Saturday, December 15, 2012

There's gonna be a backache tonight, a backache tonight I know............

Just as Peter Gabriel helped introduce the world to armpit-haired Paula Cole, so too did Betty Boop introduce the world to Popeye... or maybe they just forgot to change the banner!  And as with the eventual evolution of things, the Popeye shorts didn't come right out of the gate with the theme song.  What is this strange thing?  "Strike up the band for Popeye the Sailor..."  What gives?  Oh well.  Enjoy it while it lasts.

ACT ONE

Well, the acts in this one should be shorter, anyhow.  About two minutes apiece.  Anyway, there's a few films that come with their own built-in advertising: Ghost Busters 1 and Jurassic Park spring to mind right away.  There's others, I'm sure.  The first Popeye short starts with a shot of a newspaper that says "POPEYE A MOVIE STAR: The Sailor with the "Sock" accepts Movie Contract."  Of course, the films will be a little bit different than the strips.  No Sea Hag.  No Popeye with a thousand million arrows stuck in him.  And I hate to say it, but I'm about as fond of William Costello's raspy voice as Jack Mercer's.  But I'm sure any number of anonymous posters will change my mind on that score.  And so, we begin with Popeye stretching himself to life, not right out of the Fleischer inkwell, but close enough.  The first rendition of Popeye's theme begins in earnest.  The note he strikes with his pipe's a little bit lower.  Again, we haven't finished evolving yet.  Man, he's one ugly son of a bitch.
Some say Popeye was the first superhero.  After Jesus, of course.  For his first feats of strength, Popeye turns an anchor into a pile of tiny fish hooks.  Then, he turns a clock mounted on a ship's steering wheel into a bunch of alarm clocks.  Then he turns a mast into clothespins!  Such destruction.  But so far the ship can take it.  For his final act to finish the song, he punches a mounted fish into sardine cans.  Blow me down indeed.  (Note: do NOT eat those sardines!)
The Fleischer wit's ever present in these things.  An anonymous sailor goes to put the... you know, that ramp that people use to get off and on the boat.  It doesn't quite reach the pier, so he raises a special valve on the side of the ship that lowers it by filling up the ship with water.  It's a cartoon, damn it!  A cartoon.  Meanwhile, Olive Oyl waits for Popeye to de-boat.  She's hit on by an adult Bimbo, and a one-legged Pig that sounds oddly enough like Popeye!  After that comes Bluto (Brutus for the Disney lawyers out there).  Bluto tickles Olive under the chin, and right away Olive starts slugging Bluto in the face.  Then, she sits on her back and kicks him in the face.  Both feet!  She's got the right idea already.  Popeye finally shows up, shoves Bluto aside, and Popeye and Olive walk off together.  Popeye says "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man!"  His lines get better down the road, thankfully. 
Anyway, now Bluto's mad.  He's so mad, his tattoo of a ship on his chest sinks!  One end of Bluto's shirt grabs the other, and hides Bluto's chest again.  This ain't over.

ACT TWO

Scene: a typical Fleischer carnival, where groups of people jump onto the Ferris wheel, then onto the rollercoaster.  OSHA's nightmare.  Bluto's extremely rude to the peacock taking admissions to the carnival.
Now, as often happens between Popeye and Bluto, it's time for feats of strength.  First feat: that game where you hit a lever and the metal thing goes up... man!  Some college education I got!  Bluto merely hits the top, while Popeye gives the sun a black eye.  Who's alpha dog now, bitch? 
I gotta stop using that phrase.  Too much like Lay's potato chips.  Next game: one that's probably banned from regular TV.  It seems to be something like "Bean the Negro."  Let's leave it at that.  There's a dude at the end of a long room bobbing his head.  Olive throws a ball at him and misses.  Bluto hits the dude and catches the ball in his teeth.  Popeye grabs a bunch of balls, makes a pyramid stack in his arm, and hits the dude repeatedly with balls.  Popeye: 2, Bluto: a big zero.
Next part: time to recycle the footage of Betty Boop as a hula dancer, but the gathered crowd seems excited.  Animaniacs be damned.  Yeah, that's right, I said it.  Even Olive jumps for joy!  Nasty.
Popeye joins Boop on stage, and the riding of coattails is complete.  Betty's doomed to wither and die under the foot of the Hays Code, while Popeye is meant to thrive and prosper.  But both still do well, living on as merchandising, if I may be so bold.

ACT THREE

While Popeye tangles with a snake, Bluto sees his chance to steal Olive away for his own.  Well, they gotta fight over someone, anyhow.  "Marry me!", Bluto bellows.  Betty, Popeye, and everyone else look on in horror.  Popeye revs up and the chase is on.  Bluto destroys a rope bridge in his wake, but Popeye moves mountains to get Olive back, dragging the other end of the chasm over to him with a mere rope.  Meanwhile, a bird flies by and squeaks.
Back to Bluto, who's tying Olive to the railroad tracks!  However, he's using the iron rails of the track to do it, which actually might protect Olive to a point when the train comes.  But before that, Popeye approaches from the distance... cool!  That's one move Gene Deitch could never do in a million years, at least not as well as the Fleischers.  Bluto decks Popeye, and Popeye flies far away, hitting his head against a big rock.  The rock breaks into pebbles.  Popeye hits Bluto under the chin with both feet, turning his neck into the game from earlier.  Bluto starts spinning Popeye around like Gale spins H.I. in Raising Arizona.  And then... on comes the train.  The Fleischers have some fun with it, though.
A mighty fight erupts between Popeye and Bluto.  Bluto ends up repeatedly jumping up and down on Popeye's back, nearly squashing him like a bug.  Popeye appears to be bored with the whole thing.  I wonder how audiences back in the d... back then handled such a sight.  And so, Popeye goes for the spinach for the first time, which evidently didn't happen so often in the old Thimble Theatre strips.  But movies require simplicity, and the simplicity of a dude eating spinach to get superpowers originates with ol' bucktoothed Dr. Kellogg... something like that.  Popeye pulls the spinach from the can, and it looks a bit like a pile of loose grass clippings, much like what Moe had in G.I. Wanna Home.  It's all loosely connected.  While Popeye's eating the spinach, Bluto goes for the big tree next to them, pulling it from the ground like a dandelion, and raising it over his head to hit Popeye with.  Popeye punches the tree first, then Bluto.  Both fly into the air, and down comes wood to make Bluto's coffin with.  Is this the end of Bluto as we know it?

EPILOGUE

There's something about the way Popeye saves Olive from the oncoming train that I really dig.  A slight endorsement of procrastination, perhaps.  The only bad thing about this YouTube link is that it's the old AAP version of the cartoon for television, and doesn't have the whole inkwell ending the Fleischers intended.  Anyhow, a classic cartoon, and a classic beginning to a classic series.  I highly recommend watching them all yourself!

****
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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