In this guest post, Jim Brymer shares on how his views on the Popeye movie have changed over the years:
A confession: I went to see Popeye in the theater. I wasn’t very impressed. Why? At that point I had seen Mork and Mindy and had seen Robin Williams guest on late night TV shows like The Tonight Show, and I also had his first album Reality…What a Concept. I was expecting something of the same manic performance that I was used to seeing, and it was something of a letdown.
But Popeye is a movie that grows on you after repeated viewings. I watched it again a few years later, after I had seen The World According to Garp and Moscow on the Hudson. By this pointI had grown to see Williams as a fairly consummate actor who could break out of that mold of manic uncontrolled comedy, and it turned out that Popeye wasn’t all that bad. It’s a movie that can be entertaining in it’s own right.
Especially if you can get past that squeaky singing voice of Shelley Duvall. Either Duvall can’t sing, or maybe she is the greatest singer of all time. After all, you have to realize she was playing Olive Oyl, and did the role almost exactly like Mae Questal and Marge Hines had voiced her in the Popeye cartoons. So maybe Olive’s singing voice is the consummate translation of the character by Duvall for the big screen.
The Robert Altman-directed film was not exactly a box-office success. It made money, to be sure, but not the kind of money that Paramount was expecting. It also was a bomb according to critics. With the exception of Roger Ebert who gave it 3½ stars, most critics either found it to be mediocre or lambasted it. The songs had something to do with it, if you ask me. Only one song, done by Bluto, is really all that good (“I’m Mean”).
By the way, the reason for this post’s title is that one of Olive Oyl’s father, Cole Oyl’s (McIntyre Dixon), lines, oft repeated, in the film is “You owe me an apology.”
Sailing in to the port town of Sweethaven is a lone sailor. Popeye (Robin Williams) is immediately treated like an outsider (which he is, but this town really is suspicious of newbies). Popeye is on a search for his long-lost father, a man who abandoned him as a child.
Bluto is the top man and in charge of the town’s operations as the liaison for a mysterious man only known as “The Commodore.” Bluto and Popeye immediately take a disliking for each other. Although Popeye can kick the ass of an entire platoon of bullies in a bar fight, he can’t handle Bluto. Apparently carrots just don’t do the trick. (Popeye hates spinach and will NOT eat it under any circumstances).
Things deteriorate as Bluto becomes convinced that Popeye is muscling in on his betrothed. Which is exactly what’s happening. Although Olive and Popeye don’t hit it off initially, a gradual respect and then love blossoms, especially after Popeye and Olive happen upon an abandoned baby, which Popeye promptly names Swee’pea.
Swee’pea has his own special ability, which is discovered by Wimpy (Paul Dooley). It seems Swee’pea can pick the horses and Wimpy takes him to the horse races to start to win a stash (so he won’t have to beg for hamburgers anymore).
When Bluto discovers Swee’pea’s special ability, he kidnaps the tyke and takes him to the Commodore (Ray Walston). Guess who the Commodore really is! Did you guess it was somebody Popeye has been searching for his whole life? You win the hamburger…
Still, all in all, it is not nearly as bad a movie as I initially thought. Sure, Robin Williams isn’t the manic character like he would play in Good Morning Vietnam or Aladdin, but then I’ve seen him in several less manic roles and have grown to appreciate the film on those merits.
Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.