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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No Other Woman

Dullsville

No Other Woman (1933)

     Money (and its counterpart of greed) has been indefinitely linked with sin, and the movies have often told us tales of financial success bringing forth opportunities for infidelity. Thus is the case with No Other Woman and my upcoming review of Boom Town. The former is a roughly constructed tale of a factory worker and his wife and their rise to great fortunes through a friend’s invention. The latter addresses the ups and downs of an oilman and his wife as their level of success changes.

     What both pictures have in common is that they introduce towards each film’s end an additional female character whose interest in the male lead is primarily greed-based. Irene Dunne as Anna reluctantly marries factory worker Jim Stanley (Charles Bickford) despite having ambitions of leaving the dreary town in which they live. The couple end up supporting a friend who has found a way to use waste from the factory to create a permanent dye. The business takes off with Jim as the brains of the operation and the couple rises to great prestige.

     Jim’s powerful position, however, offers him the opportunity and excuses necessary to carry on an extramarital affair in New York City. The shallow woman (Gwili Andre) has Jim entranced with her sex appeal and works to pry her lover away from his wife and young son. Anna is unfortunately aware of the affair but refuses to grant her husband a divorce when he asks for one. The case therefore goes to court where Anna sits by and allows the opposing party to paint a false story about she having extramarital relations. Ultimately, Jim will send himself to jail and in the process destroy the value of his company’s stock. Only poverty can return the couple’s relationship to its origins.

     Stories about young love and the dutiful wife who stands by while her husband philanders are pretty common plots. They most often end with the man coming to his senses and returning to his original love and often giving up the lifestyle that elicited the external attention. No Other Woman does not put the story across in the best way. The production quality is low and Bickford is totally unlikable from the start, which makes the audience unable to accept Anna’s undying love for him and unwilling to wish for the couple’s reunion.  Dunne is sweet as ever as the unhappy wife and totally sympathetic while Andre makes herself perfectly despicable.

Anna Christie

Gasser 

Anna Christie (1930)

     With the 1930 release of Anna Christie the world heard Greta Garbo speak for the first time. What was her first line? “Gif me a visky, ginger ale on the side, and don’ be stingy, baby.” Garbo’s face and performances on the silent screen had already established her as a legend, but when audiences heard that husky voice it only sought to further her appeal.

     The first image we see of Garbo in this film is equally impactful (below). A weary Anna is revealed behind the door to a New York bar, slouching and casting a wounded glance toward the waiter that opened the door. She next surveys the room and her expression shifts to disappointment before she saunters in.

     Anna has traveled from Minnesota and hopes to find her father at the bar, the address at which she has been writing him during the 15 years they have been apart. She was sent to a farm to keep her away from the rough life at sea the father, Chris (George F. Marion), enjoys as a barge captain. Life was not as pleasant in the simple town of St. Paul as Chris would have expected, however, and Anna reveals to a drunken woman with whom Chris has been living (unbeknownst to Anna) that she hates men because of an incident involving her cousin.

     When Chris shows up, Anna hides her alcohol and accepts his offer for a sarsaparilla. She joins him living on a coal barge after expressing much disgust with the idea before his arrival. Anna soon finds she enjoys being at sea, although Chris is still worried she will marry a sailor and be subjected to the unpleasant life a seaman’s wife endures. That fate does seem to be approaching when the barge picks up several men adrift and Anna makes an instant connection with Matt (Charles Bickford) who tries to force a kiss out of her but later softens his approach.

     Matt remains on the barge and he and Anna continue to kindle their romance and for once the young woman thinks she can love a man. Things are inching toward marriage but Anna’s sordid past becomes a hurdle when her man starts talking about how pure she is. She ultimately reveals her former place of employment and Matt dumps her.

     I certainly did not foresee a happy ending in this story about a rather depressed young woman, but the action finds a way. The plot and actors are pretty underwhelming excluding Garbo. The camera clearly loves the gal as somehow she seems to be shot more clearly than her fellow actors. In some scenes the camera remains transfixed on her face while engaged in conversation with others. She brings more telling emotion to her facial presentations than all the other actors combined, making Garbo the only redeeming factor for this flick.

     Anna Christie is based on the Eugene O’Neill play and was also filmed in German, with the latter version being the performance Garbo preferred. The movie was nominated for Best Actress, Director and Cinematography but won none of the awards.

Source: TCM.com

Silent Partner & Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog

Gasser

Buster Keaton

     You might recall I wrote several reviews on short subjects coming from Hal Roach Studios a few months back when TCM was playing tribute to the influential production company. Among those were some Screen Directors Playhouse episodes. Well, I’ve finally gotten around to clearing the final two from my DVR, so here they are:

     George Marshall was the director behind The Silent Partner, a comedy about a silent movie star long forgotten. When told that the silent actor would be played by a great from those days of film, my first thought went to Buster Keaton, and I was correct. Unlike many of his silent-era counterparts, Keaton continued his career into talkies, although he can usually be spotted in supporting or cameo roles.

     The story for this episode is a bit haphazard. Keaton, as ex-actor Kelsey Dutton, is seated at the counter in a mostly empty bar where a handful of characters are either very interested in watching on TV the Academy Award ceremony taking place across the street, or not at all. Being honored during that night’s ceremony, hosted by Bob Hope as himself, is director Arthur Vale (Joe E. Brown), who cannot help but give credit for his career to Dutton. We are entreated to a flashback when Dutton unknowingly barges onto the set of Vale’s film to rescue a woman in a smoking building. The action proceeds in typical silent comedy style and Vale hires the man as a star. Returning to present day, the Oscar broadcast next features a short film the team made. Dutton is a janitor at a saloon and is in love with the singer atop a piano who inherits a large sack of money. Cowboy robbers show up however, and wrestle with the woman and Dutton, who is continually kicked in the rear by a horse.

     The present-day patrons at the bar soon realize they are in the company of the man on the screen and one woman (Zasu Pitts) calls Vale to notify him of his silent partner’s whereabouts. Vale arrives at the bar and takes his pal to the Oscar stage.

     Less interesting was Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog, directed by H.C. Potter. The story was crafted based on a mantra of publishers at the time (and maybe still today). Publishers knew that any story about medicine, animals or Abraham Lincoln were surefire best sellers, so naturally, a story called “Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog” would be the epitome of a hot story. Unfortunately, I struggled to stay awake.

     Charles Bickford plays Dr. Stone to Robert Ryan‘s President Lincoln. The doctor attends to the political leader who is low of spirits and perhaps ailing in other ways. He is ordered strict rest, but cannot seem to keep away from the various documents he insists on reading. On his way home one night, Dr. Stone obtains a golden retriever puppy and delivers it to Lincoln as a birthday present. The pup, while having the president chasing it all over his bed, has a grand effect on the man’s health and attitude. Later the dog subdues an entire room of politicians and the doctor declares that the dog has done a service to the United States.

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