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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Paramount Celebrating Simpler Times


Call Him Irresponsible: Jackie Gleason in Papa's Delicate Condition (1963)

Corinne Griffith was a silent era star who retired, got rich on real estate, and wrote many books, one of which was a fond look back at turn-of-century childhood as she knew it. Papa's Delicate Condition had been published in 1952,  bought by Paramount but not movie-made for ten years, at which time Jackie Gleason was cast as lead, Fred Astaire having flirted with the part, but ultimately begging off (though he'd do similar role in The Pleasure Of His Company). Papa's Delicate Condition was memorable for us because the Liberty sent a pony cart to the elementary school and carried kids back for its 3:00 show. The ride was a mere quarter mile past gas stations and the Thrift Supermarket where I'd later get my first Famous Monsters mag. Other than parking stock cars out front for two years' later Red Line 7000, this was the last real bally stunt I recall the Liberty doing.


Papa's Delicate Condition was typical of small-town celebrating we'd see lots of in the 60's. Those with eyes knew it was a life fast fading, urban sprawl and homogenization of culture more apparent with each McDonald's built. There was strong Hollywood impulse to lay open scrapbooks of ways once known, but not to be again. Vets in industry power, those who'd seen carriages go from horse to horseless, would record memory for ones of us longest removed from a past they'd idealize. 1960's Pollyanna from Disney was fond lament for days gone, Walt not permitting a frame's cut despite 134 minute overlength. Meaningful coincidence was fact I'd see Papa's Delicate Condition and To Kill A Mockingbird within a week of each other in April 1963, both cut from down home bolts of cloth. Small town setting could be a rose amidst thorns of serious topic addressed in Mockingbird and one along lines of The Dark At The Top Of The Stairs. Things having changed less radically in first half of a twentieth century enabled The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and others of like backdrop to bridge a not so wide gap between period set Papa's Delicate Condition and backlot streets minimally redressed to represent heartland circa 1905 or 1965.


George Marshall directed Papa's Delicate Condition. He grew up in precisely the period it depicts. Like William Wellman at helm of The Happy Years for MGM in 1950, Marshall knew whereof he spoke re vanished customs and simplicity of life now forfeit to modern pace. Such men were valuable for first-hand recall they'd sprinkle on nostalgia subjects like topping Jackie Gleason applies to Papa's drug store banana split. He buys the place for easier access to "cough medicine" dispensed in back, a furtive habit men engaged where saloons were banished and at-home tipple was forbidden. We'd see pharmacies drink-dispensing as late as A Free Soul in 1931, this being Prohibition's alternative to quick slugs in rural America. For his sneaking off for libation in Papa's Delicate Condition, Gleason reminds us of Bill Fields doing a same thing as closely-watched 30's family man.


Jackie Gleason is nicely cast as reprobate, but loveable, father. It's probably his best movie role, at comedy anyway. Gleason wears turn-of-century finery like, again, Fields in resplendent Poppy attire, the mustache complementing him as it  distinctly would not after JG lost weight and did his strident Smoky and The Bandit act in 1977. I wonder how big a star Gleason might have become had he crested earlier, and in features rather than TV. There was effort at consolidating screen stardom for him through the 60's, but somehow it never jelled. More like Papa's Delicate Condition might have been the trick, but a mere $665K in domestic rentals wouldn't inspire Paramount or anyone to follow-up with family fare for Gleason. Papa's Delicate Condition has streamed on Retroplex in HD and is available on DVD in a three-pack with Houdini and Money From Home.

3 Comments:

Blogger KING OF JAZZ said...

I sometimes confuse this with Gleason's 1959 Broadway role in TAKE ME ALONG, based on AH WILDERNESS, which shared the same time period. TAKE ME ALONG had the hit title song, while DELICATE had "Call me Irresponsible" as its Oscar winning song.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

The poster appears to be the work of illustrator Pete Hawley.

10:22 PM  
Blogger Linwood said...

Good call comparing this one to a Fields vehicle, although Fields was never well-heeled enough to buy a drug store, let alone a circus, at least until the final reel of his Paramount comedies. Another that wears turn of the century fashions well in this one, is the often overlooked beauty, Glynnis Johns. Lovely, with or without her tail.

7:41 PM  

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