Popeye is far from being “forgotten.” But while many people know of the character, they don’t know his cartoons. Most of Popeye’s best screen moments came in his cartoons that were made by the Fleischer Studio. Since most of those cartoons are in black and white, they don’t get as much attention as some of the other cartoon stars of the past. But, to me, Popeye cartoons are among the best of the golden age of animation. In today’s cartoon, Popeye ends up in a spooky old deserted hotel, which fits in perfectly with our Halloween series. It’s 1939’s “Ghosks is the Bunk.”
The cartoon begins with Olive Oyle sitting by the fire reading ghost stories to Popeye and Bluto. These two muscle heads are beside themselves with fear…Popeye even ducks under the couch at one point. This causes Bluto to have an idea. He quickly excuses himself and heads down the road to a boarded-up old hotel. Meanwhile, Popeye and Olive continue reading spooky stories. If you ask me, Popeye’s the smarter guy in this case. I mean think about it…spooky night, warm fire, he’s got the girl to himself. What a playa!
Well, Popeye’s chances for romance end quickly when a phone call comes in that someone needs help down at the old hotel. Popeye and Olive quickly head out to help. Upon arriving, they are greeted by strange noises, a guest book that floats around and opens on it’s own, plus an invisible bellhop…only his hat, gloves and shoes are visible. Turns out this is actually Bluto, manipulating these items with strings like a puppeteer. He’s also go a trick staircase which turns into a slide, causing Popeye to tumble down on his face. But then Popeye and Olive here Bluto laughing and realize he’s the one to blame. So, Popeye finds some of that very handy cartoon prop…invisible paint! Now, with he and Olive invisible they set out to do some ghost business on Bluto. But the scariest sight Bluto sees is when a can of Spinach appears out of nowhere to be consumed by the invisible Popeye.
I’ll admit, this cartoon does not use the premise as well as I would like. Popeye in a haunted hotel…that could’ve been a really fantastic formula. But the ghosts aren’t real and it really doesn’t take Popeye very long to figure out that it’s really Bluto. I would’ve liked there to be a bit more haunted house fun before he and Bluto started fighting. The fights themselves also aren’t as funny in this cartoon since Popeye can’t be seen…invisible paint, remember.
But, having said all that, it’s still hard not to have fun with a Popeye cartoon. I love the little mumbled lines that Jack Mercer (Popeye’s voice) always inserts into the proceedings. As Popeye covers himself in invisible paint he mumbles, “Farewell to arms.” Classic!
The animation is great! Of course it is, the Fleischers were masters! I’m always amazed by the great depth of the visuals in their cartoons. It’s so different from what we see in many other black and white cartoons of the time. Another highlight is the animation of Olive Oyl. Though she plays a smaller role in this film, there is some great artistry on display here in the animation of this character. With her spaghetti like limbs and lanky figure, Olive is one of the most ideal characters for animation. Interesting when you consider that she was designed for the static world of comic strips.
There are many things about “Ghosks are the Bunk” that I wish had been done differently. However, there’s no denying that this is a skillfully executed cartoon with some expert animation on display.