Popeye and Olive Oyl in A DATE TO SKATE (1938) – Squeals on wheels

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Popeye and Olive Oyl are out on a date when they come across a skating rink with another of those silly Fleischer come-on signs: “Good Skates, 50 Cents – Cheap Skates, 25 Cents.” Much to Olive’s reluctance, Popeye offers to teach her how to skate.

The first obstacle at the rink is when the clerk asks for Olive’s shoe size. The camera does a priceless pan across Olive’s elongated tootsies as she mutters, “I’ll take a three-and-a-half, but an eight feels so good.” (Do they come in sixteens?) Popeye demonstrates his courtly charm by pounding the skates onto Olive’s feet in the same way he did his work in Shoein’ Hosses.

Once they get on the rink, the animators have a field day. Watching surprisingly smooth Popeye and gawky Olive go through their motions — is this the same couple who danced so fluidly in Morning, Noon and Night Club? — is a cinematic pleasure right up there with Charlie Chaplin’s The Rink. And after seeing three people pass for a crowd in Let’s Celebrake, it’s a treat to see the lavish, fully realized skating rink in which Popeye and Olive contort.

The rink’s fun doesn’t last for long, though, because Popeye accidentally knocks Olive out of the rink, and she goes skating for her life through city streets. Popeye can’t find his day-saving can of spinach (never leave home without it!), so he asks the movie audience if there’s any to spare, and a moviegoer helpfully throws him a can. (Is that what it cost to get into a movie theater in 1938?)

Popeye and Olive spend about ten miles skating within a breath of each other before they finally crash. Popeye asks if she’s hurt, and with a kid’s enthusiasm, she replies: “Let’s do it again!”

Utterly charming, and with nary a Bluto in sight.

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

Popeye and Olive Oyl in STRONG TO THE FINICH (1934) – Popeye serves super-spinach

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Olive Oyl runs a “health farm for children.” Olive and Popeye try to serve spinach to the kids, but they’re sick of it, and Popeye can’t convince them it’s good for their health. So he turns into Johnny Spinach-Seed, spreading spinach everywhere and making plants and animals bulk up. (Hey, are their steroids in that stuff?)

When one of the kids feeds spinach to a couple of emaciated cows, they turn into huge bulls and terrorize the kids. Popeye gets his fix of the green stuff, knocks out the bulls, and inspires the kids to eat their spinach. Soon enough, they’re miniature Popeyes tearing apart the countryside (was that what Popeye hoped to achieve?).

Another entry that’s more funny/cute than funny/ha-ha. Lock those kids up before they form a gang.

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

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

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(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

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

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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

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?

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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

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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