Cartoon Hell #35 – “Private Eye Popeye”January 25, 2010
Cartoon Hell is TheKarpuk’s attempt to review every single installment in an awful $5 collection called “150 Classic Cartoons” purchased at his local Wal-Mart. Your prayers are welcome.
You can only make so many Popeye cartoons where he loses Olive Oyl to Bluto, then beats Bluto into a coma. Sometimes changing the setting isn’t enough. Eventually they had to give him actual occupations beyond being a sailor who did no actual sailing.
Why, in the mid-fifties, with hard-boiled fiction and movies at a high rate of popularity, did they decide to dress up Popeye as Sherlock Holmes for his detective outing? Did they not think people would realize he was a detective if he simply wore a Sam Spade costume? It speaks to the general cluelessness of the Fleischers as a whole.
Popeye receives a scream via phone, and traces the call by following the wire using a magnifying glass, because this cartoon is intent on using the laziest visual shorthand for everything.
He follows telephone line to a fabulous home, one suspiciously similar to the nice home in every Fleischer cartoon, finding the door left ajar. He of course enters. At this point I’m completely unsold on the whole premise. Why is a man trained as a sailor doing any of this? An alternate theory comes to mind, if you’ll indulge me for a moment.
Maybe Popeye is a infant with progeria acting out his fantasies? All this behavior would make perfect sense if done by a five year old. Of course a little kid would think detectives still dress like Sherlock Holmes. He’d also think a magnifying glass was the most important tool for a private investigator, and that the hat is a requirement.
As I’ve suggested in more than one Cartoon Hell entry, Olive Oyl is awful. This cartoon adds more evidence since she’s introduced committing attempted manslaughter. She’s the sort of crazy that gets your house burglarized. Or beaten by the cops.
After trying to kill Popeye without explanation, Olive Oyl opens her piggy bank, revealing a precious green stone. She tells Popeye to guard it with his life. The moment he turns his back to examine the jewel, she’s grabbed by the throat like the chicken-neck she is, and then the jewel is likewise snatched. Popeye pulls up the wall to reveal a villain who has tied Olive Oyl to a support beam. This man has a god-like knot tying speed.
The villain looks like he stepped out of a silent melodrama, adding to the clumsy mix of period costumes. All we need now is a Roman Centurion and a cowboy!
“Just as I thought, it’s the Buckler!” cries Popeye. The Buckler then punches him and runs. Why this statement needed to be said, I don’t know. We don’t know the Buckler, and it’s not a humorous observation. I would have preferred it had he just said, “YOU AGAIN!” It would imply that he’s often stumbling upon a dastardly villain who always punches him in the stomach and runs. If I could say that about my own life, I would never stop saying it.
Popeye gives chase, and as aficionados of film know, a chase can be the laziest device imaginable. In movies it’s there to eat up runtime and show off ridiculous set-pieces involving vehicles and props. Now that I think about it, it’s pretty much used for that in every medium, even pottery.
We cut to a completely different location where the sinister Buckler boards an open air jet plane…. for some reason. What impresses me more than anything is his ability to keep his hat on with the g-forces kicking in. When Popeye catches up on the back of a duck, I felt like the plot came unhinged slightly.
Backing up for some perspective, we have Popeye, on a duck, wearing a Sherlock Holmes outfit, flying alongside a man in formal evening attire, flying a rocket plane. This is crazy squared, then cubed.
Popeye tries to arrest him in the name of the law, a power I’m pretty certain private detectives don’t actually have. The Buckler burns up his duck and escapes.
Then we’re in a Paris cafe. If this were live action, I would suspect they’d made a short using odds and ends on the Hollywood backlot, but since they had to animate all this, it’s rather puzzling why all these elements have been shoved together.
Popeye appears as a waiter, not a very effective disguise since he doesn’t obscure his face or even take off the damn hat.
After Popeye appears as the cab driver of the Buckler’s escape vehicle, I understand what’s happening here. This is a pretty straight forward Tex Avery knock-off. Replace Popeye with Droopy the Dog and the Buckler with a Wolf and it all becomes clear.
Over the course of this adventure Popeye assumes the following:
A French Waiter
A French Cab Driver
An Eiffel Tower Elevator Operator
A Swiss First Aid Saint Bernard
An Arabian Seductress
After that he gets punched into a wheelbarrow that dumps green plant matter everywhere. Popeye knows it’s spinach, because he seems to know the word for spinach in every language, a critical skill that keeps him from gobbling up foreign parsley and cilantro.
The spinach gives Popeye the speed and mental dexterity to figure out the perfect trap for catching the Buckler.
And by that I mean he punches him really, really damn hard. All the way to the Philippine Islands, which are accurately rendered as being too small in size for most shopping malls. He then punches him to the Hawaiian Islands, which are also to scale. And then Alcatraz, which surprisingly is still not accurately sized.
Throughout this cartoon I’ve developed a twitch from the effect they use to show how fabulously green the gem is. Instead of it blasting out green rays of light, the animators put a cheap green gel over the screen. It’s odd since generally Fleischer cartoons aren’t sloppily animated on a physical level. Maybe they finished the cartoon and went, “Hmmmm, we kind of half-assed the detail on the precious stone. It’s about as glamorous as a paperweight. Maybe we’ll make it look like a projector malfunction occurred every time it’s shown?” To which there was much back-patting and celebration.
Popeye returns the gem to Olive Oyl, and she kisses him. That’s what they’re closing it on, I don’t even think he toots his pipe.
Beyond a few moronic pokes at the French, this one was rather inoffensive. For once Olive Oyl isn’t a complete embarrassment and stereotype. Surprising for a cartoon where she shoots at him. Of course she’s also not on screen for most of the short, which helps.
Rating: Humorously Bad
Popeye cartoons are often bad, but they’re never boring. Part of this is that Popeye solves all problems with action. Sure it’s just the one action, punching, but it’s usually amusing. Tax problems? He’d punch the adding machine until solutions come out. Marital problems? He’ll punch both of you as mediation. Child birth? He’ll punch the womb once, sending the baby flying into a catcher’s mitt. And you better believe in each case he’d make that “hukukukuku” laugh and toot his pipe. Spinach is amazing.