Thursday, February 23, 2006

A HAUL IN ONE (1956)

One of the films in the Popeye series where Bluto and Popeye do their shabby best to convince the audience that they are the best of friends (there are more cartoons like this than you might think), A Haul In One from 1956 presents the boys as the co-owners of a moving company called (what else?) Popeye and Bluto Movers. Their attempts at pushing their bond into believability consists of them simply calling each "pal" and "chum" where conversationally appropriate; unfortunately, it is done in such a broad manner that there is little doubt of the future dischord in the relationship. This dischord, of course, will be due to the intrusion of the spaghetti-limbed charms of Ms. Olive Oyl.

Olive is fretting impatiently about the arrival of the moving company, as she frantically tries to pack, or rather, overpack a large trunk in her apartment. The trunk explodes her clothing across the room, and sends poor Olive through the ceiling. When she pulls her noggin out of the hole, it is completely enveloped by a kitchen sink from the floor above, her neck stretched out through the drainpipe. Meanwhile, the movers arrive, though when they can't find a parking spot, Popeye gladly helps his "pal" out and stacks up the offending cars on top of each other so that Bluto may pull the truck up to the curb. It is when they set their sights on their customer that all hell breaks loose, and the buddy-buddy attitude swiftly erodes. Bluto tries to be helpful of his new would-be love interest, showing an almost dainty (though gruff) side, but Popeye can't help but show off, outdoing his rival packing dishes and clothes, and then the film turns into the Battle of the Furniture. When Bluto hefts a huge stack of furniture in his burly arms, but Popeye easily picks up Bluto, and carries him out to the moving truck. An infuriated Bluto locks the sailorman inside of the van, but Popeye sneaks snakily out of the exhaust pipe.

To prove his worth to Olive, Popeye throws her piano out the window of her apartment, then runs down several flights of stairs to catch the instrument before it smashes to pieces on the sidewalk. (That this scene does not thrill at all is the purest evidence that all is not right at Famous. It is badly timed and poorly conceived.) With Popeye on the ground below, Bluto begins to hurl piece after piece of a complete living room set out the window. Popeye not only catches each piece, but assembles and arranges it fully on the sidewalk, and Olive Oyl is greatly impressed. I, however, am not; this is due to the scene being bungled badly by not establishing clearly where he has placed the assemblage. It is only with the scene that follows that we are aware that he has placed the living room set on the sidewalk, rather than inside the truck or in the street or up Bluto's ass (which would at least have made the film interesting). Of course, where else is he going to reasonably place the set but on the sidewalk? The problem is that the composition of the payoff is just not very well set up. Following the living room scene, Bluto goes bonkers, knocks Popeye into a seemingly final defeat, the spinach comes out, and the lights go out for Bluto. Popeye drives off with Oyl in the cab and Bluto strapped atop the truck, and Popeye's traditional ditty closes the show.

I'm not disputing the notion that Popeye and Bluto could have been, or are, friends who are extremely competitive with each other; the rub is that the filmmakers feel that they have to go to cheesily extreme lengths to spell out their friendship in the broadest terms possible at the start of each film. Tom and Jerry often got along in cartoons, sometimes even teaming up quite well to defeat a common enemy or problematic situation; Hanna and Barbera had faith that their viewership would know the score with the cat and the mouse as they entered each picture, and when things would swiftly turn ugly between the two at some point in the proceedings, I would guess that most of the audience members were wise to the fact that it was just the way things were with the pair: they loved to beat the snot out of each other, and it would happen eventually. Popeye and Bluto, likewise, could turn any slight into a stampede of escalating violence; Famous should have trusted the audience's then nearly quarter-century of familiarity with the unbelievably popular characters, and realized that they could shortcut many of these awkward scenes due to this sense.

Yet another way that Famous screwed up their arms and twister-punched their prize property into the ground...

A Haul In One (Famous Studios/Paramount, 1956) Dir: Izzy Sparber
Cel Bloc Rating: 5

No comments: