers the query, “Why didn’t you call yesterday? I was in that part of the neighborhood.” Wimpy does his usual un-speedy work in getting to Olive’s place, leaving enough time for Popeye to pop in.

Between the two of them, Popeye and Olive turn a single leak into multiple geysers. The house nearly floods before Popeye pulls out his “plumber’s helper” — the spinach can.

As with most of the great Fleischer cartoons, a breezily simple plot is propped up by delightfully elaborate gags. A simple pleasure to watch.

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

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 and Olive Oyl in WIMMEN IS A MYSKERY (1940) – So is conception, in this instance

Wimmen

Popeye proposes marriage to Olive Oyl, and she tells him she will give him an answer the next morning. While Olive sleeps on it, she has a dream of domestic life with Popeye’s offspring.

This cartoon introduces the bratty, Popeye-cloned quartet that served as the Fleischers’ answer to Donald Duck’s roguish nephews. (Here, the boys are named differently from later cartoons; they’re Pep- , Pup- , Pip- , and Peep-Eye.) By any name, they ought to be enough to induce Olive to purchase a lifetime supply of birth control.

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

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

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(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 Wimpy in CHOOSE YER ‘WEPPINS’ (1935) – A duel to the debt

FINAL

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The cartoon begins with Wimpy as a police officer (oh, the social commentary inherent here!), leading a dandified thief in handcuffs. Wimpy stops to observe a local hamburger stand, leaving the thief sufficient time to break free.

The thief happens upon Popeye’s Pawn Shoppe, where he observes Popeye beating up an inanimate suit of armor and decides he can make a killing here. Sure enough, he enters the pawnshop, picks up a box of silverware laid out in the shop, and tries to sell it back to clerk Olive Oyl — who was distracted from the theft by her own game of mumblety-peg with a nearby knife (at one point bouncing the knife off her fanny). The thief almost makes the sale, too, except he asks too much money for this obviously discerning clerk to pay him. (She determines the knives’ value by playing another round of mumblety-peg with one of them.)

Popeye intervenes and demonstrates the low value of the knives by using one of them to slice a hair; the blade promptly falls into two pieces. (So then why did Popeye’s store have the knives to start with?)

The brute engages Popeye in a sword fight, at which Popeye is at a notable disadvantage; Popeye’s sword phallically droops during the fight, and at one point the suit of armor hits him back in revenge for getting beaten up earlier. From behind the counter, Olive helpfully pulls out an already-opened can of spinach (what’s the pawn value for that these days?), and Popeye’s strength (not to mention the bulge on his sword) is reinforced.

The series’ motif of playing “Stars and Stripes Forever” during Popeye’s climactic battle gets one of its more clever variations here, as Popeye slowly denudes the thief in time to the cartoon’s playful version of the march. The thief gets knocked back into the handcuffs of Wimpy, who’s still drooling over hamburgers and hadn’t even realized his charge had escaped.

Lesson: Popeye is a hero and a worthy adversary, but don’t let him get within a hundred yards of a pawnshop.

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

POPEYE MEETS RIP VAN WINKLE (1941) – Not exactly an historic occasion

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There appears to have been, Superman-style, some perverse bizarro world in which Dave and Max Fleischer were told, “That Popeye Meets William Tell [1940] cartoon of yours was a riot. How about a sequel? And be sure to stick in another non sequitor Marx Brothers gag, okay?”

(For those who care, this cartoon features a “cameo” by Chico Marx. The most probable reason for this, and the earlier cartoon’s nod to Groucho, is that Fleischer animator Shamus Culhane was married to Chico’s daughter Maxine, so apparently Culhane felt compelled to make cutesy show-biz nods to his famous in-laws. Click here to go to the Internet Movie Database’s scorching critique of Culhane’s live-action short Showdown at Ulcer Gulch [1956], in which Culhane pressured Groucho and Chico to make nervous cameo appearances.)

Popeye happens upon infamous sleep-king Rip Van Winkle being evicted from his apartment for failure to pay 20 years’ worth of rent. Popeye feels sorry for the guy and decides to take him in and protect him. That’s about all the story there is, except for a bizarre subplot about bowling that features more of the Fleischers’ Gulliver’s Travels midgets.

Unlike the color “specials” in which Popeye interacts with thought-out storybook characters, there’s no compelling reason for this cartoon’s existence. Rip could have been any old homeless sleeper from the way he’s characterized here. I rate this cartoon a half-star about William Tell solely because of the animation quality and a couple of chuckle-worthy gags, but the cartoon hardly qualifies for inclusion in the National Film Registry.

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

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

LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE (1939) – Popeye gets advice from a parrot

LeaveWellEnoughAlone

After getting a major guilt trip upon seeing the caged animals at Olive Oyl’s Pet Shop, Popeye buys the lot of them and sets them all free. The only animal that doesn’t leave is a parrot, who conveys his thoughts about freedom to Popeye via the title tune.

A strange sense of melancholy permeates this cartoon, especially from the idea that usually-street-wise Popeye thinks he can help the animals by abandoning them in the street. It’s a sorry day when a talking parrot has more savvy than Popeye.

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