TV Cream

Films: P is for...


Derided universally for being a misbegotten assault on all six senses, and with a large amount of good reason too, but what it does manage to do is capture the ramshackle, mumbling charm of the only Popeye cartoons worth the name, ie those of the Fleischer Brothers, in all their rubber-hosed, sweat-bead-showing, ad-libbing glory. Perfect for Robert ‘Never have one actor talking when five will do’ Altman and still-got-it Robin Williams, then. Sadly, the awful ‘cartoony’ production design and make-up all but sodded it completely. OK, we haven’t got any better ideas about how to adapt it ourselves, but the domestic-set Fleischer-era cartoons make Popeye’s home agreeably urban Brooklyn-y and downtrodden, not some hideous Maltese orange theme park where ‘flags wave wet people from the sea’ (thank you, Harry Nilsson), so that might have been a start. But then, that might have been a bit too much. Still, it’s certainly worth seeing once, and not purely out of morbid curiosity – more to experience that unsettling ‘applauding the craft while simultaneously wanting to throw up’ feeling only live-action cartoon adaptations seem capable of invoking.



  1. THX 1139

    April 17, 2016 at 11:37 pm

    This did actually make a bit of profit, only not enough to justify the enterprise. Apparently it wasn’t based on the animated version but the original cartoon strips, which obviously was a brilliant idea when everyone in the world in 1980 was so incredibly familiar with fifty year old comics. There is a queasiness about it, true, but the total lack of laughs is the real problem.

  2. Sidney Balmoral James

    October 15, 2020 at 9:05 pm

    Who would you choose to direct a live-action Popeye? Perhaps a specialist in knockabout comedy – perhaps Richard Lester, or Melvin Frank? Perhaps John Landis? Nope, of course not – you choose auteur Robert Altman, the man who brought us Nashville, Three Women and the wintry Quintet. Possibly the most ridiculous mismatch of director and subject in the history of cinema, apart from the film spin-off of Nearest and Dearest which was directed by Francois Truffaut. Trademark overlapping dialogue coupled with terrible dubbing, means the film is trying in the extreme to watch, with much of the dialogue muttered, drowned out by the music, or just inaudible. I suspect children would find this a very tedious experience, despite presence of giant rubber octopus at the end. Still Shelley Duvall, Robin Williams and Paul L. Smith all look the part.

    • Tom Ronson

      October 23, 2022 at 9:34 pm

      For what it’s worth, I actually went to the cinema to watch this at the age of seven and found it not only tedious but nauseating.

  3. Richardpd

    October 15, 2020 at 11:12 pm

    Stanley Kramer managed to make It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World a screwball masterpiece when he wasn’t really a comedy director. Maybe they were hoping to repeat this feat.

    I remember one film review book complains about the amount of songs taking up time for the expected knock about fights.

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