Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in I WANNA BE A LIFEGUARD (1936) – When it comes to lifeguards, summer better than others


(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The community pool needs a life guard. Two locals (ahem) look through the peephole in the pool’s fence, see Olive Oyl doing a belly-flop, and decide that this is the bathing beauty they have to impress. (Eye of the beholder and all that.)

So Popeye and Bluto are allowed to compete for the job. If the vote was strictly based on their rendition of the title tune, Popeye (complete with “Mammy!” finish) would win in an instant, but Olive jeers at Popeye because of his old-fashioned bathing suit (and she’s the looker, so she should know).

The typical Popeye-and-Bluto whizzing contest is enhanced by the Fleischers’ as-always-stunning back- and fore-grounds, and elaborate swim stunts, most of which would put your local lifeguard to shame. At cartoon’s end, Popeye is the lifeguard, having turned Bluto into a human fountain after duking it out with him underwater.

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

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


(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


(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 and Olive Oyl in OLIVE’S BOITHDAY PRESINK (1941) – What the market will bear


Popeye decides to buy a bearskin fur coat for Olive’s birthday. Popeye first tries to deal with a cheating furrier, who tries to pass off a rabbit-skin fur as bearskin until (in probably the cartoon’s best gag) a cute little bunny muzzles the coat and pleads, “Mommy? Mommy?”

Popeye decides to hunt for his own bearskin. Once Popeye encounters a bear, the cartoon turns into a variation on Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes hunting epics, with the wily bear doing Bugs Bunny and the usually savvy Popeye standing in for clueless Elmer Fudd. (Tedd Pierce, a long-time Warner Bros. story man, gets a story credit here, possibly explaining the similarities. For an interesting contrast, check out the Bugs cartoon Hare Brush [1955], which pulls a similar switcheroo, even including an unruly bear.)

That said, it’s a pretty funny outing, particularly when Popeye suffers a guilt trip as the bear’s family pays him a teary farewell visit.

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


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


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


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


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


(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


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