Popeye (1980)

PG | 114 mins | Comedy, Musical | 12 December 1980

Director:

Robert Altman

Writer:

Jules Feiffer

Producer:

Robert Evans

Cinematographer:

Giuseppe Rotunno

Production Designer:

Wolf Kroeger

Production Companies:

Paramount Pictures Corporation, Walt Disney Productions
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HISTORY

       According to a 17 Oct 1977 LAT article, the genesis of Popeye began with actor Dustin Hoffman’s desire to do a kid-friendly movie. He approached producer Robert Evans with a project about clowns, and another about “Dracula,” but Evans did not share his enthusiasm. Instead, Evans noticed in the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) that the Popeye theme song earned $75,000 a year in royalties. The popularity of the character around the world made him think that a Popeye musical would have commercial potential. Evans bought the film rights from King Features Syndicate after a few months of negotiations. A 6 Dec 1979 LAHExam article reported that screenwriter Jules Feiffer worked eighteen months to complete a script. He based his screenplay on the 1930s-era comic strip character created by E. C. [Elzie Crisler] Segar, according to a 4 Apr 1980 NYT article. A 10-16 Dec 1980 Village Voice article stated that Evans considered the following directors for the project: Hal Ashby, Arthur Penn, Richard Attenborough, Jerry Lewis, and Mike Nichols. Feiffer said he ruled out Jerry Lewis, and commented that Robert Altman was chosen because of his strong grasp of the material.
       The 17 Oct 1977 LAT, the LAHExam, and a news item in the 24 May 1978 Var announced that actors Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin had been cast as leads. Hoffman began dance lessons to prepare for his role. The 10-16 Dec 1980 Village Voice stated that, in time, Hoffman disagreed with Feiffer’s interpretation of the character and ... More Less

