Wednesday, May 17, 2006

THE PANELESS WINDOW WASHER (1937)

Here's what I definitely do not understand about window washing: every freaking window-cleaning product on the market goes to great lengths to describe themselves as leaving "no streaks" or having a "streak-free shine". So, how come when I wash windows of any sort, using these very products, that I always see streaks after I am done? Even if I duplicate the exact manner or equipment that a professional window cleaner uses, I can still see streaks. Is there a definition for the word "streak" that I am missing here? (And I am definitely not talking about the Ray Stevens sort...)

Now, that big creep Bluto has the right way to get window washing done. First, after making sure no one is looking, he splashes mud all over the windows on an office building, and then offers his services as a pro to make some not-so-honest coin. Sure, it's crooked and it's underhanded, but you've got to give it to him: he's ingenious. In the Max and Dave Fleischer short from 1937, The Paneless Window Washer, Bluto runs an eponymously named window cleaning company, and on the windows to his shop, he proclaims himself as "The Only Dirty Window Washer in Town". (The title for the film also derives from his other pun-laden window.) And sure enough, Bluto does indeed do exactly what I described at the start, living up to his "dirty" reputation as advertised. On his way up the side of a building marred by self-soiled windows (accomplished through the inventive use of a
hose sprayed into a mud puddle), Bluto eventually reaches the window of Ms. Olive Oyl, whose window declares her occupation as "Public Stenographer". Wearing glasses and squinting at her rapidly shifting typewriter, as she types each line the platen flies off far to her left, and she stretches her spindly arm across the room to grab the return lever and begin the next line. As she wrestles with the question of "who the party of the third part" might be, Bluto announces his presence by pulling down her window. "Ah, no thank you!", she responds, and then Bluto sees the reason why, though he asks why anyway in a derisive voice, to his left. There, prepping his own window cleaning equipment, is his nemesis Popeye.

"Cause I'm gonna wash 'em! That's why not today, thank you!", replies the squinty-eyed sailor, and as he crawls out through another window, Popeye mutters under his breath, "Look at these dirty windows! I wonder how that mud got all the way up here on the twentieth floor?" Bluto, sensing his self-proclaimed "racket" is in trouble, decides to start things up with the sailor to prove who is the
better man. "Hey! Let me show ya the real way ta washa winda!", he shouts at Popeye, and then Bluto makes swift work of the window in front of him, finishing the job by sloshing his squeegee across the ledge at Popeye's face. The sailor almost falls, but grabs the building and decides to show Bluto his way of doing the job. Popeye soaps up a window, slams it down so it bounces back and forth, and simply holds his squeegee still and lets the window wash itself. Bluto hangs from his strap hooked at one point, and rocks back and forth, washing two windows set several feet apart. Popeye tells Bluto, "Ya look like a monkey on a swing ta me!", and then Bluto knocks Popeye off the ledge.

Popeye pulls himself back up, tells Bluto, "Ah, that's kindergarten stuff!", and then hooks his suspenders on the edges of a window. He bounces far down the side of the building, and then rockets to and fro, washing several windows in a flurry of sharp bounces. "Ah, I do it in swing time, see?", is Popeye's smart finish, and Bluto is enraged. Stepping inside the building, he pretends to wash the inside of the window facing Popeye. "Oh, yeah? Watch this," he tells Popeye, and as Popeye watches, Bluto slides open the window and pops the sailor in the face three times over, and each time he is hit, Popeye bounces back into the next punch due to his still hooked suspenders. Popeye comes back to slug Bluto, but then the big lug locks Popeye's head in the window. Popeye struggles, and then punches his way through the bricks of the building to reach the lock and free himself. And suddenly, like the way of all things Popeye-and-Bluto, the fight is on!

Popeye punches Bluto clear to the ledge of the neighboring building, and then the two punch and kick each other back and forth between the buildings for a few turns. They start to exchange rapid blows at each other as they walk up the inside of the two buildings, Popeye standing on one and Bluto on the other, until they miraculously reach the top. Only they keep punching and walking, and finally, a few feet above the rooftops, they realize they have run out of real estate, yell in surprise, and start to fall. They each grab the ledge of one of the buildings, and after pulling themselves to safety, Bluto finds a tall ladder and runs it into Popeye. The sailorman is knocked off the building, but as he and the ladder fall to certain doom, Popeye climbs up the ladder and grabs the ledge again.

