Sunday, March 05, 2006

ADVENTURES OF POPEYE (1935)

Ah... bless the compilation cartoons! Not only do they give a studio a little bit of a breather time-wise and staff-wise; not only do they allow a studio to save a bit on the budget but still keep precious product in their slots on the theatre schedule; but they also allow your humble narrator to breeze through a review here and there, at times when time is short and one has an agenda to fulfill. Even with one as hell-bent on finishing a silly self-made purpose such as publishing a daily review blog, one has to make shortcuts here and there. Such is the case with today, where I have much housecleaning to do (my brother is visiting for a week, in less than a week), and the Oscars are on tonight, and my whole world shuts down for that silly ceremony. As much as I like to dog it, I love to watch it. Wouldn't miss it for the world.

I could have missed this cartoon for the world... and for just about anything. I love Popeye, and I love the Fleischer Popeye cartoons especially, but Adventures of Popeye is not one that I love. I also love the scenes that are used in Adventures of Popeye, all from excellent early Popeye adventures, but this film is for the most part a cartoon version of one of those porno compilation tapes: all money shots, no build-up (or: All Spunk and No Junk). Four separate battles from four separate Popeye films: Popeye butchering a pair of bulls from I Eats My Spinach (1933); Popeye scrapping the entire jungle in Wild Elephinks (also 1933); Bluto and Popeye feuding in a logjam in Axe Me Another (1934); and finally, the final sequence from the opening film in the series, Popeye the Sailor (again, 1933). where Popeye beats the snot out of Bluto and punches a train out flat in time to save Olive from being squished. Because there are no build-ups to the fights, with neither context or motivation provided, it turns once dynamic scenes rather... well boring. All that can be appreciated is the recap of some excellent Fleischer animation and Jack Mercer's swell vocal asides (always amusing).

I say the film is a compilation for the most part, because there is some connecting material between the sequences, all shot in live-action that stands out in stark contrast to the Popeye scenes, involving a little sissy boy who is being tormented by a twice-his-size bully. That the sissy boy is dressed in frills and short pants doesn't help his case; nor does the fact that he is a scrawny little towheaded thing. After a bit of pushing around, the Popeye comic book (also called, no surprise, Adventures of Popeye) that Sissy Pants has dropped comes to life, with the Sailorman telling the kid how to deal with bullies. He turns the pages on the comic in various ways between each punch-out, and finally, after the fourth adventure, the kid is seen devouring spinach from a huge can chock-full of the leafy green power aid. This causes his arm to develop a huge (and animated) bicep. He then runs up to the bully and punches the creep straight up into the air about 30 feet and right through the window of the building behind him. The kid then sings his own version of the Popeye closing theme in victory.

The live sequences were clumsily, and obviously quickly and cheaply, filmed. There was also, apparently, no real attempt made to dub the voices very closely to the mouths of the actors on screen; it almost seems as if the vocalists dubbed their lines in the same manner as they do in the cartoons (I guess that the voice of Sissy Pants is that of Mae Questel, but I have seen no proof of this), and there are words being spoken by one character as the other is moving his mouth and not really saying what is being repeated. The film itself is, I guess, enjoyable as a trifle, nothing more: I would tend to think that the people who got the most enjoyment out of its creation were the staff at Fleischer Studios, who I would hope got some sort of break or vacation because of its release.

I know now that I have. Quick, and to the point. In the words of Merle Kessler: "I Gotta Go"...

Adventures of Popeye (Max Fleischer, 1935) Dir: Dave Fleischer
Cel Bloc Rating: 4

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