CATEGORIES Comedy, Music & Musicals, Disney, Paramount, Fandom, Guilty Pleasures, Features, CinematicalTell someone you love Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather and you'll probably have a pleasant movie-geek conversation that's entirely bereft of finger-pointing, muffled chuckles, and slack-jawed silence. If, on the other hand you tell someone you love, say, Robert Altman's Popeye, you better be prepared to step up, argue your points, and maintain a strong sense of humor. Know what? Better yet, just keep it to yourself. Let the fact that you dig Popeye be your own little secret.
Because I'm foolish enough to admit my weakness print, I can guarantee that the opinions found here in the latest edition of Cinematical's Guilty Pleasures will net me several comments in which I'm called a dork, a few emails in which I'm called a fool, and perhaps an entire website devoted to how someone who legitimately enjoys Robert Altman's Popeye should never be allowed to make a living writing about film and would probably be better suited to a career in municipal sewage.
But nyeah. I dig it! And I know some of you definitely agree with me, but I'll understand if you prefer to remain anonymous on this one...
- The music! Harry Nilsson's strangely sweet, intermittently toe-tappin', and undeniably WEIRD ditties pepper this flick like so many lunatic jimmies on a truly wacky cupcake. From Olive Oyl's outlandish ode to Bluto's, um, largeness to Poopdeck Pappy's repeated claims that he am what he am, there's a whole lot of good childish fun to be had here. Heck, Paul Thomas Anderson is right there with me; he featured the insane He Needs Me rather prominently in Punch-Drunk Love! OK, some of the songs are uncomfortable clunkers, but they never seem to bother me all that much.
- The cast! Paul Dooley IS Wimpy! Paul L. Smith makes for a perfect Bluto. And if ever there was one perfect piece of comics-to-live-action casting, it'd have to be Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl. Now, I know Robin Williams has taken a lot of flak for his Popeye over the years ... but why? He's got the pipe, the hat, the under-breath mutterisms, the attitude, the spinach ... and those hilariously bulbous arms! What's a guy gotta do? One (and by "one," I mean "I") suspects that Robin got a raw deal on Popeye, simply because he wasn't doing the ol' Mork schtick that everyone expected to see in 1980. Oh, and the background is an absolute salad bar of character actor goodness: Linda Hunt, Ray Walston, Donald Moffat, Richard Libertini, Donovan Scott, Bill Irwin ... and extra points to anyone who can spot Dennis Franz in Sweethaven.
- The Kid! Wesley Ivan Hurt as Swee'pea: Robert Altman's grandson and one of the cutest movie babies ever. Plus he could whistle and predict horse-race winners!
- The Look! Production designer Wolf Kroeger turned the Maltese seaside into one of the most lovably off-kilter and bizarrely misshapen locations ever built. (And, get this, the sets still remain in Malta!) Even before I knew when 'production design' meant, I would watch Popeye and think "Wow, those buildings and signs and costumes sure ... look ... neato."
- Subversion! On the surface Popeye works just dandily as a kid flick, provided your kids have a strange sense of humor and half an attention span, but there's another side to the movie that's just a little bit ... askew. I don't want to call it "dark," necessarily, but it's pretty evident that Altman was trying to mix things up for the kids, the adults, and the stoners, too.
- Plus, and this I'll argue till the cows come home: Popeye is, if you watch the flick with an unbiased eye and an open mind, one of the most "faithful" comic strip adaptations out there. (The comic strips, not the cartoons!) It somehow brings all the established characters together, creates just enough of a story framework for them to hang upon, and then delves into the well-known mythos and doles out a few surprises, too! (Did YOU know that Popeye originally HATED spinach? Yep.)
Oh, and let's demolish one long-standing fallacy right here. Call it junk if you like, but Popeye was NOT a bomb in any way, shape, or form. The thing cost about $20 million, made over $45 million at the U.S. box office, and has since gone on to become a long-standing cult favorite among the video crowd. (Heck, even good ol' Roger Ebert gave the flick 3.5 stars!) True, Paramount and Disney (yes, Popeye was a co-production) were almost certainly hoping for a bigger payday from Popeye, but the flick was cutting a profit long before most of the Cinematical readership was even born. (God, I'm old.)