Popeye and the Langridge of Heroism, by Michael H. Price

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10 Responses

  1. Russ Rogers says:

    Great Review. Thanks. What do you think of Robert Altman's "Popeye"?

    • Michael H. Price says:

      And thanks for reading. Pardon tardy reply — long weekend away from the office.Took a while to develop a real fondness for Robert Altman's POPEYE feature, although I had enjoyed it well enough as a new release. The clincher was a much later series of interviews with Mr. Altman, in which he spoke expansively of POPEYE as a thematic ancestor of THE PLAYER and KANSAS CITY — "the maverick, at large in an insular and corrupt society," as the Great Man put it, adding "always been fascinated with that notion of landing in some place where one doesn't belong but trying to gain something of an edge." The Altman's POPEYE plays out well and holds up likewise, as far as I'm concerned. Generally loyal to Segar, smart casting overall. The music still strikes me as a bit too precious — even though I'm a big admirer of Harry Nilsson's work elsewhere. No accounting for taste.

      • Russ Rogers says:

        I know what you mean about Harry Nilsson. I'm a HUGE fan. And he would regularly walk the thin line between cloying and clever. "The Point" is like that. "The Moonbeam Song," from "Nilsson Schmilsson." His theme music to "The Courtship of Eddie's Father." He could usually put just enough of an ironic twist on things to keep them from getting too schmaltzy. I have to admit, I haven't seen Altman's "Popeye" in over twenty years and I never saw it in the theater. I can't remember the music that well. I remember being amazed at the sets and casting. Shelly Duvall was born to play Olive Oyl. But as I recall the movie had a problem sustaining my interest.By contrast, I saw the Arabian Nights/Popeye spoof in a theater about fifteen years ago. There are elements from that short that I can readily picture. Especially Bluto singing as Abu Hassan and the 40 theives hiding in crockery. It's funny what sticks with me.http://www.theneitherworld.com/popeye/lyrics.htmI just Googled "Abu Hassan" to see if I had the spelling right. (I do!) But I also found out that "Abu Hassan" was a one act opera from the early 1800s by Carl Maria von Weber, who I've never heard of, but Wikipedia insists is very influential. My guess is that the Musical Director for the Fleischers knew of the opera and suggested the name, "Abu Hassan" and the song.

        • Michael H. Price says:

          Yep — amazing what a Yahgoogle inquiry can turn up. Showed the Fleischers' POPEYE/SINDBAD short a few years ago as part of a repertory series at our local art-film theatre (billed with a Charley Chase two-reeler, MOVIE NIGHT, and the 1936 SHOW BOAT) and still hear fond impressions of the POPEYE from those who were among the audience. Favorite here among the three Technicolor pocket-epics featuring Popeye is the "Abu Hassan" entry — and yes, the business with the crockery is the first thing that springs to mind about that one.Watched Altman's KANSAS CITY again just the other night. About as hard-boiled as they come. Probably about time for a refresher-look at his POPEYE.

        • Alan Coil says:

          I have 2 Nilsson albums. Son of Schmilsson, which contains a great, unimportant song "You're Breaking My Heart". I delight in listening to it.And the second is the Popeye album. I absolutely loved the music. Thought the movie was pretty good, too.

          • Russ Rogers says:

            I know, "You're Breaking My Heart," a very fun song! I know it from the anthology, "Personal Best." Harry's use of the expletive in "You're Breaking My Heart" is very similar to his use of the word, "crap," in "The Moonbeam Song." It's the salt that Nilsson tosses in to keep the stew from getting too treacly.I tried to find the Popeye soundtrack on Amazon and iTunes. Not available. But, iTunes has both the Popeye Movie and Popeye Vol. 1 box set! I will have to give both another try.

  2. mike weber says:

    I am personally very fond of Altman's "Popeye" film – which, at the time it was released, i was amazed to be able to say about anything featuring Robin Williams ("The Fisher King" being the only other live-action Williams vehicle of which i can say the same).According to Feiffer's "History of Comics", the spinach (and, i assume Bluto) were elements of the adventure that was going on in the papers at the time the Fleischers first began making their cartoons, and they picked it up and used it as a tag to keep the character consistent. (As if Stan and Jack had only intended to use "It's clobberin' time!" as a oneshot thing, but that was when someone else took over the writing…) At the time, many complained that Altman's film wasn't faithful to "the original cartoons" – sort of like the people who complained that Disney's "Return to Oz" wasn't "faithful to the orginal" – even though it was much more faithful to Baum's books than was the Garland "original". (Feiffer's script, i understand, fairly closely adapts an actual sequence from the strip; aside from Castor's character being somewhat "dumbed down", it seems fairly accurate – in spirit at least – to me.)I can't afford these books, but i need to at least look them over…

  3. Vinnie Bartilucci says:

    Alman's Popeye was a delight for people (like me) who knew the original Thimble Theatre strip, as the characters populated the film as real as they could be. It was the first national exposure for magnificent new-wave clown Bill Erwin as Ham Gravy. Richard Libertini as Geezil was a joy to behold. About the only regulars who didn't appear were Eugene the Jeep and Bernice the Whiffle Hen.But alas, for people who knew Popeye and only Popeye, the film was 90-odd minutes of "when's he gonna eat the *&*&in' spinach?" It also suffered from the eternal belief that a character adapted from another medium requires an "origin" story, even where none had even been shown before. To once again quote Patton Oswalt's bit about the SW Proquels, "I don't need to know what the ice cream was before it was ice cream…I just want the ice cream."Both the Fleischer brothers and Elsie Segar were genius experimenters. Segar was notorious for building mad contraptions, usually out of yardsticks, to help in his work, including a device to enlarge and duplicate photos of Popeye for his many fans' requests. The Fleischers, aside from all but inventing the art of rotoscoping, also experimented with 3-D backgrounds behind the cel-animated characters, giving the cartoons a depth that impresses even today. More then just the multiplane method used by Disney (where several partial painted backgrounds are placed at different levels behind the main character), the Fleischers would build full mini-sets for the cartoons, place it behind the character and film the whole thing at once. You see it a few times in the Popeye shorts (and I look forward to see how the pristine copies on the DVDs make them pop) but my personal favorite example is in the Grampy cartoon "Chrstmas Comes But Once a Year" where Grampy and the orphans dance and sing before a 3-D rotating christmas tree.

    • mike weber says:

      "…the Fleischers would build full mini-sets for the cartoons, place it behind the character and film the whole thing at once. "As a matter of fact, sometimes – i think "Forty Thieves" was one – they would insert the cels *into* the 3D miniature set (which was on a turntable), and achiever shots with the characters realistically moving *behind* scenery or props.

  4. Michael H. Price says:

    Good perspective, there, on the Altman film as a reflection of Segar. And on the Fleischer's 3-D mastery, too. CHRISTMAS COMES BUT ONCE A YEAR is still an eye-popping delight.Recently watched an early-talkie Fleischer, SWING YOU SINNER!, in a YouTube presentation. Hadn't seen the thing since the after-school teevee days. Primitive and repetitive by comparison with the studio's strides of the later '30s, but smart usage of a popular song and a good early grasp of the surreal visual design that would evolve in such titles as MINNIE THE MOOCHER and SNOW-WHITE.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqVP8a5C0V0