What a strange little world it is! First of all, there’s this sixtyish bowlegged sailor named Popeye. Then there’s this skinny beanpole of a young woman named Olive Oyl. Filling out the cast are the bull-necked giant Bluto the Sailor, who is always in conflict with Popeye, and occasionally the moocher Wimpy, whose great love is hamburgers, for which he will gladly pay you Tuesday.
The amazing thing is that it works. Popeye is always pushed to his limit, when suddenly he pulls out a can of spinach from his tight shirt, tears it open and, to the sound of a trumpet cadenza, swallows its contents, thereby becoming invincible and multi-talented. And, of course, successfully rescuing Olive Oyl from the leering Bluto.
I love all the Popeye shorts from the early days, when they were animated by Max and Dave Fleischer, whether they were in black and white or color. The color two-reelers, including “Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor” (1936), as shown above; “Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves” (1937); and “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp” (1939) were my own personal favorites—but only by a hair.
Last weekend, I watched a great DVD of selected Popeye shorts put together by Steve Stanchfield of Thunderbean Animation. I was completely hooked.
I also loved director Robert Altman’s live version of Popeye with Robin Williams as the eponymous sailor and Shelley Duvall as the perfect Olive Oyl. Altman captures the craziness of the original cartoons while adding a sophisticated visual element in the ramshackle port city of Sweet Haven, ruled by a mafioso Bluto.
Both the originals—especially those made by the Fleischers—and Altman’s tribute deserve to be seen and enjoyed by unsophisticates such as myself.