A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 83 – Popeye (1983)

Popeye (1983) – May 22nd, 2010

Where the hell do I even start for this one? I honestly don’t know. I have no idea how to construct this review. Do I mention the cast first? Or the music? Or the ridiculous amount of ADR? Or maybe I should mention how this is another movie I used to own on a battered taped-off-television VHS. Or how about I talk about the disjointed plot? Perhaps the octopus?

Yeah, let’s start with the octopus. That’s as good a place to begin as any, given that it’s at the end. See, there’s this octopus. A big rubber octopus that’s more than vaguely reminiscent of the octopus in Ed Wood. You know the one. The one from the end of Bride of the Monster. The one that was supposed to be powered by a motor but they didn’t get the motor so they just had Bela Lugosi grab the arms and wave them around. It’s that sort of octopus. It’s almost that sort of movie. Almost, but not quite. The production values are too high and the cast is too good (in terms of potential and embodying the parts to a disturbing degree) to put it in Ed Wood’s level. But it is bizarre and it does have a rubber octopus.

I’m rather hard-pressed to explain this movie. Popeye, played by a very young Robin Williams wearing incredibly creepy forearm prosthetics, rows into the town of Sweethaven on a quest to find his pappy. Once in town he proceeds to get acquainted with the Oyl family (Coal, Nana, Castor and, of course, Olive) and lands right in the middle of Olive’s indecision over whether to marry Bluto. Due to their assumed engagement, Bluto’s been granting tax exemptions to the family for years. And okay, this all makes a certain amount of in-world logic and it’s a semi-coherent plot. But then some mysterious woman leaves a baby with Olive and Popeye while Olive’s dithering about Bluto and Bluto sees Olive with the baby and Popeye and trashes the Oyl family home and imposes stiff taxes on them, and then Popeye wins a prize fight against this big dude and then they find out that the baby can predict the future through a slide whistle sound effect and then they go bet on mechanical horses and Wimpy kidnaps the baby and hands it over to Bluto so he can find some sunken treasure that belongs to Popeye’s pappy who is actually the Commodore who runs the town and whom no one but Bluto’s ever seen.

And then there’s a sword fight in a lagoon. And the octopus. Oh yeah, and this is a musical. In fact, the vast majority of it is music. There’s very little non-musical dialogue. Even when people are talking, there’s often singing or the music from the song they interrupted going on in the background. Bluto sings about being mean. Olive sings about Bluto being laaaaaaaarge. Olive also sings about being needed. The entire town sings about food. Popeye’s pappy sings a thoroughly baffling sort-of song about how he hates kids. And Popeye sings “I am what I am!” Of course. It’s practically an opera. And watching it tonight, I realized it’s really very theatrical. I can practically see how the stage set would look and how the opening scenes would be blocked and everything. It’s not based on a play, but it feels like it should have been.

Quite on the contrary, the movie is based on a comic strip. A series of short strips, really, which kind of explains the bizarre nature of the story, going from little plot point to little plot point in a meandering path that seems like it didn’t really have a goal in mind until they realized they needed to wrap things up.

The odd saving grace of the movie is the cast. While the fact that it sounds like every line in the movie was recorded in post does get a little grating, I really do enjoy Robin Williams as Popeye. Yes, even with the creepy arms. The casting in the movie is eerily spot on in many places, from Bluto to Wimpy. And then there’s Olive Oyl. Shelley Duvall has done other things, I know. We have the entire Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre collection where I work. And let me tell you, that is an odd little series in itself. But I know she’s done a lot. I’m sure of it. But she is Olive Oyl. The mannerisms and physicality and look and voice, they’re all perfect. I’m so sorry, Shelley Duvall. You were perfect for this role. So you’ve got this creepily perfect cast performing as cartoon characters, right down to their balloon-like shoes, in a movie with a wandering plot and more songs than dialogue, and it all ends with a rubber octopus.

Seriously. What do you say about that?


May 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment


May 22, 2010


What do you think of when you hear the name Robert Altman? M*A*S*H? The Player? Nashville?

How about Robin Williams? Probably Good Morning Vietnam or Aladdin or Dead Poet Society.

Now what do you think of when you hear the name Shelley Duval? That’s right! Popeye! This utterly bizarre mishmash of a musical comedy based on a comic strip. Starring Robin Williams and directed by Robert Altman. Because if ever there was anybody born to play the part of Popey’s wiry love interest Olive Oyle it was Shelley Duval. She will never be any other character in my mind.

What can a guy say about this movie? I mean, I do actually like it, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you why. The crazy overlapping dialog is definitely Altman’s style. Robin Williams seems to be doing a fair amount of his trademarked razor-witted ad-libbing, but it’s hard to tell. He does this crazy dialect and because of the pipe ever griped in his teeth a lot of his dialog is clearly ADR.

Part of what is so strange about this movie is that Altman tries to fill the movie with the same kind of slapstick humor as you’d see in the cartoons. But as can be seen in Home Alone cartoon violence when perpetrated on live action people is creepy and unnatural. I’m pretty sure that a lot of the extras that populate Sweethaven are professional clowns performing some of the slapstick bits they do in their circus routines. Clowns are also creepy and unnatural. All the characters in the movie have big cartoon clown shoes, and of course Popeye has the big bulky forearms that are his identifying feature in the comic and cartoons. Those arms are creepy and unnatural as well. Oh, and like MST3K favorite Angel’s Revenge this movie features Hanna Barbera inspired cartoon sound effects.

Furthermore the movie wanders in a sort of plot-less way. It takes the form of a series of small episodes that are bunched together to form a film. (Not unlike M*A*S*H come to think of it.) I keep looking up at the screen and seeing the capering going on there and thinking “What must have been going through these peoples’ heads as they were giving these bizarre performances?”

Although I am not extremely well versed in the world of Popeye I do suspect that there’s a fair amount of fan service in this movie. You get the impression that most of the townsfolk are indeed characters from the comic strip and you will of course recognize key catch phrases such as “I hate you to pieces!” and “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” There are a lot of little one-off ADR lines like “Remember my dear, today it’s my turn to be tall” which might just be really strange non-sequiturs used to fill any dead space in the film, which I also suspect are quotes or references. Certainly there is never a moment in the movie when there aren’t two or three different gags taking place all at once. It ends up with a frenetic feeling even during slow bits (like the lengthy boat chase – which is almost devoid of any real action, but which is packed with lines, a silly song that’s half stand-up routine, and a lot of jumping up and down and over-acting.)

You know what movie this mess reminds me of? Hook. That was another big ridiculous movie loosely based on a popular children’s property and starring Robin Williams. But whereas Hook just fell flat for me this movie is still fun in a strange way. Maybe it’s that this movie doesn’t at any time try to take itself seriously. It isn’t about growing up or rediscovering the wonder of childhood or anything. It’s just a weird little cartoon done in live action. I guess I respect it for the purity of its vision at the very least.

I certainly do NOT hate it to pieces.

May 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment