Tuesday, 1 February 2011

80s Movies: Popeye (1980)

Popeye was released in December 1980 - before I was born, in fact. I didn't even know it existed until a childhood visit to Malta about ten years later, when we spent a day at the incredible Popeye Village set in Anchor Bay. Back in the UK, we invested in a VHS copy of the film and I caught up on Robin Williams' first starring role.

If you haven't seen it, you probably should - love or hate Robin Williams, he makes a great Popeye and the supporting cast, including Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl - not to mention one of the greatest sets ever constructed for a film - bring the cartoon world to life in a way we may never see the likes of again. While researching this piece, I was surprised to learn that Popeye was directed by Robert Altman - whose Short Cuts is as visionary a piece of film-making as I can recall seeing.

The Plot

I'm not a fan of spoilers, but when the film's 30 years old it's probably safe to assume you know the basics anyway. This has all of them in abundance - Popeye's wooing of Olive, Bluto's bully-boy opposition to the eponymous hero, superhuman strength provided by a can of spinach and even a significant role for baby Swee'Pea.

Without giving away the ending, this is a proper feel-good film with moments of comedy, more than its fair share of genuine emotion built into the otherwise caricature portrayals, and a bit of peril thrown in to keep things interesting. At 114 minutes in length, it's also a reminder that not all films from the 1980s were 87 minutes long.

The Set - Popeye Village in Anchor Bay, Malta

As I mentioned above, I've been to Anchor Bay and seen Popeye Village as it exists today (well, in the 1990s, anyway). Wherever you go in Malta, you'll easily find a day trip to take you there, as it is still one of the island's most celebrated features - the Hobbiton of its day, I'd suggest, and a brilliant contrast to the ancient capital city of Valetta.

My own visit was a long time ago - back in the early 1990s - and these days it seems like a lot has been done to update the village. As I recall, some of the buildings had burned down and have since been reconstructed, so it might not look identical to the original film set, while a number of rides and shows have been added to make it more of a tourist attraction. If anyone does go, do let me know how good it is now as a day out - I may yet be convinced to return there myself.

The Soundtrack by Harry Nilsson

Harry Nilsson composed the songs for Popeye - with the obvious exception of the Popeye theme itself - and many are sung within the movie itself, as opposed to being dubbed over the footage later either as backing tracks or lip-synched to the actors.

The soundtrack album, available on iTunes, features studio recordings of the tracks - so, while they may sound a little different to the versions in the film, they are of full studio quality for the time.

Popeye - Robin Williams & Shelley Duvall

80s Movies

In February, POPSICULTURE are dedicating the month to a look back at the iconic films of the 1980s - a decade whose films continue to draw massive audiences when they are shown on TV. To follow posts in this series, check the 80s Movies label or sign up to the dedicated RSS feed.


Anonymous said...

One of the many awesome films where Robin Williams shows his talents. This movie called Popeye, takes me away to a time of real innocent love. Is so sad that we lost Robin Williams so soon.

Rodrigo Suárez said...

Love to see someone remembers that great movie. Awesome work by everyone involved: Robert Altman, Shelley Duvall and Robin Williams did and amazing work bringing Popeye in the spirit of the old Elzie Chrisler Segar's comic. Beloved movie. And to see the town is real and alive... it makes a child chord of my heart beat.

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