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 | , ,

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