Papa’s Delicate Condition (1963)
“Follow the Gay Parade!”
Director: George Marshall
Cast: Jackie Gleason, Glynis Johns, Charles Ruggles
Synopsis: If Jack Griffith’s wife doesn’t like the color of a neighbor’s house, he’ll arrange for it to be a house of a different color.
Papa’s delicate condition, to which most people in George Marshall’s curious family comedy studiously avoid referring, is his alcoholism which is treated here as nothing more worrying than a harmless eccentricity of larger than life railroad inspector Jack Griffith (Jackie Gleason — Smokey and the Bandit II). In fact, so rose-coloured are the spectacles through which Griffith’s condition is observed that it’s impossible to tell when he’s drunk and when he’s sober. That might be because the story is filtered through the nostalgic memories of silent movie actress Corinne Griffith, on whose memoirs Papa’s Delicate Condition is based. That Griffith adored her father is inarguable, and that she was the light of his eye is plain to see, but in all honesty it makes for pretty dull viewing, no matter how cute child actress Linda Bruhl tries to be.
The story — if it can be described as such — takes place in some archetypal all-American turn-of-the-century town, all neatly clipped lawns and white picket fences, to which Griffith returns after a long spell away at work on the railroads. To his dismay his train chugs into town just in time for the Sunday morning service, an appointment he’d dearly love to miss but which his long-suffering wife, Amberlyn (Glynis Johns) insists he must attend. But when Amberlyn complains about the purple and green colour scheme of a neighbour’s house en-route to the church, Griffith takes her comments as his cue to fake a lottery win for the house’s curmudgeonly owner which sees him winning the prize of having his house painted ivory white. Whether Griffith does this out of love for his wife, or simply because he sees painting the neighbour’s house as a way of getting out of that visit to church is never made clear, but if it’s the latter he clearly didn’t think things through.
There are a number of these episodes, each of increasing magnitude and caused, apparently, by Griffith’s magnanimous nature once he’s had a few drinks. He steps in for a shop assistant who’s anxiously awaiting news about the birth of his first baby, and after preparing a huge banana split for a young boy for which he charges just one penny, decides to buy the store from its sour-faced owner (Charles Lane — Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, It’s a Wonderful Life) so that he and his cronies will have a place to drink. Then, when Corrie falls in love with the pony that heads a circus’s parade into town, Griffith not only buys the pony for her, but the entire circus as well.
Needless to say, the reliability of all these rose-coloured recollections of Corinne Griffith is open to question. Certainly, her and screenwriter Jack Rose’s depiction of alcoholism make it look like an affliction worth having and pays no mind to the financial repercussions of Griffith’s largesse. And yet, as outlandish as his behaviour is, it never really amounts to much in terms of entertainment, thanks largely to its episodic and nearly plot-free structure. Gleason strolls through the entire affair with a look of bemusement on his face, as if he can’t quite believe what he’s doing and yet he still somehow manages to avoid being upstaged by his little co-star, who is cute enough but falls way short of the Shirley Temple benchmark of cuteness.
Those who like old-fashioned warm-hearted family comedies — and by old-fashioned I mean the type of movie Hollywood was making in 1941 – might get some mileage out of Papa’s Delicate Condition, but it has little to offer anybody else.
(Reviewed 4th March 2014)