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I remember seeing Papa's Delicate Condition with cousins in a drive-in
theater back when it was first released. I hadn't seen it since until
recently and was pleasantly surprised at how well I remembered it and
remembered it for being good.
The film is based on the memoirs of silent screen star Corinne Griffith of her childhood in Texarkana, Texas where her father is a railroad executive. Papa is Jackie Gleason and his delicate condition is a tendency to be overly generous and impulsive when drinking. Alcohol is supposed to loosen one's inhibitions and his Gleason's case, it loosens his wallet as well. All this is driving his wife Glynis Johns to the point of despair.
The film is a Music Man type look at turn of the last century America and it makes good use of period music, especially Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey. However one new song was written for Papa's Delicate Condition from Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, Call Me Irresponsible. Gleason sings that one after Glynis has taken daughters Laurel Goodwin and Linda Bruhl away and gone to live with her father, Charlie Ruggles. The Great One is pretty much in his cups and to the accompaniment of a music box sings the sad refrain. The song gained for Papa's Delicate Condition it's one Oscar for Best Song. On record the standard version is by Frank Sinatra who enjoyed a big hit record with it in 1963.
I'm not sure what director George Marshall's reason was for casting one of the great imbibers of the last century as a dipsomaniac, but you won't find a trace of the braggadocious Ralph Kramden in Gleason's performance. It's an effective and gentler side of Jackie Gleason that was not seen often enough.
The first thing that ought to be pointed out is that this film is based
on a book by Corrine Griffith (the little girl Corrie in the film)
about her childhood in turn of the century Texas. Her father was a
hard-drinking railroad executive who tried to make up for long absences
and other failings as a husband and father by occasionally giving
rather outlandish gifts to his wife and daughters.
Jackie Gleason, who had an undistinguished screen career in a range of roles in the Forties and a great success in comedy on television beginning in the Fifties, appears here near the peak of his form as a dramatic actor. This side of his talent is almost forgotten today, but it included his role as Minnesota Fats (for which he won Best Supporting Actor) in The Hustler, as well as very creditable star turns in Gigot and Soldier In The Rain.
In Papa's Delicate Condition we have Gleason playing a complex role that ranges from the breezy banter and physical comedy familiar from his work on The Life of Riley, The Honeymooners and The American Scene Magazine, to great pathos. No stranger to the pitfalls of "demon rum" in his own life, Gleason is masterful in his portrayal of a man deeply in love with his wife and children and yet seemingly doomed by his dipsomania to disappoint them. Gleason, a very successful composer and band leader who couldn't read music, also sings the title song Call Me Irresponsible which furnishes a wonderful portrait of his character - "Say I'm unreliable, but it's undeniably true, I'm irresponsibly mad for you."
This turn-of-the-century period piece defines a genre all its own: screwball pathos. Jackie is larger-than-life, outrageous, sings the Academy-award-winning Best Song ("Call Me Irresponsible") in self-deprecatory pathos, and is generally an irresponsible but frustratingly lovable alcoholic of a husband to Glynis Johns. Johns is marvelous as the wife at the end of her rope who really doesn't want to let go, but feels like she must for the good of her children. The result is not entirely successful, and elicits some consternation from me as a modern woman, but I know that's the wrong perspective. It's certainly memorable, and moves reasonably well, so it's worth a look if you haven't seen it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Eccentric Jackie Gleason utilizes alcohol, not only for "medicinal"
purposes, but to express his desire to be kind to his fellow man.
Equally as big hearted as he is in size, Gleason, somewhat an
embarrassment to his wife and oldest daughter, is truly a hero to his
youngest daughter, throwing love on her like frosting on top of a
birthday cake. A mixture of flamboyant comedy and pathos, this is a
period slice of life of one man's life, Gleason really a male version
of Mame Dennis, and as far from Ralph Kramden as possible.
Having won the hearts of a few people who managed to see past the pretentiousness of the artistic "Gigot" (where he was a mute), Gleason really is father of the year, and citizen of the year, as he shows his uppity family members how they can't live without his bigger-than-life love, even winning over his uppity father-in-law (Charlie Ruggles, cast against type) in the process. Watch how he deals with the humorless store owner Charles Lane who discriminates against his clerk, a new father, and struggles to give his younger daughter her dream by purchasing an entire circus just so she can ride on a horse and cart in the town parade.
Gleason in real life may have been a difficult star personality to deal with, but with many of his film performances, he was able to show a huge heart that beat underneath "the great one" bravado. Linda Bruhl also scores as the younger daughter who really could have written a book and called it "I Remember Papa". As for Gleason's obvious alcoholism, his light-hearted demeanor while intoxicated may offend those who see drinking as an evil (especially when involving children), and even if you don't, you do pray that at least he will try and curb his drinking.
There's a cute scene between Brul and Glynis Johns (as the loving but stern mother) where mama tries to get a recording of "When Will You Come Home Bill Bailey?" out of her reach, but Bruhl simply and honestly shows her how that doesn't work. An honest confection of early 20th Century small town Texas (featuring a garishly purple house), this will offer you smiles, laughs and tears, and not necessarily in that order.
Jackie Gleason should have earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in playing Jack Griffith, a railroad businessman, who ends up buying a drugstore and circus. In this film, Gleason is irresistible in the role. He played a larger than life man devoted to his wife and daughters especially the youngest one, Corrie. His wife is equally played by a powerhouse named Glynis Johns. She holds her own against her husband's impulsive actions. Jack would do anything for his family including a raffle scam to paint a purple house white to uplift his wife's spirits. He doesn't appear to let up. He's got quite a sense of witty humor where he knows how to have a good time, make friends, and have the adoration of his youngest daughter, Corrie. When she wants a pony, Jack buys the entire circus. The supporting cast is equally impressive and strong. The writing could have been better though. Jackie Gleason's performance in singing "Call Me Irresponsible" is heartbreaking after his wife and daughters leave him. What's a man to do but bring the circus to the family.
No one could play a "boozer" for laughs in films or on TV better than
Jackie Gleason or Red Skelton. But in "Papa's Delicate Condition,"
Gleason doesn't teeter or totter for laughs. Rather, in a more refined
role, his drinking might be called "medicinal" mishaps. Here, he is a
big-hearted man whose good nature gets more good-natured with the help
of a little spirits.
This is a warm-hearted story, based on the real-life memoirs of the little girl, the apple of Gleason's eye. His drinking is sufficiently camouflaged, and more alluded to than shown, so that the film can carry off the humor in the plot, and not deny the pathos of a family affected by alcohol.
It's good, light-hearted entertainment for the whole family. It's also a good example of the acting talents of Gleason, who was more commonly known for his TV comedy sit-com and shows, and his band and music writing.
After years of reading about this movie, I finally checked out Papa's Delicate Condition from my local library several days ago. Jackie Gleason plays a railroad supervisor who occasionally drinks which makes him a little generous when trying to please his youngest daughter, Corrie, (Linda Bruhl) to the consternation of his elder daughter, Augusta, (Laurel Goodwin) and wife, Amberlyn, (Glynis Johns). When Corrie wants a pony, he buys the circus that goes with it. He also buys a drugstore in order to keep a young man employed there and the mean previous owner (Charles Lane) off his back. Quite funny and touching is Gleason's performance and it's a hoot seeing him singing, "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey" but also touching when also hearing him warbling "Call Me Irresponsible" when his family temporarily abandons him. That song was original to the film and was good enough to win the Oscar for Best Song for James Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn. Maybe the ending was a bit pat but it was believable enough for me. So on that note, I recommend Papa's Delicate Condition. P.S. As always, I like citing when a player from my favorite movie, It's a Wonderful Life, is in another one and here, it's Mr. Lane.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was not a Jackie Gleason fan. In fact, right at the time that
Gleason's how was in direct competition with Perry Como's weekly show,
I was often dragged down to my aunt's and uncle's house on Saturday
nights...forced to watch Gleason and miss my favorite -- Como. Although
I didn't like Gleason on television, I thought he was a pretty decent
actor. Although he is best remembered for his role as Minnesota Fats
opposite Paul Newman, I actually prefer this pleasant, fairly
big-budget color production. Gleason had more depth than most people
Gleason's performance here is really quite good, and not at all the Gleason you saw on television. I do wish that sometime during the filming of the picture that someone would have noticed that Gleason's mustache was terribly crooked...it drove me nuts! I was never very impressed with Glynis Johns, but she -- as the wife -- does okay here. Charles Ruggles is her father...always a welcome addition to any cast. Linda Bruhl plays Corrie, the daughter and focus of the film, and does very nicely. Among the character actors you'll recognize and welcome are Ned Glass, Elisha Cook, and Charles Lane.
Although I had forgotten it, we have this film to thank for the wonderful song "Call Me Irresponsible".
All in all, an enjoyable film with a fine performance from Jackie Gleason. Recommended...at least once.
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