       According to a 17 Oct 1977 LAT article, the genesis of Popeye began with actor Dustin Hoffman’s desire to do a kid-friendly movie. He approached producer Robert Evans with a project about clowns, and another about “Dracula,” but Evans did not share his enthusiasm. Instead, Evans noticed in the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) that the Popeye theme song earned $75,000 a year in royalties. The popularity of the character around the world made him think that a Popeye musical would have commercial potential. Evans bought the film rights from King Features Syndicate after a few months of negotiations. A 6 Dec 1979 LAHExam article reported that screenwriter Jules Feiffer worked eighteen months to complete a script. He based his screenplay on the 1930s-era comic strip character created by E. C. [Elzie Crisler] Segar, according to a 4 Apr 1980 NYT article. A 10-16 Dec 1980 Village Voice article stated that Evans considered the following directors for the project: Hal Ashby, Arthur Penn, Richard Attenborough, Jerry Lewis, and Mike Nichols. Feiffer said he ruled out Jerry Lewis, and commented that Robert Altman was chosen because of his strong grasp of the material.
       The 17 Oct 1977 LAT, the LAHExam, and a news item in the 24 May 1978 Var announced that actors Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin had been cast as leads. Hoffman began dance lessons to prepare for his role. The 10-16 Dec 1980 Village Voice stated that, in time, Hoffman disagreed with Feiffer’s interpretation of the character and suggested that Evans fire the screenwriter. According to Feiffer, Evans kept the script and dropped Hoffman from the project. “A first in Hollywood history,” Feiffer said. After actor-comedian Robin Williams was signed to replace Hoffman, Lily Tomlin withdrew from the project. The 6 Dec 1979 LAHExam reported that as a result of losing its star power, the project lapsed into limbo.
       A brief in the 10 Jul 1979 DV stated that actress Gilda Radnor was considered for a role, but opted to return to the cast of Saturday Night Live (NBC, 11 Oct 1975--present). According to the 8 Aug 1979 DV brief, Radnor would reconsider the part if the shooting schedule began in Mar or Apr 1980. However, when the timing could not be worked out, Radnor passed on the project.
       A 3 Mar 1980 Newsweek brief stated that Williams began lifting weights and dyed his hair red for his role as “Popeye.” Williams also researched his part by watching the 1930s Max Fleischer animated cartoons voiced by Jack Mercer, and later, Mercer’s work in Hanna-Barbera’s Popeye animation, according to a 1 Aug 1980 DV news item. A 3 Jan 1979 LAT article reported that actor Paul L. Smith, cast as “Bluto,” grew back his bushy beard, and bulked up to three hundred and fifty pounds to play the role.
       In the 17 Oct 1977 LAT, Evans suggested choreographer Patricia Birch and executive producer Richard Sylbert would be additional hires, but others were eventually hired to fill the positions.
       Articles in the 5 Dec 1979 LAT and the 6 Dec 1979 LAHExam stated that Paramount Pictures Corp. chairman Barry Diller brokered a deal between his company and Walt Disney Productions to co-finance and co-distribute the picture, and also Dragonslayer (1981, see entry). Paramount agreed to handle domestic distribution, while it was felt that Disney, with its greater overseas potential, would be responsible for the international market. It was the first time that Disney partnered to distribute a film, while Paramount had entered into a joint distribution deal once before with Universal Pictures to release Sorcerer. (1977, see entry).
       Production notes stated that, in spring 1979, Robert Altman and production designer Wolf Kroeger scouted U. S. locations including Catalina Island, CA, Florida, and Hawaii, before settling on Anchor Bay, Malta. The area, with its distinctive “horseshoe-shaped cove,” afforded filmmakers much privacy on the thinly populated northwest section of the island. During the summer of 1979, the crew built a two hundred-foot ferryboat to use as a breakwater in the bay, access roads and a model built to scale. Construction on the village began in Sep 1979 with one hundred and sixty-five crew members including draftsmen, scenic painters, carpenters, electricians, plasterers, welders, and sculptors. Hand-split cedar shingles were imported from British Columbia, and lumber was shipped from Austrian forests.
       A 18 Jan 1980 DV news item announced that principal photography would begin 21 Jan 1980 on Malta, but production notes in AMPAS library files stated the date was pushed to 28 Jan 1980. According to a 28 Jun 1980 HR brief, the production had a twenty-week schedule, and a 16 Nov 1979 DV news item reported that the film had a $12-13 million budget. Evans claimed that the movie would have cost $30 million to shoot in the U. S. The 28 Jun 1980 HR announced that principal photography was completed in late Jun 1980.
       The 6 Dec 1979 LAHExam and the 4 Apr 1980 NYT reported that crew members built an underwater tank, barges, and a seaport to represent the fictitious town of Sweethaven, which consisted of churches, houses, restaurants, and bars along a stretch of almost three blocks in a cove twenty miles from the Maltese capital of Valletta. Production notes stated that nineteen structures made up the village including the four-bedroom Oyl house, the Rough House Café and its short-order kitchen, and a working sawmill. In addition, the upper cabin of the ferryboat became the town’s gambling casino, and a half-submerged frigate in the bay was used as the Commodore’s headquarters.
       An all-around danceable, swimmable, walking and running shoe was designed and constructed for cast members by a London manufacturer of theatrical footwear named Anello and Davide. Shoes were made of leather and rubber, and padded with cork to suggest exaggerated toes and bulging heels. Each shoe was about twice the length of an actor’s regular shoe size, and the company prepared eighteen pairs for the production, while the bulk of the footwear was manufactured in the plaster shop on the set.
       A 12 Dec 1980 LAT article reported that filmmakers found it necessary to re-record some of Williams’ muttered “Popeye” dialogue just prior to the movie’s release to make it more comprehensible to audiences.
       The picture earned $44.2 million after thirteen weeks of domestic release, according to a news item in the 20 Mar 1981 HR. A 11 Sep 2000 WSJ article stated that the film made $61 million worldwide during its release.
       A brief in the 1 Dec 1981 HR reported Paramount Pictures Corp. filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court after director Altman went over budget on Popeye, alleging that Altman had agreed to repay ten-nineteenths of any amount that exceeded the budget, excluding interest, up to $250 thousand. The movie cost more than $22.7 million. Paramount asked for $250 thousand in damages from Altman, whose salary on the film was $600 thousand. Altman refused to honor the agreement, according to the suit. The outcome of the dispute could not be determined as of the writing of this Note.
       The 11 Sep 2000 WSJ stated that the outdoor Sweethaven set was saved from destruction by lifelong Maltese resident, Lino Cassar, a dedicated film buff and coordinator for area filming. Cassar battled Maltese officials to preserve the village, and eventually brought his case before the country’s prime minister. As a result, the site remains a popular tourist destination, where visitors can walk through nineteen buildings including a restaurant with menu items like spinach soup and Wimpy hamburgers.

