There are actors who are never able to quite escape their persona, despite the various roles they assume, and then there are others who actually seek to capitalize on their image, no matter what role they play. Jackie Gleason definitely falls into the second category, and there's probably no greater filmic evidence of that than the sometimes charming but ultimately kind of dull Papa's Delicate Condition, a 1962 feature best-remembered today for introducing the lovely Oscar winning Cahn and Van Heusen classic song, "Call Me Irresponsible."
Papa's Delicate Condition follows the supposedly madcap adventures of one Jack Griffith (Gleason), a railroad emergency supervisor who has a bit of a drinking problem (his "delicate condition," in case you hadn't figured it out). Griffith is adored by his young daughter Corrie (Linda Bruhl) and alternately loved and tolerated by his wife Amberlyn (Glynis Johns) and much older daughter Augusta (Laurel Goodwin). The film, placed in the sort of early 20th century generic small town that is a staple of heart warming family fare, has Griffith first buying the town drug store and then, of all things, a circus, setting up what little conflict there is.
The fact is, there's really not much here aside from Gleason's literally larger than life persona. He doesn't make much attempt to hide his television image (in fact, he even gets in several "How sweet it is" comments in one scene), but does bring a sort of doleful presence to Griffith, especially in the later scenes, when Amberlyn leaves him after the circus purchase convinces her he'll never change his impulsive ways. Gleason's Griffith is an amiable, if slightly tipsy, non-conformist, lovably so, of course, who goes around trying to shake the townspeople out of their status quo. That's about it.
The film has a nice, if sometimes mannered, performance from a very young Bruhl as Corrie, as well as a neatly understated turn by Johns, who must ping-pong between dewy eyed love and then disgust for her husband, depending on whether or not he's drunk. In the slightly ironic department, Gleason goes off on women suffragettes in one scene, of course foreshadowing Johns' role two years later in Mary Poppins. Charlie Ruggles is also on hand as Johns' father, the pompous mayor of Texarkana, who finds that Gleason's adventures actually come in handy when an election seems to be going against the incumbent.
Director George Marshall doesn't do anything remarkable here, but certainly stages things with competence if no apparent inspiration. The entire film simply plays like a big budget, occasionally opulent, television show, which is probably precisely the audience it was aimed at (especially considering the trailer, which plays up Gleason, Gleason, Gleason). While nothing special, Papa's Delicate Condition is an interesting time capsule back to an era when a film could be sold purely on the persona of one character pretty much playing himself (maybe not much has changed, now that I think about it). If you're not too demanding (well, actually, if you're not demanding at all), it's a pleasant enough time-killer, sweet natured and simple. Plus, it has that gorgeous song in it (though it's "sung," as it were, by Gleason in a drunk scene, so is not particularly pretty).