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Date: 1980


"Popeye" is a live action film which features Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall as Popeye and Olive Oyl. In the film, everyone's favorite spinach-eating sailor (although he hates spinach at the start of this film) falls for Olive Oyl and battles his arch-rival Bluto.


Near the end of the 1970s, Producer Robert Evans commissioned screenwriter (and political cartoonist, novelist, and playwright) Jules Feiffer to write a script for a live action version of "Popeye."[1] The script was passed from one director to another (including Hal Ashby, Arthur Penn and Mike Nichols) before Robert Altman ("M*A*S*H", "Nashville") ended up heading the project. At one point Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin were signed on as Popeye and Olive.[2]


Once Robert Altman was chosen to direct the film, he wanted Robin Williams and Shelly Duvall to play the lead characters. The executives at Paramount had already decided that Williams would star as Popeye, but they wanted Gilda Radner to play Olive Oyl. Altman and Duvall felt it was a role she was born to play. "[,,, As] a kid, everyone called me Olive Oyl because I was taller than any of the boys were in class."[3]


Even though they learned that Radner was not available due to other commitments, the Paramount execs were still not sure about Duvall.


So, one night. Bob and I sneaked into a recording studio and with Harry accompanying me on the organ, I sang, "He Needs Me." Bob took the record and some footage from "Thieves Like Us" and showed it to the chairman [4] of Gulf and Western which owns Paramount, [ Barry Diller ], and [ Michael Eisner ], and they loved it and the part was mine.

-- Shelly Duvall (1981) [5]


Altman took the cast and crew to Anchor Bay on the island of Malta. Over 100 men worked seven months to construct the Popeye set. Wood had to be imported from Canada. When they finished, the fictional village of Sweethaven consisted of nineteen buildings including a hotel, a school-house, a store, a post office, a church, and, of course, a tavern.


The film's score and songs are by Harry Nilsson.


The climatic octopus fight was filmed in Fifla. The Sweethaven set still stands in Anchor Bay as a tourist attraction.

Film critic, Sean Burns, describes the plot of Popeye as:


A lone drifter arrives in a ramshackle town. The locals regard him with suspicion at first, slowly warming to his oddball nature despite what seems to be the guy’s lifelong habit of always making the wrong enemies. He becomes smitten with a woman way out of his league, but she coyly withholds her obvious affections. A confrontation is brewing between this misfit hero and a sinister criminal organization aiming to bleed this sleepy little village dry — a showdown for which our man may very well be outmatched. The soundtrack is loaded with melancholy songs from a 1970s troubadour and the dialogue mixed so low and mumbly you can barely understand a damn word anybody is saying.


Burns then notes that the description also applies to Altman's critically acclaimed 1971 film, McCabe & Mrs. Miller. He goes on to praise Popeye as "a wonderful movie, beguiling and deeply strange."[6]


"If you watch it backwards, it has a plot." -- Robin Williams[7]



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Roger Smith (July 19, 2021)

I lived in the panhandle of Florida in 1979 when we heard that Popeye might be filmed near us. Any Hollywood film coming to the mostly-rural area would have a major event, but this was especially exciting news because we had already heard that Robin Williams was playing Popeye. At the time, Williams was hugely popular as the star of "Mork and Mindy."

We read in the local paper that the filmmakers were looking at an area in Valparaiso, Florida, close to the entrance to Eglin, Air Force Base. The location, on Boggy Bayou, featured large trees covered in moss which draped over the bayou and some wooden buildings that probably dated back to the 1920s.

The Florida Motion Picture and Television Council jumped the gun a bit and started collecting applications from people interested in being extras in the movie which took the excitement level up to 11. Then we heard that the filmmakers had decided to produce this film on the island of Malta (one local paper said that Malta is in the Caribbean!).

After seeing the film and reading the stories about how difficult and expensive it was to build the sets on Malta, I can't help thinking that Popeye might have been a better film if it had been made in Florida.

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