1937: Babies and Infinks

SPOTLIGHT: "The Paneless Window Washer"

With: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
Animators: Willad Bowski, Orestes Calpini

Oh dear!     STORY: Bluto, "The Only Dirty Window Washer in Town", resents Popeye washing Olive's windows.  So naturally he tries to kill them both. 

     If Bluto wasn't such a black-hearted S.O.B. I'd feels sorry for him. Seems that not a day goes by that he doesn't lose his temper and get his butt handed to him by Popeye.  In The Paneless Window Washer, he has clear access to every window on a 20-plus story building.  Every window but one, that is - Olive Oyl is having Popeye wash hers.  Bluto's unwillingness to accept that somebody else is going to clean one window out of hundreds sets him off on a tempestuous, temper-fueled tantrum that inevitably lead to his own downfall.  Like I said - if he wasn't an incorrigible animal-torturer, woman-choker and homicidal maniac, I'd feel his pain.

     The Paneless Window Washer starts 1937 off on an excellent note.  Fast-paced, funny and expertly timed, it features some of the best high-angle perspective shots in the entire series, giving a real sense of height and danger to Popeye and Bluto's window-washing work, which, as you might guess, features much fighting along ledges barely wide enough for Popeye's feet let alone Bluto's entire bulky frame.  The first few minutes are devoted to funny variations of window washing (the Fleischer's will make gags about anything!), the second half is about Popeye and Bluto fighting each other along window ledges, rooftops, or even in mid-air.  Near the end,  Bluto once again completely loses his composure, hanging Popeye from a flagpole and then choking Olive.  All over one lousy window.

     Seriously, he needs counseling.


IN-BETWEENERS

Organ Grinder's Swing / My Artistical Temperature / Hospitaliky / The Twisker Pitcher 

     In Organ Grinder's Swing, Popeye and Olive are enjoying the merry music of organ grinder Wimpy and his monkey outside their windows.  Neighbor Bluto doesn't appreciate the entertainment, and shows it by throwing hot stove grills and sharp knives at everyone.  He even heats a nickel before giving it to the poor unsuspecting monkey.  Like I said before - he's just a black-hearted SOB.  Yet in retaliation, Popeye is equally as vicious, and we love him for it.   See Joe Adamson's thoughts on Tex Avery's Bad Luck Blackie in Tex Avery: King of Cartoons for more thoughts on this interesting psychological phenomenon.

     My Artistical Temperature is a violent and funny debate on which art is artier - painting or sculpting. The artists doing the debating are Bluto and Popeye, and they don't use words so much as fists and implements of destruction.  The short's opening establishing shot of the outside of the studio features one beautiful detail, the kind you might only find in a Fleischer film - the sounds and shadows of passing elevated trains.

     Hospitaliky is just plain weird.  In order to get into the hospital where Nurse Olive Oyl works, Popeye and Bluto try various ways of killing themselves, including letting themselves be run over by a train that is actually footage lifted from the first Popeye film, Popeye the Sailor.  The Twisker Pitcher is a baseball picture that should be funnier than it is.  Unlike the Bugs Bunny classic Baseball Bugs (1949), we are not really given any strong reason to root for Popeye, and when he resorts to using performance-enhancing spinach to win the game... well, as Bugs would say, for shame, Doc, for shame.  Incidentally, Baseball Bugs repeats at least one gag from The Twisker Pitcher, when a line drive manages to hit every player on the field in pinball fashion.  


SPOTLIGHT: "Morning, Noon and Night-Club"

With Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, Wimpy
Animators: Willard Bowsky, George Germanetti 

     STORY: Bluto attempts to destroy Popeye and Olive's nightclub act.

     For years, Popeye and Bluto have been working on perfecting the art of fighting.  In Morning, Noon and Nightclub, they turn it in to a ballet.  The short begins with Bluto getting his jollies by walking around town punching out the face of every advertising poster he finds of "Popito and Olivita's" dance show at Wimpy's Cafe. This includes making a special trip to the third-floor of an apartment complex to punch out Popeye's face on an ad on an adjacent building.  "I never did like that guy," Bluto tells us, a superfluous bit of information if ever we've heard one.

