PAPA’S DELICATE CONDITION suffers from a case of the terminal “cutes”, an aching malady bred in the writing and direction, the patience-eroding pathogen spread by the acting. Symptoms include rapid onset of drowsiness and a nagging sense that time has been wasted. A dud from 1963, it managed to take an Oscar for the Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn song “Call Me Irresponsible”. *
Small town Texas, circa 1900. Jack Griffith (Jackie Gleason) is a family man, eccentric and carefree lush (papa’s ‘condition’ a combination of serial irresponsibly and habitual intoxication). Long suffering wife Ambolyn gets fed up with his schemes and boozing, teenage daughter Augusta is flustered because she’s a teenager, 6-year old sibling Corinne adores papa’s every quirk.
Directed by old pro George Marshall, the screenplay by veteran comedy writer Jack Rose was based on the memoir done by Corinne, whose adult life was a lot more colorful than this misshapen movie, which veers between sappy comedy (with scarce laughs) and mawkish sentiment, creating and dumping subplots along the tiresome way. Gleason’s trademark “How sweet it is!” came out of this: his characterization merely mugs him through a variety of his familiar “tells” from TV. After returning to films—following a ten-year absence on TV— with a strong dramatic role in The Hustler and another in Requiem For A Heavyweight , the poor performance of this movie ($2,300,000 just 82nd for the year) along with critical and financial duds Gigot and Soldier In The Rain hurt ‘The Great One’s’ big-screen viability. **
As the loyal but exasperated wife, the ever-charming Glynis Johns emerges with dignity intact but those darn kids are another liability. Goodwin, 20, had just been given a debut break in a dopey Elvis opus Girls! Girls! Girls!: shes tries too hard here. She’s secondary at any rate to 7-year old Linda Bruhl, who was cast as Corinne after her success in some commercials. Alas, what may have been tickling for 30 seconds in an ad on the boob tube is teeth-grating in a big part in a feature film.
A gallery of familiar supporting players collect checks: Charlie Ruggles, Murray Hamilton, Ned Glass, Charles Lane, Elisha Cook, Don Beddoe, Juanita Moore, Trevor Bardette. 98 minutes.
* “Call Me Irresponsible” would become a signature hit for Jack Jones. It’s a good number (though weirdly used in the movie, with Gleason’s drunk ‘Papa’ slurring the words) but there were better choices on the year’s list: the beguiling tune from Charade and the surging “More” from Mondo Cane.
** On the trivia front then, the story of memoirist Corinne Griffith (1894-1979) is more amusing than this shaggy dog of a flick. A star in the silent era (“the orchid of the screen’) the beautiful Griffith and was even one of the first actresses nominated for an Academy Award (for 1928’s The Divine Lady) but didn’t make the transition to sound. She switching to writing, with 11 successful books, then real estate (wisely buying empty lots in Beverly Hills). One of her four marriages was to George Marshall, not the affable director of this movie but the owner of the Washington Redskins (they of the now-changed name): she later called him “the Marshall without a plan”. Ouch. In the late 1960s she made a series of bizarre and contradictory identity claims, and had amassed a fortune of $150,000,000, making her at the time one of the wealthiest women in America.