1941: Popeye Goes to War!

IN-BETWEENERS

Problem Pappy/ Quiet! Pleeze/ Olive's Sweepstakes Ticket/ Flies Ain't Human/ Popeye Meets Rip Van Winkle/ Olive's Boithday Presink

     By 1941, it was clear that The Fleischers were no longer the most dominant in cartoons outside of Disney.  While Popeye was still a popular and durable star, the real fun was starting to happen at other studios. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck were now major "stars" at Warner Brothers, while MGM had created their hit cat and mouse team of Tom and Jerry.  Compared to some of the stuff coming out of these other studios, especially Warners, (Tom and Jerry were not quite up to speed yet),  the Popeye cartoons were starting to look old hat.  

     Problem Pappy is yet another cartoon about Pappy going out to have some fun (he kindly leaves a note on his bed saying "I wuzn't home last night") and devoted son Popeye trying to bring him back. Not as good as the previous year's With Poopdeck Pappy, but a decent cartoon overall with some fun mutterings and excruciating and obvious puns ("Bananas a-peel to me!' indeed!).  There's more Pappy in Quiet! Pleeze.  After a wild party, Pappy is in bed with a headache (you can tell his has a headache because spontaneous bumps grow and retreat on his head in rhythm to the tune of "How Dry I Am").  It is up to Popeye to keep the city quiet.  If you think this reminds you of 1934's Sock-a-Baby Baby, you are right.  Quiet! Pleeze is not just built on a similar premise but actually lifts footage of at least two gags straight out of the earlier film - sharp-eyed fans will notice a much more primitive Popeye punching a radio and knocking down a construction site.

     After four out of the last five films exploring the Pappy/Popeye relationship, Olive's Sweepstakes Ticket reminds us all of how much of a pain in the neck Olive Oyl can be.  Notable for one of Popeye's best self-destructing sentences: "Why can't women ever hide things where you can find them half the time?".  In Flies Ain't Human, a pesky fly gets hold of some spinach and makes Popeye's dreams of an afternoon nap collapse to rubble, something his house does too. Sad to see that the man who once beat up the entire Bruiser Boys Club is now so powerless against the smallest of foes, they actually manage to set up an unhindered square dance party on his head just before the fadeout.

     Popeye Meets Rip Van Winkle feels like deja vu all over again, hearkening back to Popeye Meets William Tell, another film that has the one-eyed sailor inexplicably meeting a legendary character.  There are differences between the films, of course.  In William Tell, there was a gratuitous reference to Groucho Marx.  In Rip Van Winkle, there is a gag in honor of his brother Chico.  Another difference is that Popeye Meets Rip Van Winkle is actually amusing in places, though it feels like they made it all up out of unused gags and discarded Poopdeck Pappy plots.  

     Olive's Boithday Presink also feels familiar, as if the guys at Fleischers had taken note of the success of such Warners films as Elmer's Candid Camera and Wild Hare and wanted to see if they could do something similar with Popeye cast as in the role of Elmer Fudd.  The most amusing part takes place before Popeye goes hunting, as he haggles with the rarely-seen E. C. Segar character Geezil over what is purported to be a genuine bearskin coat, a claim by Geezil that seems somewhat dubious given the little bunny rabbit tugging at the coat sobbing "Mommy!  Mommy!".


SPOTLIGHT: "Child Psykolojiky"

With: Popeye, Pappy, Swee'pea
Animators: Bill Nolan, Joe Oriolo

     STORY: Pappy, thinking Swee'pea is a sissy, tests his manhood.

      A very rare meeting of three generations of the Popeye family (though Swee'pea's actual familial affiliation remains vague), Child Psykolojiky, in spite of being one of the most hellish titles for a reviewer to type correctly on any sustained basis, is a slapstick comedy prominently featuring Pappy endangering Swee'pea's life in the most insane and violent ways.  Despite a lack of originality in the 1941 films so far, the animation had been as good as ever, something that is more noticeable when it is supported by a good, novel story situation.  Animators Bill Nolan and Joe Oriolo display a beautifully wacky rubbery style throughout the entire film. Watch Pappy's completely boneless foot as it digs into his shoe to retrieve some hidden playing cards, or Swee'pea's expanding and shrinking head as he bawls his eyes out, and you'll see cartooning the way it was meant to be.  Swee'pea's mixed emotions when left alone with Pappy are also priceless and show just how good animators can make a character who never says a word as memorable as a character like Popeye who mangles every word he says.  Speaking of which, the dialogue in Child Psykolojiky features Popeye telling Swee'pea the story of "George Washlincoln", who "was born when he was very young." The point is either "Never tell a lie" or "Make sure you leave your hatchet within easy reach of a baby after you tell a story."  The rest of the short is mostly good old-fashioned Popeye stuff - you know, shotguns, child endangerment, those sorts of things. 

     Child Psykolojiky (whew! made it again!) was the last black and white Popeye cartoon to feature the famous "boat deck" opening sequence with the sliding cabin doors that revealed the cartoon's titles and credit.


IN-BETWEENER

Pest Pilot/I'll Never Crow Again

     Starting with Pest Pilot, released in August of 1941, Popeye cartoons began with a new title sequence with revamped graphics and a newly arranged medley of "Popeye the Sailor Man" and "The Sailor's Horn Pipe".  

     In Pest Pilot, Pappy (the pest of the title) wants to be a pilot at Popeye's airport, but Popeye pooh-poohs the idea.  So Pappy hijacks one of Popeye's planes and flies it, or rather, it flies him, all over the world.  And by all over the world, we mean everywhere from the Arctic to the New York City subways.  I'll Never Crow Again has Popeye attempting to scare crows out of Olive's garden.  It's an average short made more enjoyable by the decision of the animators to not animate Popeye's mouth movements for most of the film.  Jack Mercer's lines, scripted or not, always seem funnier when they look like they are ad-libbed.


SPOTLIGHT: "The Mighty Navy"

With: Popeye
Animators: Seymour Kneitel, Abner Matthews

     STORY: In the U.S. Navy, Popeye seems to be incompetent, until the enemy shows up!

      A landmark Popeye film in several ways.  One month before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Fleischers released this first of several war-time films featuring Popeye in the U.S. Navy. Gone was his usual black shirt. From now on, with few exceptions, Popeye would wear a white navy uniform for the rest of his screen career.  The humor behind the short is that the most famous "sailor man" in history is a fish out of water in the actual U.S. Navy.  To achieve this result, Popeye was changed even more than ever to a standard "everyman" character.  His naval uniform was ill-fitting, his attempts at following regulations ill-executed... in short, he was a Lou Costello character, especially the Lou Costello from the 1941 hit Abbott and Costello service comedies BUCK PRIVATES and IN THE NAVY.

     The cartoons of this period were often very fast, wild, gaggy and exquisitely timed in a Warner Brothers way. While the results were often funny, the Popeye cartoons were losing their distinct "Fleischer" feeling and began to resemble the work of other studios.


IN-BETWEENER

Nix on Hypnotricks

     In Nix on Hypnotricks, Popeye is back in his civilian uniform, trying to rescue Olive from a rogue hypnotist who, for reasons known only to him, has picked Olive's name out of a phone book and summoned her hypnotically ("a victim of circum-trance" sez Popeye).  It's a scaled-down remake of the classic A Dream Walking, but a good one. Interestingly, the hypnotist looks like Bluto after several years on the South Beach Diet, and is voiced by Jack 
Mercer, who also voices a cab driver as well as, of course, Popeye. 

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