Monday, March 09, 2015

Popeye the Giant Killer... Popeye the Giant Slayer... Life During Wartime: Popeye, Harrasser of Innocent Job Creators

Wendell Willkie will hear about this outrage!  Willkie is, of course, best remembered for his shout-out in Falling Hare.  Wikipedia knows it, and damn it, so do I.  Which brings us to our next Popeye short, Ration fer the Duration.  The "o"s in the title are made of tires, so clearly the filmmakers are thumbing their noses at the incessant domestic recycling campaign during WWII.  I mean, for God's sake!  Those tires should be helping our boys!
Anyway, on to the plot.  The plot of Ration is that old tried and true filmmakers' crutch... I mean, loving homage to a timeless classic: Jack and the Beanstalk.  Ah, the agrarian legends of old.  Why, it was practically made for cartoons: the fantastical elements, the suspenseful storyline... and mostly because conventional special effects at the time couldn't really do it justice in live-action form.
The only problem is that everyone has taken the climb up that beanstalk.  I heard some Disney characters tried it once, but I don't want to say anymore for fear of violating a copyright.  The Warner Bros. characters have used it quite a bit.  The best is probably Beanstalk Bunny featuring Elmer as the giant besieged by both a tiny Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.  Everyone's favorite moment of course is when Giant Elmer reveals the tiny twosome hiding in his cigarette.  Bugs and Daffy smile as big as they can, then Daffy points at Bugs and says "He's Jack."  Love that.  Does that make me a bad person?  Probably.  Then of course, there's Tweety and the Beanstalk.  I don't think I've ever seen that one, but it's on one of my five DVD box sets, languishing in obscurity.  The other one I was thinking of is called Jack-Wabbit and the Beanstalk. (now on YouTube someplace!  Google it today!) Arguably, more of the old-fashioned Vaudeville type entertainment compared to Beanstalk Bunny, if you had to pick just one.  Which you do.  There's just no time for variety anymore.
SPOILER ALERT: But one way in which Ration is sort of unique is that the Jack and the Beanstalk elements are put in the context of a dream sequence.  Anything to get away from his four annoying-ass nephews.  Did I forget to mention them?  I was just trying to delay the inevitable.  While Popeye's slaving away in the garden, the gruesome foursome's getting ready to go fishing, picking worms from the garden.  But credit where credit's due, of course: the four little brats invade Popeye's peaceful dream and plant the beans that grow into the beanstalk that reaches to the sky.  As any gardener worth their weight in salt will tell you, if you leave beans or peas in your garden for too long, they become quite inedible, but the bean/pea part becomes perfect for either soup or replanting next year!  Maybe that's partly where the fable comes from.
Now, screenwriters take note.  Well, first of all, I guess I should mention the slightly nauseating part where, mostly because it's close to the end of the film, the giant prepares to eat Popeye.  Just before that happens, Popeye somehow knows that it's spinach time, so Popeye starts chewing away at his spinach as usual.  He's stuck in a giant-sized sandwich, and the giant's chewing away at it while Popeye's chewing away at his spinach.  I know, I know... slightly nauseating?  But the spinach kicks in as usual at the last possible minute.  Don't procrastinate, kids!  Now my second point.  Either a spinach-induced Popeye just isn't strong enough to defeat this plus-sized giant, or Popeye's just being a true Movie Hero.  How, you might ask?  Well, Popeye puts a giant rug up in front of the giant's front door, and Popeye piles a bunch of pepper into a spoon and knocks it into the giant's face.  The giant sneezes, thereby blowing all the swag he stole from the earth below into the rug, thereby sending the rug back down to Earth, which Popeye rides down for a quick return to the ground.  I also forgot to mention that the giant is hoarding a bunch of stuff that could be used for the war effort.  It's a WWII thing; we wouldn't understand it today.  See also: the Old Mother Hubbard sketch in Foney Fables.
And finally, Popeye awakens from his dream to find that his four nephews have been hard at work.  As usual, they've been perverting the natural order of things, and the crops they have grown are these unholy hybrids that are inedible, but perfect for the war effort.  "Squashes" and "peaches" were apparently synonyms for car tires, and peaches were clearly preferable to squashes.  On the plus side, there's no ethnic stereotypes in it!  It's worth watching for that reason alone, right?.... RIGHT??!!!

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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