In 1980, Paramount released the live-action feature film version of “Popeye,” directed by Robert Altman.
Starring Robin Williams as the comic character in his first film role, the movie/musical was a critical and box-office disaster, making just $49 million.
But the unique set of the town of Sweethaven that was built from scratch for the film in Anchor Bay, the northwest corner of the Mediterranean island of Malta, was a highlight. Created by production designer Wolf Kroeger, its slanted, ramshackle structures made it look like it was pulled right from the comics.
After production wrapped, the set was never demolished, and following some refurbishing, the “town” was turned into a tourist attraction called Popeye Village, which is still open to this day.
Business Insider talked to Kroeger about building the set, and we look at how decades later, the location has become one of the top destinations on the Maltese Islands for family vacations and weddings.
Construction of the village happened in June 1979 and took seven months to complete. 'There were a few little fishing houses there, that was it,' Kroeger told BI of what stood when the crew showed up.
'We had to bring in materials from outside (Malta),' he said. Lumber came from the Netherlands and shingles for the roofs came from Canada.
Though the film was a bust, Kroeger said the people of Malta loved the set and it was decided that it would not be torn down.
The bland look of the village -- intentional for the movie, Kroeger points out, as Altman wanted the colourful costumes to pop -- got a makeover.
Here's how it looked during filming. Outside of the houses looking less colourful, the only standout is the sunken ship. Kroeger said that was taken away after filming. In fact, he said it was still seaworthy after being sunk, some of the film crew sailed it around the coast.
The detail Kroeger and his team of about 165 put in is still evident to this day, from the cartoonish bent roofs to the crooked siding.
A few years ago, Kroeger took his kids to Popeye Village. Though he was caught off-guard a little by the colours on the houses, he could still appreciate it.
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