Thursday, April 11, 2013

Poor Olive: Caught between a rogue and a hard face

Welp, even though I don't care for musicals all that much, I do have a fondness for the next Popeye short called Beware of Barnacle Bill.  Must be my need for a rigid structure to things.  The songs drive the plot forward, such as it is.  Usually the first song in a musical conveys a character's joy, only to have it dashed in the next song.  Here, Olive begins with a sad song and... well, let's just dive right in, shall we?


Growing weary of the same old format, Beware of Barnacle Bill switches tunes from Popeye's theme to Bill's theme when the doors open and the title is displayed.  And furthermore, Popeye doesn't even sing his theme song like he used to!  I dare say they're trying to pack more story in or something.  We see Popeye's fingers walking up to Olive's doorbell at her apartment, real Tom Jones style.  And, of course, I have to study the other names: Mike Smith, Jimmy Jones ... Maggi Stork?  Better get the DVD out at some point instead of just YouTube-ing it.  The front door to Olive's apartment building starts making Morse code noises, and that's Popeye's cue to enter.  When's the last time you saw city life portrayed like this in a Disney cartoon?  Never, that's when!
Next scene: Olive comes out in the hallway and smiles at Popeye... but for a split second, she's got a worried look on her face.  What does that portend?  She says hello to Popeye but he just walks past into her place.  The nerve.  Olive shrugs at the audience in wonderment, until Popeye sticks his head out and wraspily "Hello"s right back.  Olive goes inside.
Next scene: Popeye sheepishly presents Olive with the gift of flowers, and says "I've got some important news to tell you!"  You gotta hand it to Jack Mercer; he really overdid the mispronunciation of words better than Costello.  Anyway, the news is: Popeye wants to marry Olive Oyl!  Oh, those Fleischers; always pushing the plots faster along than the cartoon strips.  More heartbreak for everyone involved.  Is this the end of Popeye and Olive as we once knew them?  Will they cease to be hip?  Will they end up like Betty Boop and wear less provocative clothing and get saddled with cute kids and cute aminals to boost their popularity?
Popeye sheepishly laughs to himself.  Yeesh!  No wonder Olive's got cold feet.  And so... Olive begins her sad song about how they cannot be wed.  We don't see Popeye's face, but the three flowers in his hand convey the flood of emotions perfectly.  Popeye quickly recovers and makes the case against this usurper, this sneak that would ruin Popeye's happiness.  Olive informs Popeye that his name is Barnacle Bill, and she pulls a picture of him out through the neck of her shirt.  Strange that she could hide it on her skinny frame in the first place.  You know, that Barnacle Bill guy looks an awful lot like Bluto!  Well, never mind that for now.  Popeye tries to tell Olive that Bill's a heartless bastard who'd take candy from a baby if he wasn't a diabetic.  Then, Popeye twirls Bill's portrait around and punches it in the eye (giving the portrait a black eye, of course.  Only in a Fleischer cartoon!).  Not exactly the picture of humility, but you know how it is.  Popeye can be a bad boy, too!  Girls dig that in a guy, right?  And this is the point Olive sings next: "But he's strong and handsome too....."  WTF.  Reminds me of the 1980 movie when Shelley Duvall sings "He's Large."  That's according to the IMDb page.


