Saturday, June 27, 2009

Popeye the Sailor in “Fightin’ Pals” (1940)

As the 1930s drew to a close, a noticeable change came over Popeye’s perennial foe Bluto.

Apparently, Gus Wickie, the original voice of Bluto died at about the time producer Max Fleischer moved his studio from New York to Miami, and the role of Bluto was downplayed until a replacement voice could be found.

Enter Pinto Colvig, best known as the voice of Goofy, to step into the role. According to the Walt Disney Treasures Goofy DVD collection, Colvig had left Disney and had moved over to Fleischer. I’d never realized that he’d taken over Bluto, but knew that there was a brief period where I really enjoyed the vocal performance of the bearded heavy.

Now, this is strictly my own opinion, and for others it could vary, but I think Colvig may have made the best Bluto of them all! Colvig’s Bluto is more of a comedic foil, lacking the cruel streak that Gus Wickie had brought to the character – and that Jackson Beck would take to new heights in the later cartoons.

In short, he is fun to watch, and he is fun to listen to! You will hear the difference immediately. And, hear it you will in…

Fightin’ Pals”: The ultimate in playing with the Popeye and Bluto formula! Bluto is off on an expedition to Africa. Popeye sees him off. They fight – almost playfully (!) on the dock, and Bluto departs. As time passes, Popeye grows to MISS Bluto and the great brawls they’ve had together. Then a radio bulletin declares that the big guy has been reported LOST in Darkest Africa! Popeye is off to save his “pal”!

Oh, and to the great credit of Max and Dave Fleischer, Popeye encounters ONLY wild animals on his rescue mission – and no stereotypical African natives! This certainly bucked the trend in animation of the time.

“Fightin’ Pals” just may be my favorite POPEYE cartoon of all time! It’s certainly in consideration for “Top Three”, along with “A Dream Walking” (1934) and “The Mighty Navy” (1941).

This is the way I’D like to picture Popeye and Bluto forevermore. Not eternally trapped in the repetitive “love triangle” with Olive Oyl that would later play itself to death in every possible venue except those that would allow Popeye to be a… um, you know… sailor.

So, let’s enjoy Jack Mercer as Popeye and Pinto Colvig as Bluto in Max Fleischer and writer Joseph E. Stultz’sFightin’ Pals”! Enjoy… Toot! Toot!


Bruce said...


A classic, no doubt. And as you write, something different. No Olive Oyl and no battle over her between the two sailor men.

Strangely enough, watching it made me think of two things:

First, when I saw the signs "Dark Africa" and "Darkest Africa", I had a recollection of watching this as a kid and being scared - perhaps terrified - of the right-side path to "Darkest Africa".

And second, I thought of...Superman and Lex Luthor! Though long-time arch enemies, they became almost "fond" of each other in the weeks before Byrne rebooted the Superman books. Remember the story about Luthor celebrating Einstein's birthday?

Anyway..."Fightin' Pals"...indeed one of the better Popeye episodes!

Thanks for drawing attention to it...



Chris Barat said...


At the beginning of your piece, you (inadvertently or advertently) tributed a SECOND excellent Colvig-era POPEYE cartoon with the still from "It's the Natural Thing to Do." That one has a more overt purpose, since the framing sequence involves fans of the POPEYE cartoons complaining about the lower-class behavior of Popeye, Bluto, and Olive. But the sense of fun that was on display in "Fightin' Pals" is also present there.

Interesting point about the lack of "stereotyped African natives" in the cartoon. The ladies attending Bluto look more like South Seas Islands natives, actually.

Was it just me or did the voice coming out of Popeye's radio sound a little like Jackson Beck?


Joe Torcivia said...

Bruce and Chris:

Bruce: I knew you’d like “Fightin’ Pals”. That’s one reason I put it up!

Chris: Not “inadvertently” at all, Re “It's the Natural Thing to Do”! Both that shot and the “Bluto walking with flowers” were chosen to REPRESENT the “Pinto Colvig Era” as Bluto! Illustrating the difference in attitude Colvig brought to the character better than my mere words.

And that’s why they appear in the body of the text that discusses Colvig.

Notice that the only illustration that appears within the actual text discussing “Fightin’ Pals” IS an illustration from “Fightin’ Pals”.

More Popeye to come soon!