At the turn of the century in a small Texas town an amiable family man gets in a scrape when he drinks too much.
It's always great to see an actor work against type and succeed. When you have a great comedian who nails a dramatic role, it's a breath of fresh air and helps you look at that person in a different light. It's equally impressive when a dramatic actor shows a flash of humor. It busts expectations and makes the particular film you're watching a real treat. Even with a somewhat mediocre film like 1963's Papa's Delicate Condition, venerable TV comedy legend Jackie Gleason managed to deliver a dramatic/comedic performance that lights up the screen. Unfortunately, the film can't always decide if it's supposed to be a musical comedy or a heartfelt family drama.
Jack Griffith (Jackie Gleason) is a man who likes things his way. Loose with his cash, he spends frivolously to suit his needs, pull a little prank, or just make sure everyone around him is happy - much to the chagrin of his wife Amberlyn (Glynis Johns). So when his daughter Corrie (Linda Bruhl) asked for a pony so she could be in the town's parade, it really shouldn't have been a surprise when Jack goes ahead and buys an entire circus. Unfortunately, these acts aren't ones of kindness and love, they're merely a symptom of rampant alcoholism that spurs Jack's reckless behavior. When the circus busts their finances, Amberlyn leaves to be with her politician father. If Jack hopes to win his family back, he'll have to prove he can be responsible - and stay out of his cups.
To be upfront and honest, I was never much of a Jackie Gleason fan. As a kid, I grew up watching my fair of reruns of The Jackie Gleason Show and The Honeymooners offshoot whenever I was sick and my grandmother had to take care of me. His comedy just didn't stick for me for some reason. I appreciated him more as a dramatic actor in roles like The Hustler and Requiem for a Heavyweight where he seemed to be more of a natural fit, rather than the brash and loud Ralph Kramden. With Papa's Delicate Condition, we see Gleason straddle both sorts of characters in Jack Griffith. He's loud, lovable, and funny, but then on a dime, he can be sad and despondent. It's this emotional whiplash that the film struggles to balance.
Throughout the film we get see, know, and love Jack as a nice guy and a bit of a prankster - in between plucky musical numbers. But then we're constantly reminded that the origin of his pleasing personality is his habitual drinking. When the film is light, it floats on air. When it's dark, it can be crushingly depressing. Throughout, this story of inner human struggle we're treated to cute kids, musical numbers, and colorful animals and a cast of eccentrics. All of this makes it a bit difficult to figure how to feel about Papa's Delicate Condition. Overall I would say that I enjoyed the film, but not entirely as a comedy nor as a drama. Both halves of the film work in their own ways, but when put together they feel like two parts of distinctly different movies smashed together. It's absolutely worth a watch if for no other reason than to see a performer of Gleason's caliber balance his dramatic and comedic strengths - even if the film itself doesn't quite manage the feat.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Papa's Delicate Condition arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label. Pressed onto a Region A BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard, sturdy Blu-ray case and includes a booklet featuring the cover artwork of other Studio Classics releases. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu featuring traditional navigation options.
Papa's Delicate Condition arrives on Blu-ray with an aging 1.78:1 1080p transfer. For such a lavishly designed production featuring period costuming, set design, and exotic animals, it's a shame a thorough restoration effort couldn't have been afforded for this release. What's here on screen is decent, by no means the worst thing I've ever seen, but one can't help but wish for more. Details are discernible, close-ups and middle shots look the best, but wide establishing shots tend to look a little soft. Colors have some flourishes here and there, but again, they look rather faded and lack pop. Sporadic heavy speckling and scratches show the wear and tear of the print sourced for this transfer.
Thankfully, the English DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix afforded this release is in far better shape. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout. Sound effects - especially when the circus comes to town - sound lively and offer some terrific atmosphere. The score by Joseph J. Lilley has a lively pep to it when it counts and for the moodier, somber moments provides a nice emotional backdrop to what's on screen. Levels are spot on without any need to adjust. The only age-related issue I could notice was some very slight hiss during very quiet moments, but otherwise, this is a problem-free audio track.
The only bonus feature assembled for this release is a collection of trailers.
While I may not be a huge fan of Jackie Gleason's comedic stylings, I do find some measure of charm with his performance in Papa's Delicate Condition. The film may not know how to handle the comedy couple with the drama of rampant alcoholism, but it gets more right than wrong and proves to be a worthwhile experience. Kino Lorber Studio Classics brings the film to Blu-ray with a serviceable image transfer and a rock-solid audio mix. No genuine bonus features are present. Fans of Gleason will want to check this one out, all others should consider it worth a look.