Popeye vows to mop the floor with this Barnacle Bill character.  Popeye just ends up twisting himself out of shape for the time being.  Ain't that always the way?  You only hurt the ones you love.  (This must be the best part, right?)  And no sooner does Popeye finish his promise, when there's a powerful knock at the door.  And so begins a duet between Olive and Barnacle Bill.  Nothing short of epic, I tells ya.  As Barnacle Bill continues knocking on the door, almost destroying the wall of Olive's apartment in the process, he sings his romantic intentions, but also urges Olive to open the door before he loses his temper.  Ain't that how all these love triangles go?  The one guy threatens to beat the crap out of his competitor, and the competitor threatens to beat the crap out of the girl.  What's a girl to do?  Modern love can be a strain.
Next scene: a perfect comedic setup.  We've got Popeye and Olive, and a carpet between Olive and the front door that doesn't seem to be part of the non-moving background.  As Olive sings "Here I come to let you in" and heads for the door, Popeye keeps pulling the carpet back and pulling Olive towards him... what can I say?  I'm in a good mood today.  The third carpet pull, however, isn't so funny, as it's a little too sudden and Olive hits the door with her head.  Next scene: a close-up of the front door, with Olive's face mashed against it, and Bluto's shoes are visible under the door.  Dazed, Olive stands up.  As promised, Barnacle Bill slams the door open!  And an even-more dazed Olive ends up behind it.  Bill towers over Popeye and doesn't even see him after he walks up to where Popeye's standing.  Must be an alpha-male thing; I wouldn't know.  "Olive Oyl?" calls Bill/Bluto.  The "Where are you?" is merely implied.  Olive says "Here I am!" and pulls herself out of the X-shaped impression in the wall that she made.
Next scene: they're all in the center of the room now... we're not leaving this room at all, are we?  One of those funny cartoons, those one-act play dealyboppers, huh?  The one thing I hate more than musicals.  "WHO IS THIS HALF-PINT?" Bluto asks Olive.  Olive blissfully replies that it's Popeye, and that Popeye wants to marry her.  God bless Olive Oyl.
Alas, Bill's not done ranting and raving.  "WELL, YOU'RE TOO LATE!" screams Bill.  He picks up Olive and stands her up on his right side rather than on his left, and slams her hat on her head. Olive is stunned.  Popeye slams her hat off her head.  Olive's still stunned, but buckles under the pressure and sinks down a few inches.  Repeat once!  Frankly, she should dump both of these guys just on general principles.
Bill now focuses all of his wrath onto Popeye, but in song form.  "No one ever challenged me!" sings Bluto, as he picks up Olive's dresser and throws it at Popeye.  It mashes Popeye against the wall and rolls back over to Bluto.  Popeye pops out of the top drawer and sings "Says Barnacle Bill the Sailor!"  For his next act, Bill punches Popeye in the face and sings "I'm the terror of the sea!"  Popeye flies into the hide-a-bed in the closet, making a giant hole in the closet door.  The bed lowers and Popeye appears from under the sheets, singing "Says Barnacle Bill the Sailor!"  Apparently, Popeye's plan is to annoy Bluto to death.  As Popeye's singing his part of the duet, Bluto comes over, grabs Popeye, and throws him across the room in the other direction.  Popeye ends up hanging from the light fixture in the center of the house.  To better turn him into a human punching bag, the light fixture is an all-too-willing accomplice, as the ring with the light bulbs on it lowers itself down to Popeye's neck.  Next scene: Bluto goes to work on Popeye's head as though it were a punching bag.  For three measures, no less!  Popeye seems no worse for the wear, however, and he catches his pipe on the first bounce, and annoys Bluto some more with another line of "Says Barnacle Bill the Sailor!"
Popeye removes himself from where he's hanging and starts to size up Bill.  Bill flexes his giant, bowling-ball-shaped arm muscles.  Popeye feels them just to make sure... easy!  Now it's Popeye's turn.  Now, his radials of course are consistently huge, but his biceps and triceps are another story.  Popeye flexes and his biceps are the size of a large marble!  But Popeye's got a backup plan: the backup plan.  And just to rub it in Bluto's face a little, Popeye has Bluto hold the can of spinach for him.  And Popeye takes that wad of spinach, digests it, and in less than a second Popeye's biceps go from walnut-sized to bowling-ball sized.  And as you can see, there's a bowling-ball sized version of the Rock of Gibraltar inside his new-found muscles.  Probably time for Act Three.


Time for Popeye to go to work.  And arguably, this is not one of his more spectacular fights, but it does give you time to think.  The first punch, and Popeye sends Bill over to the foot of Olive's stairs... a two-floor apartment?  Fancy!  Olive must be an heiress or something.  Bluto grabs the nearest thing he can find: an umbrella.  But it's too late.  It was over before it began.  Popeye's right there by his side, and a second punch sends Bluto up the stair's railing.  Bluto starts sliding down the railing, and the umbrella opens and slows his descent.  Lol.  Repeat.  Lol.  For Popeye's third punch, he sends Bill out through the window.  Bill ricochets around outside like a ping-pong ball... and we've left the confines of Olive's apartment!  If only for that brief, glorious moment.  Bluto crashes through the ceiling window, lands on the staircase railing at the top of the stairs and... boom!  The callback.  The umbrella slows his descent once again!!! LOL!!!  Unfortunately, playtime's over.  With the final punch, Bluto loses his grip on the umbrella and he goes sailing out through another window.  We're back outside now, but with a view of what hopefully is Bill's ship.  Bluto bounces along the top of the power lines until he lands on his ship.  The ship takes off for the horizon like a mother.
Back to Olive's apartment, where the song continues, but with slightly different lyrics.  Olive's place has been ruined by Popeye and Bill, but as Olive and Popeye stand at the foot of her stairs, the place looks okay!  Olive starts singing "Popeye dear, I love you best."  Popeye seems skeptical at best, and pissed off at worst.  When it's Popeye's turn to sing, he calls Olive a "cabbage head"!  What is this, a Stooge film?  Popeye ends his portion of the song with unfair generalizations about women, and scolds Olive for turning on Barnacle Bill.  While he's singing, Popeye cleans up everything in the apartment; mostly it's just that stuff's been knocked over.  Popeye says "Goodbye!" and slams the door shut behind him.  And, as so often happens in Laurel and Hardy shorts, ... or, at least when Oliver slams into the table in Our Wife... everything in the room gets trashed anew, and there are many fresh holes in the walls... but that X is still there by the front door!  Lol.  God bless the Fleischers and their attention to detail.


Clasping her hands, Olive looks around at the mess that her apartment's become.  "There goes the Navy," she moans.  However, her pessimism quickly gives way to optimism and patriotic music, and she says "But still there's the Army!"  She salutes and, for once, the last bubble closes on her instead of on Popeye.  We'll leave it at that.
p.s. - Maggi O'Tool?  WTF?!!!

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

No comments: