DVD Review: Popeye the Sailor 1938-1940, Volume 2
Release Date: June 17, 2008
Distributor: Warner Home Video
by Fred Grandinetti
Published: June 16, 2008
Recently I received a DVD of animated cartoons which ran on an independent television station from 1987. The black and white Popeye cartoons were included. This means the black and white Popeye shorts have remained a continuing presence in the media. They were screened in theatres during the 1930's and 1940's. They found a new audience on television starting in 1956. Their presence continued on independent television stations well into the late 1980's. By the 1990's and on into the present day they've appeared on the Cartoon Network's "Late Nite Black and White" and "The Popeye Show." Truly, the Popeye theatricals have touched generations.
Fans having been waiting a long time for the Popeye theatricals to be released on DVD and would probably buy them wrapped in a doggy bag. However, it's annoying to see the same stock Popeye art, which has been used on products for the past decade, recycled on this set. An original color drawing of Popeye as Aladdin and Olive as the Princess (from the 1939 "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp") would have been more appropriate for this volume.
Unfortunately, sloppy errors, which I attribute to laziness, pop up as often as Eugene the magical Jeep on this two disc set of thirty one theatrical cartoons. For instance, printed on the liner notes is this description: "Lanky goyl, Olive Oyl is here, dreaming of sailing matrimonial seas with the old salt (and frenetically coping with Popeye's nephews, Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye)." If the writer had watched the film described, "Wimmin is a Myskery" (1940), it would have been revealed the four lads were Olive's children! It would not be until 1942 when these boys would be dubbed Popeye's "nephews."
I was mortified to see the television syndicated, "Popeye the Sailor" logo (from Associated Artists Productions) inserted in two theatricals, "Customer's Wanted" (1939) and "Hello, How Am I" (1939). The original theatrical opening for "Customer's Wanted" was used in "Leave Well Enough Alone" (1939). "Hello, How Am I" originally featured the rarely seen rope style "Popeye the Sailor" logo, used in three other theatricals on this DVD. The production staff was informed which openings belonged to what titles, but these instructions were seemingly ignored.
One of the features, a "Popumentary" titled "Men of Spinach and Steel," takes a lot of time pondering if Superman's creators were influenced by Popeye. This fact was revealed in the 2004 book, “Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History” (McFarland) on page 23:
Jerry Siegel, one of Superman's creators (along with Joe Shuster), readily admits that the animated Popeye cartoons were a primary influence. He envisioned similar fast-paced action turning on the hero's superhuman strength, but played straight instead of for laughs.
It would have been a nice finish to this segment if someone had read the information from this book which the production people have in their possession.
A biography on the voices of Olive Oyl was a fine tribute to Mae Questel, but Margie Hines -- who provided her voice for six years for both the Fleischer and Famous Studios' cartoons -- was only given a brief mention. Fans have often pondered why Mae Questel did not voice Olive for the Saturday morning cartoons produced by Hanna-Barbera's "The All New Popeye Hour" (1978-1980), "The Popeye and Olive Comedy Show" (1981-1983) and "Popeye and Son" (1987-88). Speculation has included that she either wanted too much money, did not want to work in California or was not hired after auditioning. Instead, the biography inaccurately states that Mae Questel provided the voice of Olive Oyl until the 1980's. Marilyn Schreffer provided her voice for the Hanna-Barbera cartoons. This fact has been well documented and poor research is the only justification for such a remark.
As with last year's volume, scenes from the colorized Popeye cartoons (tinted in black and white) were used in the documentary sections.
On the whole, the cartoons look beautiful. As this DVD covers the years 1938 to 1940, the third Popeye two reeler, "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp" is included. Produced in 1939, critics have often called this the lesser of the color Popeye two-reelers due to the lack of three dimensional effects. It is a fine cartoon nonetheless, with a wonderful story, fine singing by Jack Mercer as Popeye and the consumption of four cans of spinach! It is also delightful to see the original opening and closing to this animated film.
The films of this period introduced audiences to the animation debuts of Popeye's father, Poopdeck Pappy, the goons of Goon Island, and Eugene the Jeep. They also undergo a transition in style as the Fleischer Studios moved from gritty New York to brighter Miami, Florida. Starting with the cartoon, "Females is Fickle" (1940) Popeye, Olive and Bluto look, walk and talk with a lighter, sunnier feel. This is more apparent in the cartoon, "Doing Impossikible Stunts" (1940) where scenes from the older Popeye films are used in the plot.
