The Set of 400: #365 – My Favorite Octopus Punch

Today! Because this is a fight to the finish. The first man who’s dead loses –

Popeye (1980)

Directed by Robert Altman

Starring Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Paul L. Smith, Ray Walston, Paul Dooley, Bill Irwin, Richard Libertini, Donovan Scott, Roberta Maxwell, Allan F. Nicholls, Donald Moffat, Linda Hunt, David Arkin

A pretty roundly savaged film in its day, Popeye almost single-handedly ruined Robert Altman’s career. By the standards of the time, it was kind of a bomb, and it received a bunch of year-end Worst Movie joke nominations and wins. Yikes! And I’ll admit, it’s not a film that totally works – Altman’s style mixed with very child-friendly humor and some pretty cheap looking octopus effects does leave you a little bewildered at the aims of this movie. There are a bunch of Harry Nilsson songs that are silly but okay, but feel kinda jammed in haphazardly all over the place.

But this is a movie I watched to death as a kid, and can still get a lot of enjoyment from – Robin Williams’ sailor man is solidly funny, Paul L. Smith followed up his terrifying role in Midnight Express with a less menacing but equally imposing turn as Bluto, and the supporting group of Pappy, Wimpy, Castor Oyl, et al are solid in their roles. But come on, if there’s any one person to point to for the watch-ability of Popeye it’s Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl. She’s so perfect in the part that it not only gives the movie some much needed heart, it actually creates some genuine authenticity in the goings-on. Authenticity isn’t the right word. Believability? That’s not a word. Reality? It helps to engender an actual reality in the madness of Sweethaven.

Your MVP – Shelley Duvall!

And probably the most talked about and enduring aspect of the film is the Sweethaven set itself – built on the island of Malta and still standing to this day, now open as some manner of tourist attraction. How cool is that? Next time I’m piloting the skiff near Malta, I’ll be sure to swing in there and grab a spinach burger!

But yes, outside of its numerous Worst Movie awards, Popeye obviously didn’t rake down critical acclaim or honors in its day. And I don’t want to pile on with negativity, but just quick let’s acknowledge Best Obvious Character Exposition Songs, particularly for the two relating to Bluto – his own rendition of “I’m Mean” and Olive’s expository “He’s Large.” I mean, come on. However, Best Clairvoyant Baby is pretty deserved – can’t think of too many films that have tried that device!

And so #396 MASH‘s director Altman becomes the first Two-Timer behind the camera! He’s got more appearances to come, but the next one isn’t until November, so take it easy, Altman-philes! Popeye doesn’t feature the huge group of repertory players that his ’70s movies did, but one MASH alum did pop up in a bit role here, thus earning him Two-Timer status – the late, great David Arkin!

Arkin (left) with Allan F. Nicholls, but not in Popeye, in which they do both appear

Coming tomorrow! Once I swam the English Channel with an anvil on me chest –

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