Review: Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

>> Sunday, July 22, 2007

USA/B&W-117m./Dir: Blake Edwards/Wr: J.P. Miller/Cast: Jack Lemmon (Joe Clay), Lee Remick (Kirsten Arnesen Clay), Charles Bickford (Ellis Arnesen), Jack Klugman (Jim Hungerford)

It’s a sad truth, but some people just shouldn’t drink. While many individuals can enjoy a few slugs in the evening and even an occasional debauch with little negative impact, others let the bottle get the best of them. Many films have explored the dangers of too much of a good thing, but none better illustrates the hazards serious alcohol addiction than Blake Edwards’ cine
matic bummer Days of Wine and Roses.

The story, adapted from a Playhouse 90 television script, centers around Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon), a public relations man who takes social drinking with his business clients a bit too far. Through work, Joe meets Kirsten, a secretary with a strong sweet tooth who is lured to drink when Joe introduces her to the Brandy Alexander. The two get married, have a child, and quickly let liquor seize control of their lives. After many false starts, Joe eventually dries out with the help of an AA sponsor (Jack Klugman), but Kirsten can’t elude the strong grip of demon alcohol.

Jack Lemmon gives one of his very best performances as Clay. Whether sober, intoxicated, or suffering violent bouts of delirium tremens, his acting always rings true. Although Lemmon does most of the heavy lifting, Remick acquits herself quite well in the less showy role of Kirsten. Charles Bickford as Kirsten’s father (the same role he played in the original TV production) and Jack Klugman lend fine support. Klugman should be singled out for managing to bring a sense of heart and realism to a poorly-written character, forced to spout mouthfuls of clunky expositional dialogue.

Days of Wine and Roses is an important film and it is undeniably well made, but is it entertainment? I’d argue “no.” Other “booze=bad” films like The Lost Weekend (1945) and Leaving Las Vegas (1995) tempered their sermonizing with humor and touches of escapism. Edward’s film provides no respite from the gloom. Even the early scenes, where Joe and Kirsten are infatuated with drink and each other, ooze with seediness. Compared with other alcoholism films, Days of Wine and Roses may be a more truthful, but it is difficult to enjoy a story that is so relentlessly downbeat. It is a bitter brew that should be sampled once, but it is doubtful that you will want to tap into the barrel again. In short, it’s a buzz killer.

Drinks Consumed--Brandy Alexander (brandy, crème de cacao), Scotch, rye, gin, beer, various unnamed cocktails

Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, staggering, stumbling, sneaking sips, the giggles, destruction of property, hangover, and delirium tremens

Potent Quotables--KIRSTEN (rationalizing): A couple of drinks--
JOE: We have more than a couple of drinks. We get drunk! Then we stay drunk most of the time. Look at that dump that we live in and the clothes that we wear… We send that child off to school like she’s… Look at me. I’m a drunk, and I don’t do my job, and that’s it!

Video Availability--Days of Wine and Roses DVD (Warner Brothers)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Blake Edwards also used liquid overindulgence as a theme in several of his later comedies, including 10 (1979), Blind Date (1987), and Skin Deep (1989).


garv July 22, 2007 at 12:02 PM  

I wasn't really looking forward to revisiting this one, but I couldn't very well have a alky-related film site without covering DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES.

Although the flick will never be one of my favorites, its importance earns it the 50th review slot.

stennie July 24, 2007 at 3:36 PM  

"They are not long, the days of wine and roses." Good movie. Haven't seen it in a long while. It's a tad overwrought, and maybe as a result doesn't hold up well with modern audiences, but it's still pretty impressive. I prefer it to Lost Weekend.

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

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