Thursday, July 04, 2013
The Last Barber Scout
Ah, the barber shop. The Stooges sure seem to spend a lot of time shaving, anyhow, and occasionally others. So it's only fitting that Popeye, bald as a newborn babe and with about as many hairs as Homer Simpson, should find himself going to the barber shop.
Hmm! The Fleischers seem to have fired their whole orchestra and gotten a new one for the opening theme of A Clean Shaven Man. Bet there's an interesting story behind that. Of course, when "Famous Studios" took over the job of manufacturing Popeye cartoons... and that's the key word: manufacturing... they used the same music as often as they could, the same gulping noise when Popeye ingests his spinach, and used as many Hanna Barbera animation tricks as possible to crank these things out as quickly as possible. But I digress again.
Anyway... I just started the cartoon. Scene: a café counter, where Bluto and Popeye are looking lovingly and longingly at waitress Olive, carrying a big-ass stack of dishes and singing "I Want a Clean Shaven Man." Hence the cartoon's name! And if you look closely at Popeye, his giant glute-shaped chin is covered in stubble.
Olive finishes her song, and the boys come out of their reverie. They start feeling their respective faces and put two and two together. Unfortunately, they're not presentable, given Olive's latest terms and conditions. They slowly look at each other, and Popeye whispers something to Bluto.
A rare alliance? That's odd. They both sneak out of the café together, just as Olive's bringing two cups of coffee. Just in the nick of time, too! Why, if she saw Bluto's beard and Popeye's stubble... well, there's no winning her back, is there? Not after a thing like that.
Oh, one more thing: according to Wikipedia, it is disputed whether Jack Mercer or William Costello did the voice of Popeye in this one. Well, I can tell you one thing for sure: it sure ain't Floyd Buckley! Sheesh!!! But seriously, I'm going out on a limb and take the IMDb's position that it's once again Jack Mercer. For me, it just sounds like Mercer. Mercer represented a kinder, gentler Popeye, at least before he pounds the crap out of Bluto in one of his spinach-induced frenzies. Costello was more gruff and raw. Too bad the Fleischers thought he was difficult to work with.
Next shot: the boys are running down the street. Alas, no 3D stereoptical background here. Oh well. Bluto's running, and Popeye's doing his usual gallop. What's up with that? He's half sailor, half sea horse or something. Their destination: Wimpy's Barber Sh... The barber pole covers up half of "shop." Lol. The boys enter, throw their hats onto the hat stand and help themselves to a chair, or "station" as Ed Crane calls it. I mean, sure! Describe to the man where you will be fishing and for what, and you might as well go ahead and sell him the god damn fish, Ed! ...sorry, I'm mexing my mitaphors again. Anyway, Popeye and Bluto see a sign that says Wimpy himself has gone for a shave. That's right... he's gone to a barber barber! Here's probably the highlight of the whole pic: Bluto mumbles "Ah, he's probably out getting some hamburgers." Popeye says "Yeah, I wouldn't doubt that a bit." LOL!!!
But enough of this mumbling. Back to the script. Bluto gets the idea: they'll shave each other! Boy, but the capitalist system sure breaks down fast without regulations. Popeye mumbles to himself: "I better fix him up first." Despite his skepticism, Popeye agrees, and shaves Bluto first. At first, it looks like Popeye's going to give Bluto a mohawk, but Bluto ends up looking right pretty. A little alien, in fact, in his new-found shininess. Bluto's still got a moustache, but his hairdo's quite proper. Popeye sings a few bars of "A Clean Shaven Man."
And now... time for Bluto to go to work on Popeye. Now, screenwriters take note: here's a bit of foreshadowing. Bluto puts on Popeye's bib, and ties it just a little too tight. "Dontcha think that's a little too tight, huh?" Popeye mumbles to Bluto. Bluto didn't hear it, apparently, partly because it was a mumble. Then, Bluto gives Popeye's face a good shove so Popeye's in a reclining position. Bluto then applies some shaving cream to Popeye's face... and then a couple dollops in his eyes. Oh, that wasn't nice.
My squeamish friend won't like this part: Bluto starts sharpening a barber's razor on a block. He does this twice, but it's not quite right. He then starts chopping up the sharpening block with the razor, making the razor very, very jagged. Now it's just right! He actually shaves Popeye rather delicately with it, considering the shaving that's done in Stooge films.
