Popeye (1980) Robert Altman

Production Budget: $23 million
Domestic Gross: about $25 million
Worldwide Gross: $25 million
Subsequent Earnings: $25 million

This is one of the few films I would call a flop instead of a bomb.  But f*ck it, I had to watch it and now you’re going to listen to me b*tch about it.

The owner of Paramount pictures at the time absolutely fell in love with the stage show of Annie and wanted to make a film production of it.  Evans lost the bidding war over the rights of Annie, but that did not stop him from wanting to make a musical (despite the musical being a dead genre at the time and several flopping in that era).  Evans discovered they had the rights to the old Popeye comic serial and cartoons and decided to make that into the next big musical.  Originally, they hired Dustin Hoffman to play Popeye and Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude, Being There) to direct.  Hoffman was a perfectionist, which led to a serious dispute between him and the producer.  This ultimately led to an ultimatum of choosing between the producer and Hoffman and Evans chose the producer.  Of course, it wasn’t just Hoffman leaving now but Ashby.

Next in line to play Popeye was Robin Williams, who had never done any film work but had starred in the television series Mork and Mindy.  For the directing role was the questionable choice of Robert Altman.  For those of you who know Altman knows that it is on par with choosing Darren Aronofsky for Woody Woodpecker: The Movie or David Lynch for The Goofy Movie.  Altman was a maverick who seemed like the last person to do a live action comic musical.  Altman accepted the gig because Evans hooked Altman up with someone who could fix his back problems.  I guess a good chiropractor is hard to find in Hollywood.  Altman set up production in Malta which required an entire town to be built including access roads and an artificial break so the town would not drown in the floods.

There were many problems with the shooting.  The script was written and re-written numerous times and songs were sometimes switched to completely different characters depending on the newest script.  The prosthetic forearms used for Popeye were so constricting  they cut the blood flow on William’s arms and had to remove them several times a day because they would make his arms numb.   The climactic fight had Popeye fighting Bluto and a giant octopus.  But like Bride of the Monster, the octopus didn’t work and the actors had to manipulate the tentacles themselves to fight with it.  If you look at the final product on the DVD you know how much of a mess it is.  Not to mention the fact Williams hated the production of the movie and called Altman “Stalag Altman”.  The movie did not do well critically and while it made just enough to claim a profit, for the large budget attached to it, it was considered a huge flop. (Fiasco: James Parish)

Is it any good?  Well, it’s not as bad as Quintet!  Okay okay.  Its bad.  Now I can tell Altman and the crew were really trying their best here, but its still not a good movie.  The biggest problem with the movie are the songs.  I actually don’t have a problem with the movie being a musical, but the songs are so repetitive and uninspired.  They range anywhere from alright (He Needs Me, I’m Mean) to utterly sh*tty (I Yam what I Yam).  I’m sorry, but Popeye can’t sing.  That’s like Columbo doing a love ballad; it just doesn’t work.  Williams and Duvall do a very good job as Popeye and Olive Oyl.  The movie also has a nice feel for the comic strip and cartoonish violence.  Popeye is just way too long and doesn’t fully embrace that cartoonish feel to make it enjoyable.  Really, I just want to watch the old Popeye cartoons.  When you inflate a couple minute cartoon into a two hour movie, it is going to be very dull.  So while not the worst Altman movie ever (again…Quintet) it is pretty bad.


One Response to “Popeye (1980) Robert Altman”

  1. My 3 year old son loves the movie, in the 80’s I remember sitting down to watch it if it was on TV.

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