      Opening credits include the statement: "POPEYE is a Trademark of The Hearst Corporation, King Features Syndicate Division." The following statements appear in end credits: “Jack Mercer is the voice of Popeye in the animated prologue”; “Filmed on location in Malta in collaboration with Malta Films Facilities”; and “Special air transportation by Alitalia Airlines.” The following acknowledgment appears in end credits: “Our gratitude to an international crew whose artistry helped to bring Sweethaven and the world of Popeye to life.”
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
LOCATION
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Chicago Sun Times
14 Dec 1980.
---
Daily Variety
10 Jul 1979.
---
Daily Variety
8 Aug 1979.
---
Daily Variety
16 Nov 1979.
---
Daily Variety
18 Jan 1980.
---
Daily Variety
1 Aug 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jun 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Dec 1980
p. 3, 6.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Dec 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Mar 1981.
---
LAHExam
17 Oct 1977.
---
LAHExam
6 Dec 1979.
---
Los Angeles Times
17 Oct 1977
Part IV, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
3 Jan 1979
Part IV, p. 16, 20.
Los Angeles Times
5 Dec 1979.
Part IV, p. 16.
Los Angeles Times
12 Dec 1980
p. 1.
New York Times
4 Apr 1980.
---
New York Times
12 Dec 1980
p. 5.
Newsweek
3 Mar 1980.
---
Variety
24 May 1978.
---
Variety
10 Dec 1980
p. 30.
Village Voice
10-16 Dec 1980.
---
WSJ
11 Sep 2000
Section A, p. 1, 14.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
The People of Sweethaven:
The Roughhouse Gang:
The Walfleur sisters:
The Toughs:
The Housewives:
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Paramount Pictures Corporation and Walt Disney Productions Present
A Robert Evans Production
A Robert Altman Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
1st asst dir
Unit mgr
Prod mgr - Europe
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Asst op
Underwater cam op
Key grip
Unit photog
[Equip by]
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Sculptor
Sculptor
Sculptor
Draftsman
Draftsman
FILM EDITORS
Supv ed
Film ed
Addl ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Prop man
Prop man
Set dec
Const coord
Const mgr
Master carpenter
Master carpenter
Master painter
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward supv
Ward const
Ward mistress
MUSIC
Mus and lyrics by
Addl score by
Songs arr and cond
Mus re-rec mixer
Re-rec eng
Supv mus ed
Asst mus ed
SOUND
Supv re-rec mixer
Supv sd ed
Sd eff consultant
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Loop ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Post prod sd and ed facilities by
Boom man
Loc eng
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
[Spec eff] Asst
Title des
DANCE
Choreog
Dance
Choreog
Circus
Mr. Williams' dance style created by
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Makeup artist
Chief hairdresser
Hairdresser
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Post prod coord
Tech adv
Tech adv
Scr supv
Talent coord
Pub asst
Pub asst
Unit coord
Unit coord
Exec asst to Mr. Evans
Asst to Mr. Evans
Asst to Mr. Evans
Asst to Mr. Williams
Loc auditor
Loc auditor
Asst accountant
Physical therapist
Caterer
Transportation capt
STAND INS
Stunt coord
ANIMATION
Anim artifacts created by
Anim artifacts created by
Anim artifacts created by
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on characters created by E. C. Segar for King Features Syndicate.
AUTHOR
SONGS
"I'm Popeye The Sailor Man," music and lyrics by Sammy Lerner.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
12 December 1980
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 12 December 1980
Production Date:
28 January--late June 1980 in Anchor Bay, Malta
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures Corporation and Walt Disney Productions
Copyright Date:
29 January 1981
Copyright Number:
PA93105
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Prints
Prints by Metrocolor®
Duration(in mins):
114
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26147
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

When Popeye the sailorman arrives at the seaport town of Sweethaven in a rowboat, the taxman stops him to collect various taxes. Popeye finds a room to rent at the Oyl home with a rickety bed and broken doorknob. There, Olive Oyl complains to her mother, Nana, that she cannot get engaged to Capt. Bluto wearing an ugly hat, and the party will have to be canceled. Later, Popeye joins the household for a meal, and Nana introduces her husband, Cole, her son, Castor, and boarders, Mr. Wimpy, and Mr. Geezil. The meal is a noisy, chaotic affair. Everyone finishes eating, and nothing is left for Popeye. At 9:00 p.m., Capt. Bluto, who is in charge of Sweethaven when the Commodore is away, announces curfew and lights out from his boat Vile Body. In his room, Popeye talks to an empty photograph frame, and promises his father, Poopdeck Pappy, that they will be reunited after thirty years. The following day, people stop at the local café for lunch. Wimpy eats Popeye’s meal as the sailorman confesses he has come to Sweethaven to find his father, but he is afraid that if Pappy is dead, he will be an orphan. At night, friends and family gather for Olive’s engagement party, but they shun Popeye. He takes a walk by the docks. As Bluto waits for Olive to appear, she packs her bags and runs away. On the dock, she sees Popeye. He offers to carry her bags, but she does not know where she is ... +


