I sometimes wonder if Popeye ever gets any respect at all.
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Here is a guy who isn't blessed with good looks at all. Usually, sailors look rugged and can be somewhat handsome. Popeye is rugged, but someone steered him away from the handsome department. He has one eye, mumbles under his breath, has large forearms, and smokes a corncob pipe. Very attractive. But his outward appearance is very deceiving. Underneath it all, what really counts the most is his heart of gold. This is a classic case of judging a book by its cover without checking out the contents within.
The 1980 live-action movie of Popeye falls under the same category. Based on the comic strip by E.C. Segar, director Robert Altman brought all of these characters to life on the big screen led by Robin Williams in the lead role. Everybody remembers the cartoon serials featuring this venerable sailor man, but Altman largely extrapolates most of the elements from Segar's original comic strip and uses the town of Sweethaven as the backdrop for the entire storyline.
"I Yam What I Yam"
Popeye has been looking for his long lost father for many years and has landed in the town of Sweethaven hoping that he is close to his goal. He manages to find and rent a room at a boarding house run by the Oyls. One Oyl in particular, Olive, catches his eye (his one good eye, mind you) as he falls smitten over her. Unfortunately, she is engaged to be married to Captain Bluto, a huge roughneck of a bully who is in charge of collecting taxes from the townspeople for the mysterious Commodore.
Popeye encounters an assorted mix of people in this small yet quaint town of Sweethaven, including Wimpy (and his love of hamburgers) and Swee'Pea, an orphaned baby just like he was when Popeye was young. Throughout his stay, it becomes evident that Popeye lives by a code of honour and respect, and it disturbs him to see how greedy people can be regardless of the situation. And when Swee'Pea is kidnapped, Popeye uproots everything in his path to find him.
In his search to find Swee'Pea, he discovers two things: a man named Poopdeck Pappy, who bears a strong resemblance to him, and the secret to spinach, the food he detests the most in the world.
However, Popeye needs to put this newfound knowledge to use if he doesn't want to lose Swee'Pea and Olive from enormous, life-threatening danger. Is it even possible for Popeye to get past Bluto in order to save them, and will he ever discover the secret to spinach before it's too late? If he doesn't, he'll be eating seaweed instead and becoming a permanent member of Davy Jones' locker. Oh, and there's a giant octopus who likes to put a squeeze on things as well.
"He's Popeye the Sailor Man"
Robert Altman created something fantastic in Popeye and kept everything true to its roots. The town of Sweethaven became a character in its own right by creating the setting for the interaction of the characters involved as the story progressed. This unsuspecting sleepy town played a very charming role, and the townspeople serving as its lifeline.
What was even more surprising was the fact that the movie was a musical from beginning to end, but I guess it had to be considering that Popeye needed to sing his signature "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man" song. I actually like musicals for the most part, and this one, if I may be so audacious, reminded me of the 1968 musical film Oliver! (another one I like very much). But this doesn't feel like something that is completely forced where everyone stops whatever they are doing and break out into song and dance. Far from it. The songs are actually an extension of the characters' spoken lines with smooth transitions between the two.
Robin Williams, in his first movie role, does an outstanding job as Popeye, from his mannerisms right down to his speech. Just like Christopher Reeve became the definitive Superman in everyone's mind, Williams did the same with Popeye; he literally became him.
Shelley Duvall really looked like Olive Oyl stepping out of the comic strip into the real world, right down to those big ridiculous boots. She really did an excellent job in this role and wasn't always the "damsel-in-distress", though she did end up like that.
Ray Walton as Poopdeck Pappy was hilarious at times with that cantankerous, foul mood, something that put the fear in both Popeye and Bluto.
The rest of the cast really helped bring the town to life with all the bustle and hustle of everyday living. I really liked seeing Olive's family with her parents and brother thrown into the mix. It made things much more complete with a nice sense that people are rooted in this town of Sweethaven.
One townsperson in particular, the unnamed taxman, was so annoying that when Popeye finally took care of him, the entire town burst into cheer; he became their hero as a result of this action. It also shows what a closeknit community is situated in Sweethaven. I bet there isn't a single secret that could be kept under wraps since everyone knows everything about each other's business. Altman was wise in establishing the mood set in this town and how a stranger like Popeye becomes the thrown pebble in the water causing ripple effects in its wake. This sleepy town finally woke up.
I know that Popeye wasn't well-received by the critics. They were mostly put off by the musical numbers by Harry Nilsson and Williams' incoherent mumblings. I think a lot of the sound editing could have been done better, mainly because a lot of people were talking at the same time and it made it difficult to fully understand what was said at the moment. Popeye does talk to himself under his breath quite a lot so it wasn't anything new to me. In fact the entire movie, sans musical number, really felt like a Fleischer animated short come to life, and that was the genius behind the entire production. Popeye captured the essence of the original comic strip just like Warren Beatty's 1990 Dick Tracy did 10 years later.
Popeye may not have been as successful as it could have been but it definitely had a unique charm throughout the entire movie. There wasn't anything too complicated about it, maybe it was too simple at times, but it definitely has become one of my guilty viewing pleasures.
Other Comic Book Movies
Batman || Batman Returns || Batman Forever || Batman & Robin || Batman Begins || Batman: Mask of the Phantasm || The Batman Superman Movie || Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker || Spider-Man || Spider-Man 2 || Superman: The Movie || Superman II || Superman III || Superman IV: The Quest for Peace || Superman Returns || Superman: Brainiac Attacks || Ultimate Avengers: The Movie || Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther || X-Men || X2: X-Men United || X-Men: The Last Stand
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