With neither production companies (Paramount and Disney, for heaven's sakes!) nor critics able to make up their minds what a maverick iconoclast like Altman was doing turning EC Segar's comic strip into a live-action musical, this film was virtually doomed to failure and neglect. Certainly, with Williams giving a virtuoso fast-mumbling performance as the hero, and gags ranging from expertly choreographed slapstick to subtle verbal infelicities (Popeye muttering about 'venerable disease'), it is far too sophisticated to function merely as kids' fodder. Nor is its story - in which Popeye searches for his lost Pappy while courting Olive Oyl - any less discursive, fragmented or off-the-wall than Altman's finest work. Indeed, the film may be seen as a weird and wonderful variation on the McCabe and Mrs Miller theme, with the immaculately designed township of Sweethaven, the vividly drawn characters, and Harry Nilsson's songs of inarticulacy all contributing to a portrait of a bizarre society at once recognisably human and fantastically dreamlike. Often, watching the actors contorting themselves into non-human shapes, you wonder how on earth Altman did it; equally often, you feel you are watching a wacky masterpiece, the like of which you've never seen before.
Cast and crew
Robin Williams Shelley Duvall Ray Walston Paul Dooley Paul L Smith Richard Libertini Donald Moffat