Days of Wine and Roses

Ring a Ding Ding

Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

     It can be difficult to judge a movie you would never want to watch again. Just as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a fantastic piece of cinematic art, so too is another drunken flick, Days of Wine and Roses. Unlike another movie that honestly portrays alcoholism at its worst, this masterpiece of sorts is more heartbreaking where The Lost Weekend is fascinating.

     Days of Wine and Roses works in some ways as a promoter of Alcoholics Anonymous, which makes one wonder why anyone would go to see it knowing the subject matter. What this take on the disease offers, however, is a love story that keeps us rooting for a happy ending.

     Jack Lemmon shows his dramatic gusto as Joe Clay, a public relations man who enjoys getting drunk. He convinces a sober secretary with a love of chocolate to go on a date with him and ends the night wasted but does not scare the woman away. This Kirsten (Lee Remick) will be swayed to the thrills of alcohol through the chocolate-flavored Brandy Alexander Joe orders her.

     Jump ahead to shortly after the birth of their daughter Debbie and Joe returns home from a work-related booze party only to be annoyed at his wife for not joining in his alcoholic fun. Despite the concern of her breast milk, Kirsten picks up a glass to make him happy. Flash forward again and the couple’s alcoholism has grown to the point that Kirsten accidentally sets the apartment on fire while Joe is away, and the man simultaneously loses his job. Now in a shabby apartment, the duo are ragged and run down as they spend most of their time drunk. Joe proposes that they give up drinking altogether and seek help from Kirsten’s father.

     The family moves in with Kirsten’s father Ellis (Charles Bickford) where they manage to remain on the wagon for two months while working at the man’s greenhouse. One night Joe smuggles in two bottles of scotch to reward their good behavior and before they know it the husband is sneaking out in a thunderstorm to the greenhouse where he has hidden another bottle in a flower pot. Unable to remember in which pot the booze is buried, Joe trashes the entire facility.

     From there the Clays’ future is downhill. After some time in the violent ward of the hospital, Joe enters AA only to give into his addiction when Kirsten runs away to a motel. Joe will eventually separate himself from his enabler and pull himself back up in the world, but Kirsten will never admit she has a problem.

     Director Blake Edwards took a break from comedy and other light-hearted flicks to give us the powerful Days of Wine and Roses. All the sorrow of the story is tied together by the knowledge that our two protagonists love each other powerfully and truly want to be together. The picture starts out painting Joe in a rather sour light as he can be blamed for starting Kirsten’s addiction, but by the end we are left resenting the woman for being such a poor influence on the man who wants to do the right thing.

     Also unique about Days of Wine and Roses is the passage of time. If one were to ignore the time references made in dialogue, he could conclude the movie’s plot takes place over a couple months. In reality the story jumps over more than seven years. There are not dissolve transitions we usually associate with the passage of time. Instead, regular cuts connect Joe drunkenly destroying the greenhouse with his appearance in the violent ward. We are later told that actually occurred after he had passed out drunk on the street. None of the changes in setting happen as instantaneously as we think, which is truly fascinating.

     Both Lemmon and Remick were nominated for best acting awards, and it nearly goes without saying that their portrayals of violent and sloppy drunkenness were spellbinding. One can’t help but want to shake these characters to get them to realize as we do how foolish they are to think they can control their addictions. Their performances and the emotionally enthralling story make Days of Wine and Roses important to watch, but probably only once.

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3 Responses

  1. I think I have seen this movie more than once and would watch again for the reasons you mention. It is such an arduous struggle for the two of them and then to see one of them overcome their addiction and the other not able to really draws the audience in and feel vested in all that is happening. I think that is what makes it such a successful movie and the reason to watch again ie to experience the craft of the movie maker to keep you so tightly entrenched in what they are experiencing.

  2. This is a powerful film. Remick and Lemmon are just tremendous. Their portrayals seem so real. And, kudos should be given to Bickford for his role as Kirsten’s father.

  3. Riveting performances. Have not seen it in years but well worth watching again. Heartbreaking.

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