Thursday, March 30, 2006

ABUSEMENT PARK (1947)

I have never ridden in the Tunnel of Love. Being born and raised around Anchorage, Alaska, we do not have much in the way of amusement parks. The Alaska State Fair on the Palmer Fairgrounds is a prime source for those looking for mechanical thrill rides: if you like them to only go in circles, and at that, for only two minutes. I don't, but my friends love it, and the State Fair is an annual shared rite, with the requisite trip north to the historic farming community of Palmer. The food is great, so a fun thing to do is load on artery-clogging goodness and hit the rides to see if you can hold everything in. Off and on, there is a rollercoaster that is about a hundred meters long in total distance (if you count the underside of the rails, too), and that jerks you so hard on the turns that you end up with ribs on the wrong side of your abdomen. It's not much, but it's what Alaskans have for thrill rides (apart from everything else that you can do in Alaska involving the natural beauty, photographic splendor, mountainous terrain, and abundant flora and fauna... but how is that interesting?)

Anchorage has three other options for similarly styled thrills: 1) There is a small amusement lot just off Benson Boulevard where about 4 or 5 of the same rides from the State Fair station themselves, and mop up the spare change from the local teen populace for about 4 months every summer; 2) Anchorage has an indoor waterpark, much bandied about for years due to delayed fundage and construction, political intrigue, and a strange ennui about its even being built even though there is little to do for kids in-town, which opened not too long before I left, but which held little interest for me -- eeewww!; and 3) The annual and overrated Fur Rendezvous, which I have ripped on previously, holds a downtown Winter Carnival every February -- That's right! I said "February"! -- in which some of the same rides from the State Fair get set up, along with the carny games, and one gets to experience their decidedly monotonous thrills with a steely new element added: a freezing windchill factor, as you are wrung endlessly in circles through the often subzero temperatures. Why the rides aren't named the FreezerBurn, the FrostBiter and the Body Temperature Drop are beyond me.

There is a scene in the BBC series Father Ted, where Craggy Island has an annual fair in which the rides are a crane lifting a parkbench high into the air, and the like; but the people attend it faithfully every year, mostly because it is what little there is to do on the isolated hunk of rock. That's the amusement park experience in Alaska. It hardly ever changes for the better, and what changes are made are so minute that it takes eons for anyone to notice that something has been done. That said, an annual trek to the State Fair and the Winter Carnival are on the agendas of nearly everyone looking for "thrills". That is, thrills outside of getting eaten by a bear.

So, there is nothing even approximating the Tunnel of Love in Alaska, unless you decide to go river-rafting with a group of swingers (since only 2 people can't go). But Popeye, Bluto and Olive Oyl are not in Alaska. They hit a real seaside amusement park in Abusement Park from 1947. (I guess it is modeled after Coney Island; there are no signs or cards displaying where they are, only an opening shot of a sumptuously rendered amusement setting). The pair of super-rivals are, as usual, showing off for the suspect charms of Ms. Oyl, and this time they are doing it by challenging each other to the variety of games on the carny boardwalk. First, Popeye grabs the hammer on the strongman game to try and ring the bell, but Bluto stops him short and swipes the hammer, hoping to be the first to impress Olive with his manliness; when he unsurprisingly rings the bell, the word at the top of the bar reads "Superham". Popeye gets his turn, but he tilts the board at a 45 degree angle. When he smacks the hammer down, he hits it so hard that the metal cylinder busts through the top and flies a thousand feet to a bell tower, where it ricochets musically between an arrangement of eight different bells.

Not to be swayed, Bluto takes charge of the next game: a machine that measures lung power. However, Bluto tries to win it outright by blowing so hard into the tube that the machine ruptures completely. Popeye won't let a little thing like the lack of equipment hold him back from winning; he runs to the nearest phonebooth and blows hard into the mouthpiece. We then see a bubble run through the phone cord all the way to telephone pole, then to another telephone pole, and then across the water through the phone line leading to a lighthouse. The breath comes out in a huge explosion that devastates the lighthouse -- and leaves the attendant hopping mad on top of the rubble that remains!

Next, Popeye takes his intended on a ride into the Tunnel of Love. Unbeknownst to the lovebirds, Bluto is tagging along unseen on the back of their boat. As the boat glides from scene to scene, in the darkened intervals between them, the inhabitants of the boat switch places. First, Bluto switches with Popeye, and as he puts the moves on Olive, Popeye has to swim after the craft. Then Popeye switches with Bluto, and the bearded creep is left with waterwings in their wake. On the third switch, as they pass through King Neptune's Court, where the titular ruler and a comely mermaid greet visitors, Popeye ends up with Bluto snuggling with him in the boat. Bluto begins to pummel Popeye -- and then there is a terrified scream! It is Olive, and she is drowning and struggling in the water behind the boat. Bluto takes his time to get to her, and then reaches into the water. But he pulls out a huge lobster instead, which in turn is holding tight to Olive with one of his claws. Bluto motions Olive to check out the boat ahead of them. "Nice guy!", he says. "He threw you overboard for a blonde!" Olive sees the back of Popeye's head held tight against the golden locks of another woman. She swears off the cad and leaves with Bluto. We then see a shot of the front of the boat, where Popeye is passed out cold from Bluto's assault, and Bluto has grabbed the bare-breasted (though non-nippled, sadly) mermaid figure from Neptune's diorama and stuffed it into the boat with his unconscious rival.