And then... the hot towel. Bluto burns his hand reaching for one of the towels. He says "Why...." to the towels, lol. Plan B: Bluto gets a towel with a stick and throws the towel onto Popeye's face. Now, Popeye's superhuman at times, but even he can't beat the steaming hot towel. He gets it off his face as quickly as possible, but his face glows a bit from the pain, as much as something can glow in a black and white movie. And yet, it's not quite the straw that broke Popeye's back. But Bluto's working up to that.
Bluto's next feat: he grabs four barber tools in each hand and dives in on Popeye's face. Fortunately, Bluto's massive body covers up what he's doing to Popeye, but we'll see the results soon enough. Now it's Bluto's turn to sing a few bars of the song. He gives Popeye a mirror, but we can all see the results: Popeye's got bandages all over his face, a big lump on his head, and his few strands of hair are tied up in a bow meant for an infink. Boy, Bluto really knows how to hurt a guy: physically and psychologically, more importantly!
"You did that on poipose!" exclaims Popeye. Yeah, no sh... kidding, Popeye. Well, Bluto instinctively knows it's time to go into overdrive. He risks seven years bad luck and smashes the hand-held mirror on Popeye's head, and he spins Popeye in the barber's chair very, very fast. Twice! Bluto jiggles from laughter as Popeye spins; nice touch.
And finally, the reason why Bluto is Stephen Colbert's alpha dog of the week. It's not because he's taking Popeye with him back to Olive's in his groggy, unkempt condition. No, here's the reason why. Bluto's dragging Popeye on the ground slowly back to Olive's. Popeye starts to reach for his spinach, when suddenly... Bluto sees what's going on! "Hey! None of that stuff!" says Bluto. He takes Popeye's spinach and throws it away! Oh my god... is this the game changer Bluto fans have been hoping for? Is this the end of Popeye as we know it? Will there be no ass-whooping of Bluto for once? Spoiler alert: well, we're following the spinach can, so it's probably going to bounce off some wall and roll back to Popeye... yup. Gee, didn't see that coming. And so, for what seems like the thirty-first time, revenge is a dish best served piping hot, as hot as the hot towels barbers use to soothe a face freshly ravaged by razors. Spinach is swallowed by Popeye, and it not only makes Popeye stronger, it fixes Bluto's bad haircut! Never say never, Popeye will fight til... whatever. Popeye starts to punch Bluto with a left hook, but stops and uses a right hook. Style points, baby! Bluto goes flying and gets but a little taste of his own medicine, as a hot towel piles up on top of his face for a change! How do you like-a that, Mister?!! I didn't think so!
Next scene: back at the barber shop, where Popeye's not afraid to do a little property damage. He pries one of the barber chairs, or stations, out of its place in the floor. And, as with the Robert Clampett cartoon, A Corny Concerto, there's a reference to that Ella Fitzgerald song "Music Goes 'Round and Around." I never thought I'd find that in a million years. God bless the Internet, our all-knowing friend! Much better than consulting some geeky historian who wants to bend your ear with their nerdy prowess. Sheesh. Just tell me what I want to know and shut the ... oh, right. So, Popeye spins a barber chair at Bluto, knocking Bluto against the far wall. More labor-intensive quasi 3-d effects! I love it. God bless those Fleischers for not skimping on the animation. And, just to show what a nice guy he is, Popeye puts the chair back in place where it was just ripped out of the floor. Looks good as new! And so, time for some tit for tat. Popeye spins Bluto around, leaps on the twirling mass, and starts giving Bluto the haircut that he gave Popeye. Popeye holds up a hand-held mirror in front of the new, disheveled Bluto, and sings a few bars of "Clean Shaven Man." And so, NOW it's time to see who Olive likes best! Whoa, dude. I think Popeye achieved near full retribution this time!
I dare not spoil the ending any more than I will. Needless to say, to save time, Olive comes walking by with a new beau. Popeye and Bluto end up kicking each other in the ass. As the black bubble officially closes the cartoon, the kicking speeds up, lol. However, the animation on that barber pole gets a little slipshod. For shame, Fleischers. For shame. I'll say three and a half stars... okay, four. Why not?
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan