Wednesday, October 22, 2008

DVD Review: POPEYE THE SAILOR: Volume Two 1938-1940 -- "The Return of Bluto"

This is Part Two of my POPEYE DVD Review. As an experiment in Blog Posting Order, it will be posted AHEAD of Part One – but will, forever more, FOLLOW Part One as you scroll down through this Blog.

(In other words: Look up to read Part One! Enjoy)

POPEYE THE SAILOR: Volume Two 1938-1940: DVD Review Part Two. "The Return of Bluto" DVD Set Released: June 17, 2008.

Yet Another Long DVD Review by Joe Torcivia.
When last we left Popeye the Sailor Man, I had noted the lack of Bluto appearances in the cartoons that would make up the wonderful DVD collection POPEYE THE SAILOR 1938-1940.

Well, after those first “great eight” shorts discussed in the first part of this review, I can say that “Bluto’s back and (literally) better than ever!”

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

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 about 1940 and had moved over to Fleischer. I’d never realized that he’d taken over Bluto, and had actually wondered what he DID do there, aside from an occasional incidental character.

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. An analogy for modern day Disney fans, would be the quality that Jim Cummings presently brings to the character of Pete in contemporary cartoons like “Mickey’s Mountain” and “Mickey’s Cabin”.

In short, he is fun to watch, and he is fun to listen to! You will hear the difference immediately. Among the great Bluto appearances in the collection are…
12: “Wotta Nightmare”. A truly surreal cartoon, where Popeye’s deeply rooted fears about Bluto and Olive manifest themselves in weird and wonderful ways. Even Swee’Pea, Wimpy, and Eugene the Jeep get briefly into the act. Watch out for the “Big Bluto Laughing Face” in this one. And the final scene, after Popeye wakes up, is priceless!

15: “It’s the Natural Thing to Do”. Complaints about the violence in Popeye’s cartoons prompt Olive to coerce Popeye and Bluto into acting like gentlemen. They, and Olive, try – they really do give it a go! But their true nature comes through and the result is inevitable. “Complaints about violence”, in 1939? WOW! This cartoon is DECADES ahead of its time! And this may be Pinto Colvig’s best performance as Bluto!
04: “Stealin’ Ain’t Honest”. Bluto claim jumps Olive’s island gold mine. Oddly, he is far more interested in the GOLD than in Olive. Unlike earlier or later incarnations, where he would have stolen the gold AND near-raped Olive to boot. (That’s part of the difference I mean about Colvig’s Bluto!) Great scene: Bluto digs a shaft, and Popeye digs a shaft all the way under and around Bluto’s only to have their diggings meet!

08: “Nurse Mates”. Olive tasks Popeye and Bluto with caring for Swee’Pea. They approach the job as the great comedic rivals they are at their best! Great scene: Swee’Pea blotches-up his face with a fountain pen. Popeye uses “spot-remover” to wipe the ink blots away, and appears to wash Swee’Pea’s eyes and mouth off as well… until, after a beat, the kid opens his eyes and smiles. Another great scene: Popeye swallows Swee’Pea’s bath soap, and after some effort, blows it (in a bubble) out of his pipe!

Note that I describe Popeye and Bluto here as “great comedic rivals”. That, again, is a large part of what Pinto Colvig (or the writers reacting to Colvig) brought to the character of Bluto, and a uniquely enjoyable aspect of this batch of cartoons.

and the greatest for last! (Yes, there’s a SPOILER for this one! Can’t help it!)

09: "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”!

Popeye works his way through the jungle, fighting various animals – becoming more determined as he grows ever weaker! To the Fleischers’ credit, he encounters ONLY wild animals – and no stereotypical African natives! His mental image of Bluto’s plight grows more and more dire with each agonizing step! Finally, he envisions Bluto’s DEAD BODY, with a hungry roaring LION over it, ready to dine! Yes, really!

In the end, Popeye cannot go another step. He collapses, virtually at the feet of Bluto who is enjoying himself, surrounded by native girls, palm trees and cocoanut milk in abundance. Bluto rushes to the near-dead Popeye’s aid and revives him with a can of spinach that he (Bluto) happens to be carrying for just such an emergency!

BLUTO:Do you feel strong enough?”
POPEYE:I feel swell!”
BLUTO: Well, let’s go…”

And they iris-out fighting, and apparently having the time of their lives!

I’m not quite sure yet, but this might end up being my favorite POPEYE cartoon of all time! This is the way I’D like to picture Popeye and Bluto forevermore – just as I regard the Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd of “Rabbit Seasoning” as my favorite versions of those characters.
Combine these “Bluto Classics” with some other standouts of the collection like “Hello, How Am I?” (Wimpy poses as Popeye to wonderfully absurd effect!) Wimmen is a Myskery”,and Popeye Presents Eugene the Jeep – in addition to those I discussed in Part One – and you have what may be the greatest and most varied collection of Popeye cartoons imaginable! Especially in view of the formulaic stuff that would soon follow!

Other items of interest on this set. The credits for E.C.Segar stop at about the point Segar died. Then, coincidently, WRITING CREDITS began appearing on the cartoons!

Writers credited were George Manuell (also seen on some very early Warner Bros. cartoons), Tedd Pierce (best known for his later WB work), William Turner, Dan Gordon, and Joe Stultz, who enters my own personal “Writer’s Hall of Fame” for the great “Fightin’ Pals”.

The "Ship Doors Opening" goes away for a short while (as of cartoon # 12 on Disc One) and later returns with more modern graphics. While it is gone, a generic title card is used for the credits... but the episode title is superimposed over the opening scene of the cartoon - to GREAT EFFECT!

There a Fleischer SUPERMAN cartoon on the set ("Mechanical Monsters") and a six minute feature on Popeye and Superman - who was the first superhero?

If there IS a negative to this period, it’s that the ad-lib mutterings made so famous by the earlier series of shorts diminish and virtually disappear during this period. But, it’s a small price to pay for the overall enjoyable innovation seen in this grouping!

As much as I may have recommended this set earlier on, I’ve now tripled that recommendation! …And I can’t wait until November 4th to get POPEYE Volume 3.

Thanks, Bluto! We'll see ya in the next DVD volume!

1 comment:

Pan Miluś said...

I love this DVD :D

Some time ago - inspired by the rumors of a new Popeye movie - I did my top 10 FAVOIRTE FLEISHER STUDIOS POPEYE SHORT LIST
(plus two favorite Fameus Studio list) :

It's in Polish but you propably can use automatic translator :)