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Peter’s Retro Rewind: Popeye (1980)

Popeye Movie Posterby Peter Nielsen

”I’m Popeye the Sailor Man, I’m Popeye the Sailor Man. I’m strong to the finnich, ‘cause I eats me spinach. I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.”

Yes, yes, I know I stated in last week’s review (Django) that I wasn’t going to cover musicals here on Forgotten Flix.

Well, since Popeye is a musical, I kind of made a liar out of myself real fast there, didn’t I?

I’ve actually only watched this Robert Altman-directed film once before and hadn’t thought about it for many years. Recently though, I just happened to come across it and since it didn’t cost much, I thought it would be a harmless little flick for my two youngest daughters to watch.

And you know what? It wasn’t all that bad. It’s by no means a great movie, but I enjoyed it and would place it somewhere between mediocre and kind of funny. Some scenes are a bit painful to watch, but come on… it’s a friggin’ live-action cartoon! And if you put yourself in a “cartoony” state of mind, you’ll do just fine.

The quaint, coastal village of Sweet Haven.

The quaint, coastal village of Sweet Haven.

The director, Robert Altman (M*A*S*H, Short Cuts, The Player), has done a good job of translating it from comic strip and animated shorts into a grand, live-action film. He took great care in bringing the town of Sweet Haven and its inhabitants to life. It’s an impressive looking set; both the town itself and the harbor, with its many sunken ships, look great.

The movie starts just as a new day is dawning and all of a sudden the town is buzzing with activity. There’s just so much going on both in the front and in the background, that you’ll need multiple viewings to take it all in. (And yes, I’m aware that’s probably asking too much of you.)

The role of Popeye is played brilliantly by Robin Williams in his big screen debut. I don’t feel that Mr. Williams needs much of an introduction, but I’ll mention a couple of titles anyway. Does Mork & Mindy, Good Morning, Vietnam or The Fisher King ring any bells?

"I yam, what I yam Pappy!"

“I yam, what I yam Pappy!”

Popeye’s story is simple enough. The squinty-eyed sailor arrives in the little coastal town of Sweet Haven while searching for his long lost father. He’s immediately shunned by the townspeople for being a stranger. He rents a room in a boarding-house owned by the Oyl family. The daughter, Olive Oyl, played by Shelley Duvall (The Shining, Roxanne), is to be engaged to Bluto, the bully who runs the town for a man only known as “The Commodore”.

Bluto is played by Paul L. Smith (Crimewave, Midnight Express) and is a big brute of a man with serious anger issues. On the evening of the engagement party, Olive decides she doesn’t really want Bluto after all and quietly sneaks out of the house. Bluto, who’s not the most patient man in the world, quickly grows tired of waiting and in a fit of rage destroys the Oyl family’s house.

Meanwhile, Olive has met Popeye on the deserted streets of Sweet Haven (all the people are at the party) and the two of them stumble across a basket with a little baby in it. Popeye adopts the infant and names him Swee’Pea. When they later return to the house together, with the baby, Bluto gets even madder and beats up poor Popeye. He then raises the taxes for the family and storms off.

Bluto and Popeye squaring off!

Bluto and Popeye squaring off!

Over the next couple of days we’re treated to a fight with a local heavyweight boxer named Oxblood Oxheart. Popeye also battles a giant octopus and apparently Swee’Pea can sometimes predict the future. Oh, and Popeye finally finds his long lost father, Poopdeck Pappy. He’s played by Ray Walston, whom you might recognize from Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Rad, or maybe from the TV-show My Favorite MartianI.

The hamburger-loving Wimpy, who’s always short on money, finds Swee’Pea’s “psychic” ability especially interesting and decides to take him to the horse-races. Wimpy is portrayed by Paul Dooley (Breaking Away, Sixteen Candles). When Popeye finds out, he’s outraged, or as he puts it: “I is disgustipated!”

"It's a beautirrific sunsets, ain't it Olive?"

“It’s a beautirrific sunsets, ain’t it Olive?”

This is not a great movie, but the attention to detail and the lovable characters make me admit I actually like this movie. I just can’t help it! And it gave me great joy that my two youngest daughters liked it too and thought it was funny. They talked about it for a couple of days afterwards, so I guess it left some kind of impression on them.

They had one complaint though: Olive Oyl’s singing!

At one point they turned to me and said: “Daddy? She sings really badly!” And it’s true, she does! But she’s supposed to, because that’s how Olive Oyl sings in the animated shorts. I have to give praise to Shelley Duvall here, because she is absolutely amazing in Popeye. She’s got every movement and mannerism of Olive Oyl nailed down to the point where she actually became the character. And if you’ve ever seen the animated Olive Oyl, I know you’ll agree with me. She’s annoying as hell, but she’s utterly fantastic when she is!

Interesting trivia: Did you know Linda Hunt also made her film debut in Popeye? Well, she did! She has a small part as Mrs. Oxheart, the mother of the boxer. Her next movie was The Year of Living Dangerously, in which she plays a man. She won an Academy Award for that role. Ms. Hunt is a great actress, who at the moment stars as “Hetty” in the TV-show NCIS: Los Angeles.

So, would I recommend you watch Popeye? While I know it’s not a movie for everyone (it being a musical and all), but I say, yeah, why not give it a chance? And after you’ve seen it, or if you’ve seen it before, please come back and leave your thoughts about it here. I’d love to read them!

Until next time, my friends… the comment section is all yours!


About Peter Nielsen

Peter was born in Denmark in 1968, but moved to Sweden at the age of six, (not by himself of course), and has lived there ever since. He’s married and has five children, so spare time is somewhat of a luxury. His main interests in life, apart from his family, are long walks, books and movies. Any movie! He has preferences, but he’s not particular as long as it's good or... so bad it's good... he just LOVES MOVIES!

3 comments for “Peter’s Retro Rewind: Popeye (1980)

  1. Jules
    March 5, 2013 at 3:26 am

    I’ve always liked this movie, but it’s not quite brilliant, somewhere it falls short. I’ve always felt like they ran out of a budget before the filming was complete, or something along those lines. It’s still pretty good, but I think it might have been excellent otherwise.

    • Peter Nielsen
      March 7, 2013 at 6:12 am

      You’re quite right, Jules, it’s like it doesn’t quite make it all the way across the goal line, but apart from that… an ok movie!

  2. Jules
    March 5, 2013 at 3:31 am

    PS, sorry I forgot to mention one of the reasons that I really like the movie is that it follows mostly Thimble Theatre more than Popeye. I just thought that was a stroke of genius on the part of Altman, but it probably alienated a number of audiences.

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