In plot terms, What - No Spinach? is little more than a reversal on We Aim to Please (1934); here, Bluto runs a restaurant, and Popeye is his customer. The cartoon's pleasures come from the embellishments on the now-well-known characters -- particularly Wimpy, whose mumblings here elevate him to equal comic status with Popeye and Bluto.
The cartoon opens with an exterior shot of Bluto's Restaurant, the menu for which is just as intimidating as its owner: "Ham Sandwich, 10 Cents – With Ham, 15 Cents – Bread, 5 Cents Extra." One wonders how Bluto would react if you deigned to ask him for mustard on the sandwich.
As if that isn't discouraging enough, Wimpy is the restaurant's chef. His first scene shows him delivering "ode to a hamburger" while fixing same with such zest that this clip would be worthy of broadcast on cable TV’s Food Network. It's almost charming to find Wimpy as this enthusiastic of a chef -- if only Bluto didn't have to steal the final product away to keep Wimpy from eating it.
Then Popeye comes in and orders roast duck (which, as we all know, was a specialty of Depression-era greasy-spoon restaurants). Of course, Wimpy tries to steal the cooked duck for himself; when he fails, he sneaks hot sauce onto the duck when Popeye isn't looking -- under the theory, I'm guessing, that if Wimpy can't have the food, the customer can't either.
Popeye exhales fire after trying the duck and then rushes from the restaurant without paying. Bluto thinks Popeye is trying to welsh out of paying for his meal (now Bluto knows how it feels), so he chases Popeye down and starts beating him. Naturally, in the ensuing melee, Popeye's omnipresent spinach can pops out and helps him fight Bluto.
I know this is "just" a cartoon, but I can't help noticing: (1) Any guy who walks around with his own supply of spinach probably isn't or shouldn't be too concerned with getting roast duck to start with. (2) As with the earlier cartoon, the restaurant gets so thoroughly destroyed in the Popeye/Bluto battle, you wonder if it was worth the price of a lousy meal. "Yeah, my café was leveled, but at least I made him pay for the darn duck!"
In the end, Wimpy walks out stealing an errant hamburger -- and the movie.
© 2007, Steve Bailey.
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