Popeye (1980)

dir. Robert Altman. Based on the classic E. C. Segar comic strip. Popeye the sailor man (Robin Williams) arrives in coastal town Sweethaven, where he meets Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall), and becomes involved in the problems of the small town while investigating his own family history. A glorious mess of a film. Almost none of the songs are memorable, and the jokes are not very funny. The way the comic book slapstick and fight scenes are translated into live action are very clever and inventive, but not as funny as they need to be. The design of Sweethaven is very detailed, but you always feel like you’re looking at a large set. Robin Williams’s Popeye voice is so hard to understand, at times is unintelligible. While nothing really works, it still has a charm to it, and the Swee’Pea infant (or ‘Infink’ as Popeye says) is very cute. The high point of the film is the wonderful song ‘He Needs Me’, beautifully sung by Shelley Duvall. The same song was also used perfectly in Paul Thomas Anderson’s PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002), fans of that movie will recognise the song instantly. POPEYE is worth watching just to see Olive Oyl sing this song.

By Nicholas Hudson-Ellis

Co-Founder & Film Programs Manager of Bangkok Screening Room.

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