A Clean Shaven Man is most notable for its depictions of (a) the grotesqueries it inflicts upon Popeye and Bluto, and (b) the conspicuous fickleness of Olive Oyl.
The cartoon begins with The Boys at a greasy-spoon restaurant, looking starry-eyed at waitress Olive Oyl as she seductively (at least for her) sings the title song. Bluto is his usual furry self and Popeye is more five-o'clock-shadowy than usual, so they figure that if all it takes to impress Olive is a shaven face, they'd better not press their luck.
The duo go to Wimpy's Barber Shop (strangely labeled "Wimpy's Bber Shop" in this cartoon's cheapo colorized version). But Wimpy is -- lucky for them, probably -- off getting a shave somewhere else, so they agree to shave each other. Why Popeye would even consider letting Bluto go at him with a straight razor is one of this cartoon series' Great Unsolved Mysteries, but so be it.
Popeye does an expert job in cleaning up Bluto's kisser; unfortunately, it doesn’t help Bluto a bit. Just as a make-up job only makes Olive Oyl homelier (For Better or Worser), an ostensible clean-up just makes Bluto look like...well, at least like someone with whom I wouldn't leave my child alone in a dark alley.
Then Bluto returns the favor to Popeye, and Popeye seemingly gets what he deserves. Bluto makes indentations in Popeye's face that a tractor would have done more gracefully, and he somehow even sneaks a hair ribbon onto Popeye's bald pate. (The movie's hands-down "Eeeew" moment comes when Bluto tests a straight razor by flicking it on his tongue. And 1950's parents worried about the fist fights in Popeye cartoons!)
When Popeye protests, Bluto beats him up and drags him off to scare Olive. Popeye tries to open his can of spinach, but for once Bluto catches on; "None o' that stuff!", Bluto yells, and he pitches the can away. Unfortunately, Bluto's one moment of intelligence vanishes when he ignores the can's rolling back into Popeye's grip.
Popeye whips Bluto for the umpteenth time and then drags him off to startle Olive. Sadly, Olive does a better job of shocking The Boys; she walks past them while arm-in-arm with a man whose beard nearly drags on the ground. The Boys punish themselves by kicking each other's butt (literally, for once) as the film fades out.
Postscript: In his book Hollywood Cartoons, Michael Barrier gives short shrift to a gag in this movie's climax, where Popeye spins a barber's chair off its base to press Bluto against a wall, and then the chair swings back onto the base. Barrier calls this a "gaucherie" because "There is no sense that this might somehow be physically possible; the seat simply floats." Physically possible?? Hey, Mike, news flash -- it's a cartoon! You know, the kind of flick where Mickey Mouse uses a hippo's teeth as a xylophone?? If only Popeye were still around to belt a cartoon deconstructionist instead of Bluto.
© 2007, Steve Bailey.
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