The Making of POPEYE (1980)


The Making of POPEYE (1980) – Cinema Students


Popeye (1980) is a movie that’s broadly, and wrongly, thought of to be one of many largest “flops” of all time on the field workplace. In actuality, Popeye truly turned a revenue. On this retrospective article, we’ll talk about the behind-the-scenes story of this Eighties cult basic, directed by Robert Altman and starring Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall.

Annie and Popeye

In 1977, a brand new musical centered across the beloved caricature character Little Orphan Annie. Opening on Broadway, it shortly took the world by storm. Annie would go on to win seven Tony Awards and ran for practically six years on the Nice White Method.
It didn’t take lengthy for Hollywood to take discover of this hit present. Each Columbia and Paramount had been very concerned about gaining the rights to the musical. A bidding conflict ensued with Columbia successful with the staggering bid of $9.5 million {dollars}. Over $45 million {dollars} when adjusted for inflation, this was the best ever paid for the rights to a stage play or musical.
Robin Williams mimics Popeye’s mannerisms whereas holding an illustration of the character (1980).
After dropping the rights to Annie, Paramount studio govt Robert Evans held a gathering on the studio along with his friends. This included Barry Diller, Michael Eisner, and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Charles Bluhdorn, head of Paramount’s mum or dad firm Gulf+Western was additionally in attendance. Evans informed them they had been going to push ahead with their very own caricature musical film. Now all they wanted to do was work out which basic strip to convey to the display screen. Paramount already owned the film rights to E.C. Segar’s Popeye characters from its acquisition of the Fleischer Studios. Because of this, it was determined that this may be the property they’d adapt for the display screen.


Evans’s authentic alternative for director was John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy). Mike Nichols (The Graduate), Arthur Penn (Little Massive Man), and Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude) had been additionally thought of. The primary three of those administrators all had one thing in frequent, directing actor Dustin Hoffman. It was Hoffman who was the option to play the titular function in Popeye.
For scripting duties, Evans turned to Jules Feiffer. Along with being an completed screenwriter, Feiffer had labored within the medium of comics below the wing of the legendary Will Eisner (The Spirit). Feiffer leaned closely on the cartoon serials produced by the Fleischer studio. He additionally was influenced by the unique comedian strips, incorporating components and characters corresponding to Popeye’s magical pet Eugene the Jeep.
Shelley Duvall and Robin Williams on the set of “Popeye” (1980).
After studying the script, which he deemed horrible, Hoffman went to Evans, demanding Feiffer be fired. When Evans refused, Hoffman left the challenge. By this time Academy-Award-nominated director Robert Altman (M*A*S*H) had been employed to helm the manufacturing. With a lot handwringing in regards to the script from all sides, Altman informed Evans that he beloved the script and didn’t wish to change a phrase.

“I laughed when Evans reported this to me. I used to be a buddy of Altman’s and a fan. As a fan I knew what was coming. Altman didn’t consider in scripts besides as a essential evil to get movies financed. He didn’t a lot consider in phrases; he didn’t care for those who heard the dialogue or not. And he didn’t consider in story. However I may think about nobody higher to offer credibility to Segar’s outlandish creations on-screen.”

– Jules Feiffer

Evans’s authentic alternative for the function of Olive was Lilly Tomlin. Nevertheless, her curiosity within the function disintegrated when Hoffman backed out. The following alternative for the function was Saturday Evening Reside star, Gilda Radner.
Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, and Robert Altman on the set of “Popeye” (1980)
Radner’s agent, Bernie Brillstein, discouraged her from taking the half. This was as a result of script in addition to Altman’s status for his troublesome and unorthodox strategies. Altman was positive with this as he didn’t wish to rent Radner anyway. The director finally opted for an actress he had regularly collaborated with, Shelley Duvall (Nashville). Not lengthy after, Robin Williams of Mork and Mindy fame was introduced on board to fill Hoffman’s footwear.


For the movie’s music Altman determined he wished to rent singer-songwriter, Harry Nilsson. Nilsson, who had an early increase through the vocal help of The Beatles in 1968, had an up-and-down profession for the subsequent dozen years. A legendary social gathering animal who was a founding member of The Hollywood Vampires, there was no denying that Nilsson had top-of-the-line voices of his technology. He was additionally a masterful lyricist with a fast wit. Good for Altman’s tastes.  
Robert Evans and the remainder of the brass at Paramount had been in opposition to the hiring, fearing that Nilsson can be troublesome to work with. All through his Grammy-winning profession, Harry was identified for being troublesome and demanding, in addition to continuously drunk. The one individual that vocally supported the choice was Williams, who had no clout with anyone concerned within the manufacturing since this was his first film. Regardless, Altman beloved working with Nilsson on the film and located him to be a complete skilled.
Harry Nilsson and Shelley Duvall within the recording studio through the manufacturing of “Popeye” (1980).

“No one wished him at first besides Robin Williams. Everybody mentioned ‘You’ll get in hassle with him — he’ll get drunk; he received’t do it; he’s all washed up.’ As a matter of reality I mentioned all of these issues about Harry to Robin myself sooner or later. Then I went dwelling and considered it and mentioned to myself, ‘Jesus, that’s what some persons are saying about me!’ So I referred to as Harry Nilsson, as a result of I had by no means met him in my life, and we acquired alongside terrifically.”

– Robert Altman

Nilsson took a break through the recording of his last album “Flash Harry” to jot down the music for Popeye. He wrote all the authentic songs and co-produced the music with producer Bruce Robb at Cherokee Studios in Hollywood. Feiffer hated Nilsson’s songs, feeling they weren’t proper for the movie, and vocally expressed this to Altman, but it surely modified nothing, they usually had been used for the film. Nilsson’s lyrics, and orchestrations with Van Dyke Parks, add a degree of extra playfulness that may be a pretty frequent theme all through Harry’s profession.
Harry Nilsson took the musicians to Malta the place a studio was constructed for his or her use. The musicians dubbed themselves, “The Falcons.” Ray Cooper, Doug Dillard, Harry Nilsson, Van Dyke Parks, Klaus Voormann, and “The Mysterious Karsten” recorded the fundamental tracks on the island because the set was completed and filming started. Van Dyke Parks organized and performed the music. Ray Cooper, Doug Dillard, Van Dyke Parks, and Klaus Voormann make temporary appearances within the movie.
When the manufacturing of the film acquired underway Nilsson headed to Malta, the place the film was being filmed, to work with the musicians in a studio constructed for him on set. The standard movie-musical follow of actors recording the songs in a studio first after which lip-synching was eschewed by Altman. As an alternative, he had the solid sing a few of their musical numbers throughout filming, which resulted within the sound high quality of the recordings being diminished.
One other shot of Harry Nilsson and Shelley Duvall contained in the Malta-built recording studio on the set of “Popeye” (1980).

“Robert Altman thought it was a good suggestion to take all of the musicians to Malta, which is a loopy concept, as a result of they simply took all of the medication within the Center East with them. It simply grew to become this big social gathering – folks had been fortunate to have gotten out alive!”

– Eric Idle

Popeye Village

The development of the Popeye set started in June of 1979 in Mellieha, Malta. The appear and feel of the village had been meant to emulate the E.C. Segar caricature Thimble Theatre through which Popeye and his supporting solid appeared and never the Fleischer cartoons which audiences had been infinitely extra conversant in.
Dubbed Popeye Village (or Sweethaven Village as it’s identified within the movie) the 19 wood buildings crafted for the film took the development crew of 165 males practically eight months to finish. All the wooden used to create the buildings was imported from Holland, except the wooden shingles which got here from Canada. Eight tons of nails and a couple of,000 gallons of paint had been additionally used.
Along with units, dwelling quarters, and enhancing rooms, a recording studio was additionally constructed as a part of the huge Popeye compound. The village nonetheless exists as we speak and is a well-liked vacationer attraction. Along with props from the film, there are additionally a number of exhibits centered across the film village in its present incarnation.
Popeye Village in Malta

Stalag Altman

In December 1979 Disney joined the movie as a part of a two-picture manufacturing deal (together with Dragonslayer) with Paramount. Disney acquired the overseas rights by means of its Buena Vista unit. This was the first-ever collaboration between the studios. It was additionally the primary Disney film to include profanity.
Filming on Popeye started on January 23, 1980, with a finances of $20 million {dollars}. The manufacturing was filmed till they spent the complete finances on June 19, 1980. At that time, Altman was ordered by Paramount to return to Hollywood and to make use of the footage he had already shot to finish the film.
There have been quite a few issues all through the six-month-long Malta shoot. In the beginning had been Popeye’s prosthetic forearm muscle tissues. Not accomplished in time for taking pictures to start Altman determined to have Williams put on a raincoat so to cowl his regular arms. When the silicon arms did arrive, an surprising drawback occurred: the sweat from William’s precise arms principally acted as glue, making the prosthetics nearly unimaginable to take away. A brand new set with out this drawback was created inflicting manufacturing delays.
Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, and Paul L. Smith on the set of Popeye.

“I needed to dub that film (Popeye) over twice… as a result of folks couldn’t perceive what I used to be saying. I appeared like a killer whale farting in a wind tunnel.”

– Robin Williams

Except for the forearm difficulties, Williams didn’t take pleasure in working with Altman in any respect primarily to his inflexible unwillingness to permit the comic to improvise which is the cornerstone of his comedic prowess. This triggered Williams to discuss with the manufacturing as “Stalag Altman”.

“It’s nearly like being a veteran, surviving Popeye.”

– Robin Williams

Shelly Duvall nonetheless beloved the manufacturing and the film. She had simply completed the tortuous expertise of working with Stanley Kubrick on The Shining and was comfy with Altman having labored with them for a few years. However, this may be her last collaboration with Altman.
Robert Altman and Robin Williams discussing a scene on the set of “Popeye” (1980)

“I’ve by no means earlier than been allowed to play a girl of any power, of depth. And though Olive Oyl is a cartoon character, I feel she does have depth. All the different characters I’ve performed within the motion pictures, to me, they by no means actually broke the floor. However Olive Oyl is 101 p.c girl! She’s not Popeye’s ‘girlfriend’ I see her as an actual femme fatale.”

– Shelley Duvall

Reception and Legacy

Popeye was launched on December 6, 1980, and earned $50 million {dollars} on the home field workplace making properly twice the manufacturing prices. A modest monetary success the vast majority of critics and viewers reactions had been unfavorable. Folks anticipated a film primarily based on the Fleischer cartoons, not Thimble Theatre.
Due to the backlash, Altman was basically banished from Hollywood. He spent the subsequent decade directing low-budget motion pictures out of Paris. Through the years Popeye’s status has improved and it’s properly thought to be a cult basic over 4 a long time later.

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