Wednesday, September 09, 2015

POPEYE (1980) - Robert Altman

I loved this movie when I was a wee Swee'Pea and conned one of my parents into taking me to the theatre to see it when I was a tot. They loved musicals, and I loved Popeye the cartoon. Watching it again last night, some 35 years later, I finally see what a gigantic mess it is and why it was such an offense to moviegoers at the time. Altman shoots almost everything in long shots, with overly busy people-packed frames, most of his dialogue lost in the busier audio mix. Other than some fine costuming, the film looks nothing like the comic book or animated cartoon from which it sprang. For a movie marketed as a musical, none of the songs are catchy, apart from Shelley Duvall's "He Needs Me." But I think that's only because I was remembering its superior use in Punch-Drunk Love. I found myself checking the DVD clock repeatedly, waiting for the parts I knew I liked as a kid. The boxing match, the spinach-fueled fight with Bluto at the end. The action parts, basically.

None of the actors can be blamed here. Robin Williams does his best to inhabit an iconic caricature, despite his tone-deaf singing and the cumbersome prosthetic arms. Ray Walston as Poopdeck Pappy fares better. Could there be a more spot-on casting of "Olive Oyl" than Shelley Duvall? And how about that Swee'Pea? What a little canned ham. That kid gets my vote for the most expressive baby ever put on film. As much as I hate to admit it, the two-ton anchor of blame for this clunker rests squarely on Altman's shoulders. He's just not the right man for this lightweight, family friendly PG fare. Altman pretty much admits to this at the very beginning of the film when the cartoon Popeye bursts through the Paramount logo and says "I'm in the wrong picture! Must be one of Bluto's tricks!"

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