Thursday, September 04, 2014
I Never Sang For Me Pappy
...all right. I've resisted long enough. Time to do the full play-by-play of our next Popeye short, Problem Pappy. First of all, we start with Popeye knocking on a door. Popeye does a slighter version of the old "Fleischer shake"... I guess I better explain what that is to the uninitiated. It's not necessarily a Fleischer invention, but a guy attributed it to them on one of the Popeye DVD commentaries. Instead of having an animated character stand still, they go through a short little loop of motion, usually to the jazzy music on the soundtrack. For me, the one that comes to mind is this one from Axe Me Another. Ah, cutbacks!
Anyway, as you can probably guess from the title, Popeye's checking up on his ornery roommate, Poopdeck Pappy. After politely knocking and calling out to him, Popeye enters Pappy's quarters to find... GASP!... Pappy's not there. However, Pappy did leave an hilariously misspelled note that sort of hints that something's gone awry. Popeye must yet again venture out into the world to find his Pappy, but he might not have to go as far as Goon Island this time. I think Popeye's having second thoughts about that particular adventure! "Me pappy's second childhood is making an old man outta me!" says Popeye as he heads out the door.
Next scene: ...I hate to keep being disappointed like this, but I tell you darling, the Fleischers are tightening the belts way too much. Popeye's looking for his Pappy, and he's maximizing this one scene to do it. It's done well, of course, but it's just not rich enough for my blood... okay, there's at least a close-up on the manhole, but that's about it. Love that Grill place!
Next next scene: oh, this has got to be Pappy. There's a crowd of people looking up. Popeye lightly muscles his way through it to get to the forefront. Oh, that was a giveaway, innit? What does he think he is, the star of this pic or sumpthing? We eventually see what the crowd was looking at, and it looks like a tiny ant on top of a high building, further on top of a flagpole, juggling a couple pebbles that must be about 100,000 times its own weight, of course. Any more and it couldn't handle it... wait a tic! It's PAPPY!!!! And so, Popeye's gotta play child of the man once again. "Come down this instinct!" says Popeye. Bad direction. Sounds like Jack Mercer was going to crack up, lol. Pappy tries to reassure Popeye. "I'm just taking this job to balance me budget!" A sad commentary on society, indeed, as we've come a long way from the carefree days of Safety Last! Now it's a salaried job!
And so, it's the start of Act Two, so Popeye's not yet ready to eat some spinach. He's going to use the more diplomatic, non-spinach approach. And so... we're really going to do this? Okay. See, this is just plain wrong when the Fleischer cartoons start emulating the Stooge comedy philosophy. Time to stretch out the time! We see Popeye as he's running up the stairs of Pappy's building, and we get the full floor-by-floor treatment. Then again, there's one quick cut to Pappy doing his thing on top of the flagpole. Take heed, students of fine editing. Is Pappy not the Devil looking down from Heaven, watching as his handiwork bears ripe fruit? Or is he merely Nero fiddling while all of Rome burns... I mean, New York or Philadelphia or... wherever Popeye makes his home in the Fleischer cartoons. Famous Studios moved Popeye to the suburbs... and did you know that, while the original RoboCop takes place in Detroit, not one drop of it was filmed there? Sorry, my adolescence.
And so, Popeye gets to the roof of the building. He has to catch the pins that Pappy was juggling and nearly falls off the building his own damn self! So much for diplomacy. Time for a more direct approach. Popeye says "If you're not comin' down, I'm comin' up!" And up he goes... so what does Pappy do? Time for a little chemical warfare. Out from his pocket comes a small can of oil, where you squirt out the oil by pressing the bottom of the hemispherical container. Well, they got that sound right, anyhow! Lol. This is akin to sibling rivalry, but there's just no simple phrase for it, is there?
And so... down slides Popeye. Somehow the teentsy amounts of oil from Pappy's can becomes like the snowball at the top of the hill, and Popeye finds himself in a veritable waterfall of oil... an oil-fall? Why, it's as though the pole has become a geyser! Strange. But, alas, the profits... I mean, the residue quickly evaporates. Oh, dude, Popeye's pretty pissed off right now. He hits the pole a couple times with his fist. The pole shakes back and forth, but Pappy manages to cling to it, albeit uncomfortably so. He sounds like the spaceship from Super 8 or the helicycles from The Island, perhaps. You know, those staccato noises. Is that still the hot audio trend? Ah, this is more like it. Pappy sounds like a good ol' fashioned auctioneer at this juncture.
Now Pappy's the pissed-off one. "That's the LAST straw!" says Pappy. Pappy then takes a sign out of his deep pants pockets and places it at his post on top of the pole. "Back in 2 Minutes" reads the sign. Oh, something bad's going to happen, I just know it. "Now take it easy, Pappy!" says Popeye as he hears Pappy descending the pole. It sounds like a plane, which can't be good. Pappy gets to the bottom of the pole and donkey kicks Popeye in the chin. Both feet! Popeye starts rolling down the long staircase we saw him running up... are we really going to do this? Time to stretch out time! Well, I guess it's only fair when you pit two forces of nature against each other like this. Kinda like one of them stupid Marvel movies the theater seems to be plagued with these days! Epic figures, epic fights. That's how it goes. This is just a scaled down, black-and-white version of that. Another cut to Pappy in Popeye's downward journey. Pappy climbs back to the top of his pole, looks down at Popeye (... I don't know how Pappy can see Popeye from way up there...), and he points and laughs!!!!! Stone cold, baby.
