Review: Papa’s Delicate Condition (1963)

>> Wednesday, May 21, 2008

USA/C-98m./Dir: George Marshall/Wr: Jack Rose/Cast: Jackie Gleason (Jack Griffith), Glynis Johns (Ambolyn Griffith), Linda Bruhl (Corrie Griffith), Charles Ruggles (Anthony Ghio), Laurel Goodwin (Augusta Griffith)

In the history of television, Jackie Gleason was one of the all-time biggest stars (in terms of both popularity and tonnage). Unfortunately, he never achieved the same level of success on the big screen. In movies, Gleason faired best in supporting roles, such as his dramatic turns in The Hustler (1961) and Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962) or his scene-stealing mugging in Smokey and the Bandit (1977). Overall, Gleason’s leading roles were few and ill-fitting; but he found a superb showcase for his talents as the soused center of Papa’s Delicate Condition.

This charming family film, based on the childhood remembrances of silent film actress Corrine Griffith, stars Gleason as Jack Griffith, a fun-loving railroad supervisor and family man. Jack’s “delicate condition” referred to in the title is the state of intoxication; and when the old boy is in his cups, he concocts outrageous ideas, including buying a drug store in order to obtain a key to the liquor cabinet. Jack’s love of the bottle is only rivaled by his devotion to his youngest daughter, Corrie (Linda Bruhl), who shares his strong will and love of Dixieland jazz. Unfortunately, Jack and Corrie’s shenanigans often run counter to the wishes of Jack’s socially-conscious wife (Glynis Johns).

Gleason is the whole show in Papa’s Delicate Condition, but his outsized personality carries the film effortlessly. Of course the role was no great stretch. Gleason was well-known as a free-spending, jazz-loving drunk in real life. The part also contained an added comfort level in that it included aspects of two of the Great One’s most popular TV characters--the grandiose scheming and marital strife of Ralph Kramden combined with the boozing and bombast of Reginald Van Gleason III. Surprisingly, although the role appeared to be tailor made for the Great One, Gleason only procured the part when Fred Astaire became unavailable.

As for the merits of the movie, it is a pleasant enough, nostalgic, family comedy--somewhat similar to the type of Disney films that Hayley Mills starred in during the Sixties. It also has the feel of a musical with very little music (Gleason does get to belt “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey” and drunkenly slur the Oscar-winning song “Call Me Irresponsible”). However mild the script, Jackie Gleason’s charismatic performance elevates this flick to a soused cinema “must see.”

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey and beer

Intoxicating Effects--Sneaking sips, harmonizing, slurred speech, and staggering

Potent Quotables--AMBOLYN: When your father’s had too much to drink…
CORRIE: Medicine.
AMBOLYN: Well, uh, we’ll call it that for the time being. When he has too much medicine, he does foolish things; and that keeps us apart.

Video Availability--Legend Films in conjunction with Paramount has released Papa's Delicate Condition on DVD with an excellent print, in its original widescreen ratio.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Like Jack Griffith, Harold Diddlebock (Harold Lloyd) gets drunk and buys a circus in The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947).

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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