PAPA’S DELICATE CONDITION
(directed by George Marshall, 1963)
*** (out of 5)
> Here is a sweet family picture about… alcoholism! Who woulda thunk it?
. This film would never, ever be made today. (In today’s more enlightened time, it would be about as big a mistake as the disastrous 2011 remake of ARTHUR.) I enjoyed it, but watching Jackie Gleason do his shtick (“How sweet it is!”) and integrating the actor I associated with The Honeymooners with the actor playing this man of another time, was a bit of cognitive dissonance. I never liked Ralph Kramden in the least, even though I saw the appeal of Jackie Gleason. Threatening spousal abuse was just not the least bit funny to me, (“One of these days Alice: POW! To the moon!”), so I didn’t “get” The Honeymooners. But this script allowed Mr. Gleason to showcase the man beneath the man, the one more mature viewers of The Honeymooners could see- the man with the big heart to match his big temper. Here, he is also a man with a big alcoholic thirst. It drives his character and the entire plot of the film. I always liked Glynis Johns, playing his long-suffering but lovingly patient wife here, and her gravelly pixie voice and sweet personality, (she was very sexy in her youth), but she was pretty nasty here and difficult to like.
. Some folks consider this period piece a classic. I didn’t, but it had many charms. We get to hear Mr. Gleason sing two songs: the first, a joyous celebratory rendition of “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey”, with his railroad cronies and the second a painful booze-infused “Call Me Irresponsible”, (Oscar winner that year for Best Song), that seemed designed to show the man’s unheralded range. But it felt manipulative to me- far too obvious by today’s standards. Mr. Gleason seemed to be trying too hard- reaching too far.
. Nonetheless, PAPA’S DELICATE CONDITION is a fun romp for such a fraught subject- populated by some of the best character actors in the business, and there’s a good bit of unlikely charm here.
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