Several classic Popeye theatricals are on this set. "I Yam Love Sick" (1938) where Popeye fakes illness to make Olive fall back in love with him, and "Goonland" (1938) has Popeye finding his captive father on Goon Island. (Both sailors battle with the goons so fiercely the film actually snaps and human hands put it together with a safety pin!)
"Hello, How Am I" (1939) gives Wimpy a meaty role as a Popeye double in an attempt to get a hamburger dinner. "It's The Natural Thing to Do" (1939) features Popeye and Bluto trying non-violence, but inevitably ending up with a battling conclusion.
Popeye's tender side is featured in "My Pop, My Pop" (1940) when his father tries to demonstrate he's not too old to help his son build a ship. And in "Puttin On the Act" (1940) Popeye morphs his face into comedian Stan Laurel!
Other Popeye Popumentary sections feature looks at Poopdeck Pappy and Eugene the Jeep, but don't offer any new startling revelations. Both sections fail to mention that these characters appeared more frequently in the television cartoons produced by King Features Syndicate and, later, Hanna-Barbera Productions.
Additional features include two Fleischer shorts, early Max Fleischer art gallery stills, and an outstanding documentary on his studio. Superman appears in the Fleischer theatrical, "The Mechanical Monsters" (1941). Pencil tests from "Females if Fickle" (1940) and a storyboard reel of "Stealin' Ain't Honest" (1940) are also included.
Audio-only extras include an informative interview of Jack Mercer by animator Michael Sporn, and an early audio recording of the Popeye theme song by William Costello. (Costello was the original voice of Popeye in the early Fleischer theatricals.)
Alas, few new faces were seen in the Popumetary selections. It was wonderful to see Fleischer Studio's author, Leslie Cabarga, and voice actor Maurice LeMarche (who provided Popeye's voice in "Popeye and Son") but it is the fans (and I can't emphasize this enough) who made the release of these cartoons possible on DVD. I can tell you this in all sincerity due to the number of e-mails I have received over the years. Many of these individuals are well educated on the history of the sailor man and continue to play vital roles in keeping the ol' salt visible to future generations. Whether getting statues of the Popeye characters erected in parks, including them in restaurants, running a Popeye fan club, teaching his values in Sunday school, writing articles, or donating memorabilia to children's hospitals, it is his fans who have actively kept the classic Popeye an on-going presence in the United States.
|Popeye the Sailor
1938-1940, Volume 2
|I Yam Love Sick
Plumbing is a "Pipe"
The Jeep (optional commentary track)
Bulldozing the Bull (optional commentary track)
Mutiny Ain't Nice (optional commentary track)
Goonland (optional commentary track)
A Date to Skate (optional commentary track)
Cops is Always Right (optional commentary track)
Customers Wanted (optional commentary track)
Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp
Leave Well Enough Alone
Wotta Nitemare (optional commentary track)
Ghosks is the Bunk
Hello, How Am I? (optional commentary track)
It's the Natural Thing to Do (optional commentary track)
-- Out of the Inkwell: The Fleischer Story
-- Popeye Popumentaries:
------ Eugene the Jeep: A Breed of his Own
------ Poopdeck Pappy: The Nasty Old Man and the Sea
------ O-Re-Mi: Mae Questel and the Voices of Olive Oyl
|Never Sock A Baby
Females is Fickle
Stealin' Ain't Honest (optional commentary track)
Me Feelin's is Hurt
Wimmin is a Myskery
Doing Impossikible Stunts
Wimmin Hadn't Oughta Drive
Puttin on the Act (optional commentary track)
Popeye Meets William Tell (optional commentary track)
My Pop, My Pop
With Poopdeck Pappy
Popeye Presents Eugene the Jeep
From the Vault: -- Paramount Presents Popular Science (1938)-features the making of a Popeye cartoon.
-- The Mechanical Monsters (1941) - a Fleischer Studio's Superman short.
Early Max Fleischer Art Gallery
"Females is Fickle" Pencil Test
"Stealin' Ain't Honest" - Storyboard Reel
-- "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man" vintage recording by William Costello
-- Animator Michael Sporn interviews voice of Popeye, Jack Mercer