Whew. All that hard work can make an old fella hungry. So the ol' mountain goat takes out a banana and starts eating it. Meanwhile, Popeye tries to sneak up on Pappy from another building. I almost hate to spoil it, but I've come this far, so I might as well keep going. Popeye's got one of the world's five or six longest ropes, and lasso's Pappy's pole from ... let's say about a half a mile away. Popeye ties it to the chimney of the building he's on, and starts to climb up to Pappy. "I'm a'warnin' ya!" says Pappy as he takes out a knife. Will this campaign of tough love never end? "Too bad! He was a good boy..." says Pappy as he slowly starts to cut the rope. I guess that answers that!
And so, as decreed in the Book of Popeye, the rope is cut and starts to fall. Now, personally, I think Popeye took the wrong way out in attempting to make it back to the building. Why couldn't he do like Tarzan or Spider Man and try swinging on the rope instead? In a word... legal liability. Popeye must suffer the consequences of his actions like any human in a similar situation, and hopefully we'll have no more damn maniac copycats trying to go between buildings with a rope and avoiding the doormen who are just trying to do their job, no matter what that one episode of Seinfeld with Larry Miller may have taught you!
But don't be fooled, of course. Popeye's still just a cartoon character and he does plummet several stories, and he does get stopped by a clothesline as many animated characters before and since have done. Therefore, he only suffers half of the consequences of his silly, ill-conceived stunt to thwart his pappy. He doesn't make it back to the building, but he doesn't fall to his death, either. No, he ends up looking like a fool in his new outfit that was hanging on the clothesline! A damn fool!!! Good luck showing your face anywhere now!
And so, Pappy wins the battle, and Popeye begrudgingly gives Pappy his permission to stay on top of that pole like a fool. A DAMN FOOL!!!! ...sorry, I forgot to take my anti-histrionics... ah, there they go. So, Pappy won the battle...
...but the war's just beginning. Here's a wrinkle that even Harold Lloyd never had to deal with, unless it was in the not-as-good follow up to Safety Last! I think it was called Feet First, but I don't know if it had an exclamation point in it... apparently not. Time for a little thunder and lightning, and a rainstorm to boot! Pappy's attacked right away by quite a large number of seemingly angry bolts of lightning. Pappy's hat flies off, and two lightning bolts put the hat back on Pappy's head. Soon after that happens, Pappy declares "I QUIT!" and starts climbing down the pole. Pappy's almost at the bottom, but Pappy sits on a loose board that sinks down, raising up the other end like a teeter-totter. There's a lightning bolt standing by, holding another lightning bolt shaped like a hammer. The lightning bolt hammer hits the exposed piece of wood and... yup, you guessed it. Didn't occur to me for some reason, but once upon a time this gag seemed to be in every other Popeye cartoon. Here it is in A Dream Walking. Here it is in Customers Wanted... that's all I can think of right now. Okay, here it is in the very first one!!! ...now, here's Buster Keaton doing the gag in Coney Island... alas, it's not all of it. That's just before he became The Great Stone Face. I think what I'm trying to say is... damn! Pappy's in a tight spot.
Yes, even though Popeye defeated nearly every force of nature at the end of Shiver Me Timbers!, you just can't keep thunder and lightning down for long. They get lonely, too, and they don't want Pappy to go just yet. But Popeye's heard the call, and damn it, he's still going to save Pappy. And yes... time to run up those damn stairs again. Somehow it didn't seem as blatant in Cops Is Always Right.
And so, Popeye makes it back to the roof of the building a second time. He merely grabs onto the pole and gets badly shocked by the lightning, then harassed by it a few times for good measure. Well, Popeye knows what he likes, and lightning sure ain't one of those things. It's spinach time before you can read that lightning the Riot Act. But the lightning is apparently a good sport, as it even opens the can for Popeye. What's that all about, anyway? Anyway, ... maybe it's a metaphor for our modern age, fueled by electricity. The lightning is shaped like a can opener as it slowly chews its way around the can's perimeter.
And Popeye's off! He's running up the pole, not climbing... well, it was a powerful batch of spinach, harvested by contented union farmers, and on top of that, he's punching the lightning bolts into submission! For once, the lightning never knew what hit it.
And so, at the top, Popeye scoops up his pappy, but the lightning won't give him up without a fight... or will it? A bolt of lightning persists and turns into a saw, and it starts sawing into the flagpole! Is the end of Popeye's line as we know it? Will he end up like that crazy dude in The Return of the King, crying "My line has ENDED!" just before he gets an eyeful of the Orc army at his doorstep way down below? Well, you gotta have an army that big if you want Minas Tirith's upper brass to pay attention to you.
Sidetracked again. Sorry about that. Now who's the one stretching for time? Anyway, ... is this the end of Popeye and Pappy as we know it? Is it Goon Island all over again? Will the Fourth Wall have to be broken to save these sorry two? ...nope, Popeye uses the lightning like trapezes to get down to ground level. Actually, it's more like Tarzan and the vines, but they don't use that music. They use the trapeze song instead. I like how every time Popeye grabs a lightning bolt, it makes the thunder noise. Lol.
And so, Popeye gallops Pappy's sorry ass home. Popeye tucks Pappy in to his cot bed, but Popeye seems happy. He's singing Pappy's theme song, but with his own lyrics! What a good son... (sniff, wipe away tear) Meanwhile, Pappy's in Slumberland, unaware of all the trouble he caused. I guess he's aware of enough of it, but he ain't gonna lose sleep over it.
Almost forgot to have one! And so, Popeye's either heating some water or some milk on the stove for Pappy. He goes back to the room and says the following foregrounding line: "Well, I guess Pappy's learned his lesson!" Popeye opens the door and... WHOA! Pappy's not in his hammock! I hate to spoil the ending, but let's just say Pappy's still tired, so he only half protests, as in our earlier excursion called... better get the DVD box...With Poopdeck Pappy. That's the one. Alas, Problem Pappy doesn't have the panache of With Poopdeck Pappy. Frankly, they should switch titles.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan