Friday, March 08, 2013

Still axing after all these years

Welp, according to Wikipedia, we're damn close to the 80th anniversary of the release of Axe Me Another.  That's what I get for not timing these things better.  But let's review it now anyway.  I fixated on this one because 1) it's awesome, and 2) it's on the first DVD of Volume One, and I guess I haven't strayed too far from the first DVD out of laziness, unless I need to see the two-reel color spectaculars.  And even though Axe Me Another doesn't feature any of the patented Fleischer 3D backgrounds, it's still got a few labor-intensive 3D effects to it.


We see Popeye in his.... oh, brother... his workshop on the water.  I'm NOT going to call it a "man-cave," by God!  Anyway, he's hammering away on a rowboat, and he's got a mouthful of nails, about 13 to be exact, and spits them out as he sings his usual opening theme.  When suddenly... we hear Olive Oyl cry for help.  Popeye runs out to the edge of his dock, takes out a flimsy telescope and looks out on the water.  He sees Olive Oyl struggling to maintain her balance on a floating log.  Popeye runs back into his shop on the water to finish the boat.  He lifts it up to find it has no bottom.  When was the last time you saw a subtle gag like this in a cartoon?  Probably not a new one on Cartoon Network.  Do they even show cartoons anymore?  Anyway, Popeye knows he needs to rush, so he quickly paints some gooey-looking glue on the bottom of his boat, and uses the floor of his shop as the boat's bottom, quickly sawing an outline in the floor. I'll let the mask-taped-glasses set debate over that one, but I'll get the debate started... It is highly dubious to use any floor as the bottom of a boat.  And now, there's the small matter of getting to boat out of the shop. Tis pity it's too big for the door.  We see Olive fall into the water off the log.  Back to Popeye who's in head-scratching mode now.  "Wotsa matta with this thing?" he mumbles to himself.  Olive screams for help again, and Popeye decides that that's it.  He grabs a mallet and levels his shop to the ground to liberate the boat, and go save Olive.  That still brings tears to my eyes, for some reason.  Kinda clears my sinuses, too!  I'm going to watch this clip every night from now on.
Popeye takes to the water and, wit one flick of his oars, the rowboat becomes a power boat.   The band plays an instrumental version of Popeye's original theme song from the very first couple of cartoons.  He gets over to Olive who's passed out, but she managed to drape herself over a log.  "It's Olive Oyl!" exclaims Popeye.  Again, the mask-tape-glasses crowd can stew over that one as well.  Popeye pumps Olive Oyl's stomach by using her leg like a derrick or something, and out comes about a half gallon of water.  "What happened?" asks Popeye in time with the background music.  Olive informs Popeye that Pierre Bluto threw her into the water because he didn't want to try her spinach.  That does it.  Popeye's pipe spins, but it doesn't make the noise we're accustomed to; here, for instance.  Popeye declares "Anyone who doesn't like spinach is my EMENY!!!"  The background courses by violently.


And so, their honor at stake, and frankly because they have nothing better to do, Popeye rows his boat up the side of the hill up to Pierre Bluto's worksite.  Pierre Bluto grabs Olive out of the boat with his whip.  How rude!  (Pierre) Bluto grabs Olive in his big burly arm and bellows out to her "SO YA COME BACK TO PIERRE!  YES?  NO?"  That's how you know he's French.  "NO!" screams Olive.  Popeye says "All right, break it up" and shoves Olive out of the picture by her face.  How rude!  Popeye then plays a subtle hat game with (Pierre) Bluto, which I've never seen done in real life.  Maybe some idiot's got a YouTube video of that on the YouTube, of live action people trying to do that with a hat.  Pierre is insulted, and says so, and Popeye rubs more salt into the wound by giving Pierre a face full of pipe smoke.  Popeye fancily steps over to a sign on a tree that reads "PIERRE BLUTO - CHAMPION LUMBERJACK - CHALLENGES ALL COMERS," but Popeye reads it as "takes on all comers."
Now comes the usual pissing match.  As much as I hate to side with (Pierre) Bluto on this one, Popeye's just the Johnny Come Lately on this one.  Of course Popeye's going to beat Bluto at everything, because Bluto's in this lumber racket for the long haul, and he's learned to parcel out his energy over a 30-year span with a comfortable retirement at the end.  Popeye's only there for one day like some kind of non-union scab!  I'd like to see him punch trees for 30 years.  He wouldn't last two weeks!
But seeing as how this takes up most of the cartoon, let's dive into all the messy details.  Popeye tells (Pierre) Bluto, "I'll do anything that you do!"  Pierre Bluto had his chest puffed up, but it turns to a pot belly, and the music begins.  Love that tuba.  And it's time once again for the competing feats of strength.  First feat: the ax throw.  Bluto throws his ax, and buries it high up in a tree.  But before the ax lands, it seems to be held by some invisible force that makes sure it will land solidly in the tree, and not just glance off and fall to the ground.  Perhaps Bluto could learn to master the Jedi stuff like Popeye seems to have!
For those of you who hate musicals, this is the musical portion of the cartoon.  Popeye takes his ax in his mouth and hurls it at another tree.  Popeye's smaller ax flies past Bluto's ax, lands in a different tree, but splits that tree completely in half!  Pierre Bluto is shocked.  "I'll do anything that you do!" sings Popeye.  You know, this reminds me of that one Seinfeld episode where they were selling computers, and the one guy wasn't actually moving any units; he just liked ringing the bell.  The point being, Popeye's just rubbing it in now.  Popeye's fairly decent at the psychological torture.
Next feat: the climbing of trees, and pruning them from the top down.  I hate to critique the Fleischer's craftsmanship, but it's there for the whole world to see, so I have to point it out.  During the long shot of Popeye's tree climb, look in the lower right hand corner, where a tree stump will suddenly appear out of nowhere.  Sloppy work, guys.  Sloppy work.  Not to mention that the trees that Pierre Bluto and Popeye climb are kinda weird looking.  They look more like octopus tentacles than trees, and when they start the pruning, that comparison will only grow more apt.  Bluto clearly loses this feat, as he has a lot less branches to clear, and he does it at a slower tempo than the song.  Popeye clears all his branches in tempo with the music, and beats Pierre Bluto to the ground.  But again, I defer to my argument from earlier: Popeye's just here one day, while Pierre's in it for the long haul: 30 years, paying into Social Security, what have you.  From afar we hear Popeye sing "I'll do anything that you do!"  Reminds me of the story that Chuck Jones told about one day when he was working with the sound mixer on a Wile E. Coyote cartoon... ah, skip it.
Next feat of strength: Pierre Bluto quickly chops down the tree he just pruned.  He cuts two wedges out of the trunk, then pushes the tree over.  Popeye punches his tree into a series of clean-cut logs of equal length.  Another little something for the masking-taped-glasses set to get all Professor Frink-y about.  But I do like the music just before Popeye gets started.  Well, I'm a sucker for the fun stuff, what can I say?
Did I mention that Popeye hasn't even eaten the spinach yet?
Next feat: like that Scottish log tossing game, Bluto picks up three rather big logs and heaves them over towards the long wooden ramp that will carry them to the river.  Believe it or not, no matter how much the creators of The Simpsons try to deny it, Popeye is an unlikely proponent of working smarter, not harder!  Popeye pulls a tree from the ground by its roots and uses it as a giant baseball bat to knock his group of logs directly onto the wooden ramp, and down to the river they go.  The tears are starting to flow again.
Now, you'd think that Pierre Bluto would be thankful for all the free labor that Popeye's given him, but there's more at stake than a day's work.  It's the love of Olive Oyl now.  She comes over and swoons over Popeye and his moment of triumph.  Realizing that he'll never win against Popeye playing by the rules, Pierre Bluto hits Popeye in the back and sends him skidding down the giant wooden ramp, and for good measure, Pierre Bluto sends a log down after Popeye.  Perfect time for an Act Break, I think.


