Monday, 14 January 2013

Popeye's Blacksmith Blur

There’s a great fast-forward effect in the Popeye “Shoein’ Hosses” (1934) and it’s built right into the background drawing.

The scene quickly pans from Popeye at Olive’s blacksmith’s shop to Bluto in a bar. To make the pan seem faster, part of the background drawing is blurred. Here’s a reconstruction.

There are some other cool backgrounds right at the start of the cartoon. A huge tree is leaning against Olive’s shop like it’s human and a fire hydrant has a horse’s head. Then when Popeye comes along, there’s depth in the scene with mailboxes and twisted lamps in the foreground, a stone fence behind Popeye and houses, hills, etc. in the background. They’re panned at different speeds to give the illusion of three dimensions.

William Costello is still Popeye and William Pennell sings a cute opening song (used as an underscore in parts of the short) about the lamentable demise of the blacksmith’s trade. No doubt horse-drawn wagons were an increasingly rare sight on New York City streets in 1934. If I had to guess, I’d say the song’s a Sammy Timberg original, but I’d love to find out for sure.

The background department at Fleischer’s was under the direction of Erich Frederich Theodore Schenk, born in Germany about 1901. He moved with the studio to Florida and stayed when it packed up and went back to New York. He died in the Miami area in 1955. He illustrated at least one children’s book with Virgil Wylie and also had a patent for colour photography.


  1. Famous Studios would drive the idea into the ground, but this is the first Popeye where the formula of Olive needing help with some task and has to decide between Popeye and Bluto to handle the work. Famous eventually did it to the point you'd cringe when you saw the plot coming but it was a great template for the next decade or so.

    It's also the cartoon where the Willard Bowsky unit really started improving the designs on the main characters towards the ones we think of today as the standard Fleischer models, and the short where Mae Questel permanently locked in the tone of Olive's voice.

  2. The blur effects for fast Pans were unique to Fleischer cartoons. Chuck Jones attempted something of the same effect by bending background elements back for fast Pans to enhance the sense of speed. But he tended to bend them the wrong way.