By now I hope you’ve all received the latest Warner Archive Collection DVD or blu-ray of Popeye The Sailor: The 1940s – Vol. 2. (If not you can order it here). To our delight, the cartoons have been beautifully restored, but to our mutual disappointment, Popeye and The Pirates (1947) – which always contained an obvious edit since at least the 1956 A.A.P. syndication of the Popeye cartoons to television – still has that obvious edit.
We learned while researching the master elements that the edit happened well before 1956 – it happened in 1947, and was there in the original release theatrical release prints right off the bat. Beyond examining a 1947 Technicolor nitrate release print (which contained the edit) we observed these single frames on the films original leader – one of which says “2nd Cutting”.
The “2nd Cutting” tag is unique among the Famous Studios negatives, appearing only on this one. We’ve seen this notation, however, on other negatives – for example on Blue Ribbon cartoons, when the studio made changes in the picture for theatrical reissue. Clearly there was a “first cut” of Popeye and The Pirates which was revised thusly for ultimate release. That first cut does not exist intact. The cut footage has not been found and we believe it was discarded at the time. The cartoon on the new disc is the way it was originally presented.
You might ask: How could they release a film with such an obvious edit? I have several answers – or perhaps theories – for this. First off, an abrupt cut isn’t all that uncommon in classic cartoons. We’ve seen it before (though maybe not this severe). For example that scene in Frank Tashlin’s Hare Remover where Elmer carrying Bugs Bunny is celebrating having “Twapped the rabbit! Hooray!” – and then abruptly goes silent. I’ll bet you can name a few others.
Additionally, general audiences were used to seeing spliced prints of cartoons, shorts and features back in the day – especially at second and third run theaters. Natural wear and tear was the usual cause, a film would ultimately (and routinely) be run with dirt lines and splices – hair and dirt would accumulate in the projectors and attach to the celluloid. A cut like this would have been noticed, but easily forgotten a few seconds later. Remember, these cartoons were essentially screened for movie patrons once. They were ephemeral – not expected to ever be seen again after their initial showings. No sales to television were contemplated in 1947, no thought of perpetual reruns on daytime broadcasts, cable television, VHS, DVD, blu-ray or on-demand streaming. Those things didn’t exist. No need to fix such an abrupt cut – its was more important to hit the deadline and deliver the film to the studio for its scheduled release.
So the mystery remains. What exactly was cut out? We may never know… but we can take some educated guesses. In the film, in classic trickster style, Popeye dresses in drag to distract pirate Pierre from his lascivious attentions on Olive Oyl. Animated in overt sexual style by Marty Taras, Popeye flaunts his figure while batting the brute about – ultimately locking him in a chest and dumping him into the sea.
As Popeye begins to remove his feminine disguise (in a shot animated by Tom Golden) the edit occurs – jumping abruptly to a shot of Pierre with two cannon balls stuffed in his cheeks! What happened!?
To me, it’s obvious that Popeye used a pair of barbells (or cannon balls) as his breasts and tossed them overboard just as Pierre is returning to the deck, about to pounce the Sailor Man. The objects land in his mouth as Popeye turns and notices Pierre has returned (thus explaining Popeye’s surprised “take”). Here are the two successive frames as they appear in the film – the first one “before”, the second one “after”:
Do you have a theory on what might have been contained in the cut footage? Let us know in the comments below.
Of course, this sort of ultra-violence was par for the course at Famous Studios – where the more painful the gag, the funnier the studio thought it would be. And this was not the last pirate ship picture for Paramount. Among others, Herman and Katnip, and Baby Huey, took to the high seas with “explosive” results:
And this wasn’t the last time barbells were smashed into an opponents face – Here Katnip uses two barbells as “muscles” to crush his opponents head (and literally kills him) in A BICEP BUILT FOR TWO (1955):
It didn’t stop there. Famous Studios ‘Ultra-Violence’ made its way into the Harvey’s ‘Approved by the Comics Code‘ comic books. And why not? The 1950s Harvey books were written and drawn by the Paramount animators! Here are a few fun examples of the “shove something dangerous down your opponents throat” motif they established.
Feel free to submit some of your favorite Famous Studios (or Harvey Comics) ultra violence sequences. We can all use a good laugh these days.
(Thanks to Bob Jaques, Mike Kazaleh, Thad and Mark Kausler)