     The highlight of the short is one of the most glorious few minutes in all of Popeyedom: Popeye and Bluto dancing, and fighting, on the nightclub floor.   There is probably much subtext that can be further explored by eggheads about how the dance represents the love between these two, a love that can only be expressed in violence.  But we're talking about a cartoon in which Wimpy keeps a burner and four hamburgers under his tophat, so let's just enjoy the scene for what it is - Popeye and Bluto, dancing and fighting.


SPOTLIGHT: "Lost and Foundry"

With: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Swee'pea
Animators: Seymour Kneitel, Abner Matthews

     STORY: Swee'pea wanders into a factory and plays amongst the deadly machinery.

Playing hopscotch amongst the buzz saws     One of a handful of perfect Popeye shorts, possibly inspired by Chaplin's Modern Times released the previous year.  Chaplin may have worried about man's place in industrialized society, but the Fleischers, especially producer Max, probably saw Modern Times and thought "Wow, look at the cool mechanical stuff!".  They then cast Popeye an employee of the Useless Machinery Factory so that little Swee'pea could be placed in peril, as in the similar Little Swee'pea

     Some machines in the factory makes specific things, such as baby highchairs.  Others seem to exist only to exist, with no other function but to stay in motion.  Little Swee'pea, of course, is fascinated by all of them, and happily scampers around the factory, jumping and falling from machine to machine, avoiding premature death again and again only by chance.  Popeye chases Swee'pea all over the factory and gets clocked in the head, sucked into vents and otherwise pulled, prodded and pummeled by gigantic mechanisms in a way that would make Charlie Chaplin himself proud.

Clampett's conveyor belt     Being a Fleischer cartoon, Lost and Foundryallows us to see just how everything fits together, showing us how every gear, every roller,  exhaust pipe, piston, lever and button fit together with everything else.  Consider the difference between Lost and Foundry and what Bob Clampett shows us in his surreal Baby Bottleneck from 1945, in which Porky Pig and Daffy Duck work at a "baby factory".  Clampett has no interest in explaining how his machinery works, not surprising since at times in the same cartoon he has no interest in providing even a rudimentary background for his players.  Clampett's mechanisms work because they are animated to work, powered by the strains of Raymond Scott's classic piece of agitated jazz "Powerhouse".  In Fleischer cartoons, machinery works because every gear is in place the way they should be.  


IN-BETWEENERS

I Never Changes My Altitude / I Likes Babies and Infinks / The Football Toucher Downer / Proteck the Weakerist / Fowl Play

    For a year that started off so good and contained several classics, it ended with some shorts of questionable entertainment value.  It seems as if the second half of 1937 was a time for some experimentation, trotting out novelties rather than just sticking to the same formula.  I Never Changes My Altitude is the best of the bunch, reviving the old standby plot of Olive ditching Popeye for somebody exotic, this time Aviator Bluto.  I Likes Babies and Infinks is a pretty empty short about Bluto and Popeye attempting semi-amusing tricks to stop baby Swee'pea from crying.  The Football Toucher Downer anticipates, by decades,  the much later TV trend of creating a new series around classic characters from their baby years (the Muppets, Bugs and friends, etc.).  Although the film contains some fun football gags, seeing Baby Popeye, Baby Bluto and Baby Olive is not nearly as fun as it could have been.

     The emphasis on cuteness continues with Proteck the Weakerist, in which Popeye is asked by Olive to walk her effeminate little dog Fluffy.  Naturally they run into Bluto who is walking a mean bulldog four times Fluffy's size.  It's a pretty good short, certainly head and shoulders over the previous two.  The year ends with Fowl Play which seems to exist solely to show off Olive's new pet parrot, who starts off amusing but then goes on to chatter so much, you start to hope Bluto will choke him to death.

     There was another Technicolor special released in 1937: Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves.

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