Bluto takes Olive to a photographer, where the pair sit in an automobile to get a series of snaps taken. Bluto wants to turn up the heat, but Olive will have nothing to do with it. She screams and struggles to get away from Bluto, but as he tells her he "knows how to deal" with dames like her, Popeye bursts through the door, mermaid dummy in tow. Bluto takes off in the car, running over Popeye and sending him flying into the air. He lands quite accidentally in the stiff but apparently loyal arms of the mermaid. Meanwhile, Bluto drives straight for the rollercoaster and soon he and Olive are climbing up a very long hill. As they get to the even steeper side, Olive screams until he not only see her tonsils in closeup, but we also watch her entire head turn white on the descent. Popeye hears her pleas for rescue and heads off to do so.

Since Olive won't shut up, Bluto decides to kick her out of the car, but she is actually tied to it with a long piece of rope. As a result, when the car makes turns on the coaster track, poor Olive is sent flying wildly through and into various structures, such as the smokestack she shatters bodily on the first turn. Popeye, in an unseen decision, has somehow found a pair of skis, and he struggles to the top of the rollercoaster hill. When he reaches the top, naturally he skis down after Bluto. When he reaches a spot on the track that lies over where Bluto is, Popeye jumps down and crashes straight through the car, leaving Olive alone on the crazily careening vehicle. Popeye, in the meantime, has Bluto caught by the head with a plunger (?), but there is a problem: they are no longer on a rollercoaster track, but rather they are on a traintrack, and a large locomotive is heading for them at top speed. As the train runs over the spot where they were standing, Popeye drops both he and Bluto safely out of the way, hanging from the track with his mighty arm. When they crawl up, Bluto meekly and politely thanks Popeye for saving his life -- and he proceeds to beat the snot out of him!

At that moment, Olive is still flying about at the whim of the rollercoaster-locked car, and she tears through the side of a circus tent. When she emerges, she is amazingly pulling three full-size elephants, each holding each other trunk to tail, through the air after her. Bluto continues trying to do in Popeye, who switches feet back and forth as he hangs upside-down from the tracks. A can of spinach starts to fall from his pocket, but the sailorman stretches his body just enough to catch the can in time. He downs the super-green stuff, which sends a charge of energy straight up to his feet, which kick Bluto full in the face, and then Popeye charges back into action, pummeling Bluto so hard and furiously that the pair are sent spinning up into the air. They land on the back of the first of Olive's pachyderms and continue the battle apace. They then jump to poor stretched-out Olive, where Bluto stands on her back and holds off Popeye, who is standing on both her arm and her head, deflecting Bluto's blows. Popeye socks Bluto into the car, which shatters into a thousand pieces. Bluto ends up with the gas tank on his head, which Popeye lights with his pipe, sending his archrival rocketing off into the sky. Popeye takes control of Olive and the elephants and turns their momentum toward the photographer's studio, where they crash through the wall and it seems like nothing good can come of it. But there, in the dust, is Popeye standing victorious with Olive at his side. In his mighty right arm, he holds aloft the three elephants... and Bluto, who is knocked out for a loop. And beside his side? King Neptune's mermaid.

Whew! A lot of action in a fun six minutes, but I have a basic problem with the weird props introduced into the final battle. A plunger? A pair of skis? Look, I accept Olive being able to whip three elephants in the air without ripping her arms off -- I accept it through the Principle of Cartoon Momentum. But, unless you give me a reason for those items to be there in the first place -- which Popeye doesn't -- then I can't buy it. As I have said before, it is one thing to pull a flugelhorn out of your ass and blow it comically for a three-second gag, but it disappears and then has nothing more to do with the cartoon. But to introduce something that will actually play a part in the plot, but give it no set-up or reason to be there at all? Not good. I plauded the cartoon that I reviewed yesterday, The Anvil Chorus Girl, for its excellent use of every item in the blacksmith shop, and for keeping it to those items. Not the same story here. But still a very energetic and engaging short.

I suppose that the closest that I have come to riding on a Tunnel of Love style ride would be at Disneyland. There are four rides that somewhat approximate the boat-in-the-dark scenario, but only mildly and not remotely in the way that the creators of the Tunnel of Love intended. The one that gets the most dark action is a toss-up between Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean, but neither one is very romantic, at least in the groping your sweetie fashion. It can be done, and I suppose that Splash Mountain's seating arrangement could lead to some rather interesting "situations" (ass to crotch); but you never know who else is going to be in the craft, and you rarely get alone time. Storybook Land is even less of a good prospect for petting: a single boat with about fifteen people all crammed in willy-nilly and having to listen to stilted narration relating to the miniature houses (and the monstrous ducks) that are supposed to represent a fairytale kingdom. Unless you can get your business done in the short time it takes to ride through Monstro's cetecean maw, you are out of libidinous luck.

And then there is It's A Small World. Nothing could be less romantic: 4000 stiffly moving, smiling, singing, talking, dancing little advertisements for a birth and LSD control. If you can get it going in Small World, my hat's off to you. And then you should be jailed. It's Small World, you lech...

Abusement Park (Paramount/Famous Studios, 1947) Dir: Izzy Sparber
Cel Bloc Rating: 6

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