You often hear about those emergency situations where a person's able to lift a car to save someone's life.  Scrawny Olive Oyl experiences a similar feeling when she picks up a log and hits Pierre Bluto in the back of the head with it, saying "How do you like that, eh?" in a French accent.  You know, just to rub it in a little more.  But screenwriters take note: it's all part of the larger plot, I'm afraid; the flimsiest of excuses to make sure that Bluto and Popeye get into their usual epic fist fight.  Popeye's happily sliding down the wooden ramp on his ass until a passed out Bluto on a log catches up to him.  Pierre Bluto comes to and starts punching Popeye so hard that Popeye does back flips, but lands on his feet nevertheless.  Pierre Bluto's more used to fighting on logs than Popeye, so he's got the advantage for now.  The music from about 5:22 to about 5:43 takes the proper somber, dramatic turn.
The fighting duo land in the river and on separate logs.  Pierre Bluto knocks Popeye into the water and starts to lose his balance.  Popeye emerges from the water, and climbs onto his log, and Pierre Bluto knocks him back into the water.  This second blow is significant, and sends Popeye to the bottom of this very, very deep river, gargling all the way.  He sounds like Wimpy when he gargles!  It's spinach time, no doubt about that.  Popeye doesn't usually engulf a wad of spinach while underwater, so this will have to be a first.
I can actually review this film in my sleep, and seeing as how finals are coming up, I better.  Let's finish this puppy uppy!  And so, like Superman flying up into the air, Popeye flies up through the water to the surface.  That's a very, very deep river!  Let's just hope Popeye doesn't get a bad case of "the bends" or an underwater "brain freeze."  Okay, this I had to watch again: Popeye leaps out of the water and lands on a log.  He doesn't hit Bluto on the way out of the water; a true celluloid hero would never do that.  But he does give Pierre Bluto a good wallop, sending him to the next log down.  Pierre Bluto tries creeping up on Popeye, but Popeye steps down on the log and hits Pierre Bluto in the chin, sending him flying back to the end of the adjacent log.  I smell an infinite loop coming up!  Bluto only gets hit in the chin three times, though.  Any more than that would just be boring and/or cruel.  Popeye then sends Pierre Bluto flying out of this scene with a punch.
Next scene: some labor-intensive 3D-esque animation.  We're floating down the river and Pierre Bluto comes flying out of the distance, and lands standing up on two logs.  The trees going by look a little better than that infinite suburb from a few Popeye shorts ago.  GET OUTTA ME WAY, YA GREAT BIG PALOOKA!  Ah, good times.  So, Pierre Bluto's got two feet on different logs, and they start to drift farther and farther apart, until he falls into the water.  The force of his falling in is so great that the logs get sucked back towards each other, and Pierre Bluto gets knocked in the head.  He doesn't pass out, though.  Why, he's feeling so good, he climbs right back up and does it a second time!  So, it impaired his judgment slightly.  Fortunately for us, we only go through this animation loop twice.  Bluto learns his lesson, picks up a log right out of the water and starts log leaping right back over to Popeye.  Dayamn, did Pierre Bluto eat some spinach of his own?  Or is he all adrenaline'd up?  A little of both, maybe.  Pierre Bluto makes it over to Popeye and is prepared to mash him with this giant log, but Popeye beats him to the punch, so to speak.  Popeye punches Pierre Bluto's log, then Pierre.  Time for another construction, and look!  Why, there's a handy log raft to hold it, too!  Popeye's punch to the log creates a fancy high chair big enough for Pierre Bluto to sit in.  It's even got four wheels on it.  Ikea couldn't have done any better.  Pierre Bluto lands in the chair and gets locked in by one of those planks that holds the baby's plate in place and, like a baby, Pierre Bluto starts sobbing openly.  As for me, the tears are flowing again.


Olive runs up with another giant bowl of spinach, and she and Popeye stuff Pierre Bluto's mouth with the stuff as he cries.  Popeye sings his usual theme.  Another one of the greats as far as I'm concerned.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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