On the rooftop, Bluto wastes no time in knocking Popeye for a loop, sending him flying over the edge of a building and catching his feet on the bar of an awning. "What am I doin' hangin' 'round here?," he asks, but when he tries to climb back up, Bluto stomps on each of Popeye's hands in a gleefully mad dance. As Olive screams below in her office, Bluto starts pounding his fists on the hanging Popeye's fingers, but then Popeye somersault kicks the big lug out of the way. His perch is shortly gained, however, as Bluto wallops him again, and Popeye drops down onto the wildly waving and screaming Olive. Popeye continues to fall, and with his hands around Olive's neck, she is pulled
down the outside of the building, clinging on for dear life with her enormous boots. (The dizzying perspective used in this scene truly gives one a sense of the heighth of this adventure; unfortunately it also gives us a near peek up, or rather, down Olive's skirt.) Popeye climbs up her body and pulls Olive inside to safety, but Bluto grabs Popeye and runs him out on the flag pole. Tied up in ropes and seemingly helpless, Popeye watches as Bluto lights a match and sets fire to the only thing holding Popeye above the street far below. Bluto then turns on Olive and bellows, "Now do you want me to wash the windas, huh?" He then starts to choke her maniacally.

Oh, if only Popeye had some secret stash of spinach hidden on his person! Oh, that's right... he does! Somehow, the energy surge plows right up Popeye's body, out of his feet, and straight through the burning rope, which puts out the fire and ties the rope together tightly. Popeye then crawls back to the building to rescue Olive. Popeye throws what could well be a hundred rapid fire punches into the body of Bluto, and then one solid blow sends the creep flying high up the side of the building. Popeye slams a window down onto his own feet, giving him a solid footing, and when gravity calls Bluto back down, Popeye starts pounding on him again. Halfway through the flurry, he switches to his feet, and then back to his fists. "Here comes the hangover!," he warns, and then knocks Bluto up to the top of the building so that he hangs from his own belt from a hook.

As Yankee Doodle plays on the soundtrack, Popeye punches handholds into the bricks of the wall and climbs up them to finish off Bluto for good. "Hold onto your hat!" he tells the brute, and punches him over the side of the building. But this is still not enough. As Bluto falls, Popeye zooms down the twenty-plus floors to the sidewalk, and which the exclamation of "You're all washed up!", Popeye knocks Bluto through the windows of his own shop and into the cash register inside. Of course, when his head hits the keys, it rings up "No Sale". Popeye then flips his way over and over up the building ledge by ledge and into the arms of his love Olive. He tells the world that he is indeed a sailorman named Popeye, toots his pipe doubly, and the film irises out.

A couple of months ago, I reviewed a later Famous Popeye called A Haul in One, in which there is a similar scene where Popeye zooms down several flights of stairs, only that time, is was to catch furniture that he himself had dropped out of the window. The timing of that sequence is way off, and as a result, the scene lands with a thud, in much the same manner that the furniture normally would were it thrown out in that manner. It is a fun concept, though, and has been done correctly in numerous cartoons, and in The Paneless Window Washer, we see the perfect example. The speed, while outrageous, is believable in the context of the film, but only because the rest of the cartoon is so quick; the Popeye-Bluto battles, as they are in most of the Fleischer Popeyes, are lightning fast and pump the level of action to breathless heights. The major problem with so many of the Famous Popeyes is the leveling of the speed factor, perhaps due to lower budgets (and weaker imaginations, I like to theorize). The characters act out a scene practically as if diagramming the action for the viewer, and then painstakingly performing it for them, pointing out the "jokes" all the way. But when a character in the Fleischer Popeyes wants to do something, even if they preface the action with a gag, that character seems to perform that action as they think of it. These films move fast, and their rapidity only points up all the more the stolidness and dull setups of the latter day 'Eyes.

It is also nice to have a Popeye short where Olive Oyl's love is not the focus of the boys' competitive natures. Sure, there are plenty of them, but it's just nice to run into one after seeing a streak of about twenty Popeyes in a row of the romantic triangle variety. Speaking of streaks, what is would be really nice to run into is a window-cleaning product that really doesn't streak. But, look... if just plain water on a window is enough to cause a streak, what the hell good is a blue freakin' liquid gonna do? I can get every speck of dirt and dust off of the window, but no matter what I do, no matter how I squeegee or towel that window, little streaks appear immediately upon drying.

All of this "no-streak" jive is just that -- jive! I might as well just hose the contents of a mud puddle onto my window and just leave it for a professional.

Maybe Bluto was onto something here, after all...

The Paneless Window Washer (Max Fleischer Studios, 1937) Director: Dave Fleischer
Animators: Willard Bowsky & Orestes Caprini
Cel Bloc Rating: 7

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