I watched a lot of Popeye cartoons when I was little, and to the best of my memory, the only ones worth re-watching are the ones made by the Fleischer Brothers, who also made some excellent Superman cartoons, as well.
1)Popeye the Sailor (1933): This is presented a "A Betty Boop Cartoon". It comes across as sort of like a "pilot" for the series. It starts with a song, "Strike Up the Band (For Popeye the Sailor)". We are informed that Popeye (Billy Costello) has signed a movie deal. We then see him on board ship, singing the now-familiar "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man". There are several visual gags showing how strong Popeye is. (For example, he punches a mast, which disintegrates into a pile of clothes pins. In general, there are many surreal visual gags in this.) Popeye takes Olve Oyl (Bonnie Poe) to a carnival, pursued by Bluto (William Pennell). Popeye shows Bluto up at various carnival games, then dances on-stage with Betty Boop (Poe, again). As an aside, Betty's wearing a pretty risque outfit here, essentially topless, except for a strategically-placed (and apparently glued on) lei. Bluto takes his opportunity to abduct Olive (saying "Marry me!"), eventually tying her to some railroad tracks. (Did anyone ever do that in real life?) Popeye races to the rescue. Bluto pummels him, but Popeye eats some spinach (the Spinach-Eating Moment is much less dramatic here than it will become in later cartoons) and then rescues Olive by smashing the train that was about to hit her (and presumably killing hundreds).
Overall: An amusing little cartoon with lots of sight gags. It sets what will be the template for most subsequent Popeye cartoons: Bluto forces his attentions on Olive, Popeye takes a beating trying to save her, Popeye eats some spinach, Popeye beats the snot out of Bluto. I'll be interested to see just what percentage of these cartoons follow this template.
Interestingly, Bluto did not play nearly as prominent of a role in the comic strip (not E.C. Segar's version, anyway) as his did in the cartoons. When the first cartoon was made, Bluto was the villain in the current continuity, so they used him in the cartoon and he stuck.
Just yesterday I had the tune "Barnacle Bill the Sailor" stuck in my head (but I altered the lyrics to "Bala the Tailess Cat").
I remember seeing this cartoon on afternoon TV as a kid, and also noticing Betty's "outfit" as being a little unusual for cartoons at the time.
I have these collected. I'll be following this discussion.
Me, too. I watched the first two last night.
Speaking of Betty Boop, there was a recently released collection of her Sunday pages. I didn't pre-order it because it was solicited as a (relatively inexpensive) tpb, but it ended up being a HC... for the same price!
2)I Yam What I Yam (1933): We start with "Strike Up the Band" again. Popeye, Oliver and Wimpy are in a rowboat in the rain, with Olive doing all the rowing, while Popeye sings his theme song. There are some interesting visual gags here: Popeye drowns the lightning, frightening the storm away! They run aground in Indian (i.e., Native American) country. Popeye beats a cabin into existence. Olive and Wimpy are menaced by stereotypical "redskins" while Popeye is out wandering around and teaching ducks how to smoke. Olive yells for help, despite the fact that she's doing a pretty good job beating up the Indians herself. We end with the infamous scene in which Popeye hits the Indian chief so hard he turns into Mahatma Gandhi.
Overall: This is amusing in bits. I can see why they'd never show this on TV these days - too many racial caricatures. I note that the Spinach-Eating Moment is still underplayed compared to what it will become. It at least did not follow the template I mentioned in the previous entry.
The first time I made my way through these DVDs (I have three sets; is that complete?), I listened to all the commentaries and watched all the "Popumentaries." This time I'm planning to simply enjoy the cartoons. I remember from before someone pointed out Popeye punching something which then transmogrifies into something else is a common motif throughout Fleisher Popeyes.
I have three sets, too, although I think the last set isn't all Fleischer Brothers cartoons.
I'm a big fan of the Fleisher Popeye series also. The three DVD sets I own cover all of the Fleisher material from the Betty Boop intro through World War ll when Popeye became a Navy sailor. The last few entries may be credited to Famous Studios which was the name adopted when Paramount took over control following financial and familial troubles between the Fleisher brothers - the staff producing the cartoons remained essentially the same during this period. To me, the identifier for the best Popeye cartoons comes from the opening credits, if the credits are displayed in the deck doors you have one of the better entries.
3)Blow Me Down! (1933): This is the first one to use an instrumental version of "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man" as the opening theme. We open with Popeye in Cartoon Mexico, where he is bringing flowers to Olive, who is dancing in a saloon. Bluto comes in and shoots the place up, scaring off everyone but Popeye. After Popeye shows him up, Bluto sics his gang on him. Popeye eats his spinach (and again the Spinach-Eating Moment is very underplayed) and begins beating them up. Bluto pesters Olive in her dressing room. she calls for help, despite the fact that she's beating Bluto pretty badly. Popeye and Olive double-team Bluto, and then Popeye and Bluto brawl in the street, until Popeye knocks Bluto clear around the world!
Overall: It's interesting watching these early ones where they didn't yet have a formula that they felt constrained to follow. There's elements of what I've been calling the "Template" in this but it's not an exact match.
Template Variation: !
In the comics, you never wanted to back Olive into a corner, as she was quite lethal while calling for help.
Love the bit in "Blow Me Down" when Bluto shoots up the saloon. The place is filled with customers when Bluto enters, as he fires his gun the room becomes completely filled with smoke, when the smoke clears only Popeye is still sitting there totally oblivious.
The commentary track on this one was done by a couple of young Hispanic animators who had high praise for the cartoon. When they first saw it as kids they loved the idea that Popeye had paid a visit to their native country. Considering the warning with the DVDs that they contain material that could be found offensive, it was nice to hear them comment on the merits of the material rather than taking offense at something produced 80 years ago
4)I Eats My Spinach (1933): We open with a stylized eagle logo and a caption that reads "NRA* Member" "U.S." "We do our part."
Popeye takes Olive to the rodeo, where Bluto is performing. (Wimpy is present as a sort of sign painter/MC, but he doesn't interact with the other characters.) Popeye shows up Bluto by out-doing him at various rodeo stunts. While Popeye is fighting a bull, Bluto begins chasing Olive. Popeye chases Bluto, and the bull chases Popeye. Popeye eats his spinach (It's still not quite the dramatic moment it would later become), beats up Bluto and then hits the bull so hard it turns into a meat market.
Overall: Another OK outing. All of these so far have been amusing, but none have been laugh-out-loud funny. I'd forgotten how many surreal gags there were in these early ones.
*Stands for "National Recovery Administration"