When Popeye the sailorman arrives at the seaport town of Sweethaven in a rowboat, the taxman stops him to collect various taxes. Popeye finds a room to rent at the Oyl home with a rickety bed and broken doorknob. There, Olive Oyl complains to her mother, Nana, that she cannot get engaged to Capt. Bluto wearing an ugly hat, and the party will have to be canceled. Later, Popeye joins the household for a meal, and Nana introduces her husband, Cole, her son, Castor, and boarders, Mr. Wimpy, and Mr. Geezil. The meal is a noisy, chaotic affair. Everyone finishes eating, and nothing is left for Popeye. At 9:00 p.m., Capt. Bluto, who is in charge of Sweethaven when the Commodore is away, announces curfew and lights out from his boat Vile Body. In his room, Popeye talks to an empty photograph frame, and promises his father, Poopdeck Pappy, that they will be reunited after thirty years. The following day, people stop at the local café for lunch. Wimpy eats Popeye’s meal as the sailorman confesses he has come to Sweethaven to find his father, but he is afraid that if Pappy is dead, he will be an orphan. At night, friends and family gather for Olive’s engagement party, but they shun Popeye. He takes a walk by the docks. As Bluto waits for Olive to appear, she packs her bags and runs away. On the dock, she sees Popeye. He offers to carry her bags, but she does not know where she is going. The taxman appears, and asks for money, but withdraws his request when he recognizes Olive. She denies that she and her family receive special treatment because she is engaged to Bluto. Meanwhile at the Oyl house, Nana calls for her daughter. Back at the dock, while Popeye entertains her with stories about his childhood, Olive’s wicker basket is stolen and swapped with another. Olive is afraid of the rattling sound coming from the basket, and tries to hide, while Popeye reassures her that he will fix the problem. He opens the basket expecting to see a snake. Instead, he finds a baby. Olive is charmed by the child, while Popeye reads an attached note explaining that the child’s mother cannot afford to take care of the baby, and asking Olive and Popeye to be its guardians until she can resume her responsibilities. At the Oyl house, Bluto demands to see Olive, and is so angry that he breaks furniture and damages the home. She returns home with Popeye, and Bluto beats him. Later, Bluto orders the taxman to levy heavy taxes on the Oyls, causing them to lose most of their property and possessions. Meanwhile, Olive and Popeye take turns fussing over the child. Popeye decides to name the boy, Swee’pea. In town, a poster announces, “ten days tax exemption plus $15 to any challenger who lasts one round” with heavyweight boxer Oxblood Oxheart. Castor Oyl enters the fight to win the prize and save his family from ruin. When the Oyl family attends the fight, they are horrified to see Castor in the ring. Oxblood quickly defeats Castor, and Popeye becomes the next challenger. He dances around Oxblood, and levels him with a few strategic punches. The Oyls regain their home, and life returns to normal. Wimpy takes Swee’pea for a walk, but Olive becomes worried after they have been gone several hours. Discovering that Wimpy went to the races, an angry Olive goes to the racetrack with Popeye to find her boy. There, Olive sees Wimpy has won money, and wants to place a bet despite Popeye’s wishes. Popeye grabs Swee’pea and leaves, while Bluto demands to speak with Wimpy. Later, Popeye moves out of the Oyl house and takes Swee’pea despite their protests. Popeye sets up house on the docks of Sweethaven, and the taxman demands several fees. Popeye is fed up with being taxed, and pushes the man, who falls down a slide into the ocean. Popeye is celebrated by the townspeople as a hero. Wimpy kidnaps Swee’pea, and the baby ends up on the Commodore’s boat in Bluto’s hands. When Olive discovers that Wimpy knows Swee’pea’s whereabouts, she insists that he help her rescue the baby. They observe as Bluto ties up the Commodore and stages a mutiny after tiring of the Commodore’s broken promises of wealth. Back in Sweethaven, Olive informs Popeye that his father is a crook, a rat, a kidnapper, and also happens to be the Commodore. Popeye refuses to believe her, but when he comes face-to-face with the Commodore, he realizes he is the long lost Poopdeck Pappy. Popeye is ecstatic, but the Commodore denies that he is the sailorman’s father, and orders Popeye to cut him loose. Suddenly, Olive’s family descends on the Commodore’s boat, while Bluto escapes with Olive and Swee’pea to Scab Island. The Commodore, Popeye, Wimpy and the Oyls follow Bluto’s boat into a cove. There, the Commodore fires two shots, then rams Bluto’s boat. Both boats capsize, but Bluto has already taken his hostages further into the cove, looking for treasure. Bluto emerges from the sea with a treasure chest, and attaches it to a Block and Tackle to hoist it ashore. Popeye challenges Bluto to a fistfight, and soon, the men switch to swords, but all the commotion disturbs a giant squid. The squid’s tentacles capsize Swee’pea’s rowboat, but the pulley catches his jumpsuit and pulls the baby to safety. Meanwhile, the squid attacks Olive and drags her underwater. The Commodore opens the chest, and finds several cans of spinach. He throws a can to Popeye, and says that if he ate his spinach he would not lose his fight with Bluto. Bluto opens the spinach can with his bare hands and stuffs the spinach in Popeye’s mouth. As Popeye disappears underwater, he regains his strength, and scares Bluto, who swims away. Popeye then pummels the squid and sends it into the stratosphere. Olive gives Popeye a big kiss and declares him a hero.
+

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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