Days of Wine and Roses (1962): Blake Edwards’ Biting Chronicle of Alcoholism Starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick in Oscar Performances

As directed by Blake Edwards (just before the “Pink Panther” movies), “Days of Wine and Roses” is a character-driven narrative that goes beyond Billy Wilder’s “The Lost Weekend” as a chronicle of alcoholism and its devastating effects on one couple.


Grade: A- (**** out of *****)

J. P. Miller based his dramatic script on his successful teleplay (for Playhouse 90 TV), produced during the late 1950s with Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie.

The movie details the meeting of Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon) an ambitions public relations man, and Kirsten Arnesen (Lee Remick), a sweet young secretary with a passion for chocolate. Joe is hard working and hard drinking, two qualities that don’t impress Kirsten, but with charm he courts her and wins her over.

Joe introduces Kirsten to social drinking (via chocolate-y Brandy Alexanders) and marries her. But his addiction to the bottle begins to ruin his professional life, and to damage their personal lives as well. Aware of his drinking problem, Joe seeks out help as an alcoholic. At first, Kirsten refuses to accept the word “alcoholic,” claiming that her drinking is more a result of lack of discipline

Joe winds up in a hospital where he meets Jim Hungrford (Jack Klugman) of Alcoholic Anonymous (AA), and Jim inspires him with his will and strength to give up liquor, to the point where he manages to “cure” himself.

Then Kirsten confesses to her dependence, but resents Joe’s soberness. Even the birth of a baby can’t stop the alcoholic decline of the Clays, and predictably, their marriage goes on the rocks. They move in with Kristen’s kind father (Charles Bickford) at his plant nursery.

In the end, Joe, who has finally overcome his alcoholic addiction, must make a heart-breaking decision. He knows that that if he is to survive and if their little daughter is to go unscathed, Kristen must work out her solution by herself. He pleads with Kirsten to give up drinking, prays that she finds the strength to resistand then leaves her.
Despite compromises, “Days of Wine and Roses” is replete with harsh and powerful scenes, such as the one in which Joe walks blindly into a pane of glass, or in the greenhouse, careering crazily from table to table, smashing flowerpots with hands that have become animal claws, wrestling on the ground in an agony of feral frustrations. As Kristen, Lee Remick also has good scenes, as the one in which despairing and delirious, she struggles with her father in a drunken rage, while her daughter looks on in a state of shock and horror.

Ultimately, though honorable in intent, “Days of Wine and Roses” is too conventional, and as many critics pointed out at the time, the fault is not the upbeat ending, but the mere fact that there is an ending at all. The resolution denatures alcoholism, turning it from a grim reality to a dramatic device. As Newsweek noted, the movie shifts from a tale of the battle of the bottle into the more manageable battle of the sexes. But until the end, the narrative is quite honest, credibly written, and extremely well acted in a naturalistic style by Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick.

Lemmon is dazzling, by turns funny, anguished, indignant, rueful, affectionate, and cruel. This movie demonstrated that that Lemmon was not only one of Hollywood’s best comedians, but also a finest dramatic actor. Note Lemmon’s eyes, which are bright and snapping in the early sequence, but dark and dead at end. The close-ups granted him by director Blake Edwards reveal the light of consciousness flicker out of them almost at the very last chance.

Oscar Nominations: 5

Actor: Jack Lemmon
Actress: Lee Remick
Art Direction-Set Decoration (b/w): Joseph Wright; George James Hopkins
Costume Design (b/w): Don Feld
Song: “Days of Wine and Roses,” music by Henry Mancini, lyrics by Johnny Mercer

Oscar Awards: 1


Oscar Context

In 1962, the Best Actor Oscar went to Gregory Peck for “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which also won Art Direction. The Best Actress winner was Anne Bancroft in “The Miracle Worker.” The b/w Costume Design Oscar went to Norma Koch for Robert Aldrich’s “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane”