I’d heard about this movie before, heard that it was pretty good. A lot of addiction recovery centers have this as mandatory viewing. Never saw it before. Not until I needed to. And, damn, the movie is amazing.
The story is actually pretty simple. Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon), a social drinker, meets and falls in love with Kirsten Arnesen (Lee Remick) . Through Joe, Kirsten discovers that drinking is kind of fun. They marry, have a daughter named Debbie, and proceed towards full blown alcoholism. Joe loses his job, they lose their home, they lose their friends but they have each other. Eventually Joe ends up in rehab and then in AA. However when Kirsten goes on a long bender and Joe goes to help her, he ends up drunk and in rehab again. In the end Joe learns that he needs to give up Kirsten, despite how much they love each other. He needs to stay sober for himself and for their daughter and if Kirsten isn’t going to stay sober with them, they can’t have a life together.
It’s a depressing story but goddamn does it get its point across. It’s director, Blake Edwards, was an alcoholic and sought treatment shortly after completing this film. The theme of alcohol abuse has appeared quite frequently in Edwards’ work 10 (1989), Blind Date (1987), and Skin Deep (1989) Stars Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick also got help through AA for their drinking problems as well. Days of Wine and Roses not only changed their lives but has continued to have a lasting effect in helping alcoholics deal with their problem.
JACK LEMMON AND LEE REMICK
There are many stories about alcoholics and their struggles, what makes Days of Wine and Roses such a landmark, however, are the powerful performances from Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. Both nominated for Academy Awards that year they carry this film, they make it all so believable. There is a scene where Jack Lemmon goes into his father-in-law’s greenhouse to find a bottle of liquor he hid in a potted plant but he can’t find it and then scene grows, naturally as he becomes more and more desperate to find that bottle; destroying the greenhouse, smashing everything and screaming just to get that next drink. I’d seen plenty of movies with Jack Lemmon, from all stages in his career, and knew he was a great actor but I’d never seen anything like THIS from him before. This breakdown in the greenhouse, the way it crescendos to frenzy and then ends when he finds the bottle, its a powerful moment. This is immediately followed by Jack Lemmon in rehab screaming and tied in a straight-jacket. In fact the scenes of him in rehab are some of the best work I’ve seen from actors given similar material. Jack Lemmon’s Joe Clay, during those moments, doesn’t look like a crazy person or a person losing their minds, his performance conveys actual suffering, a person that doesn’t want to be this way and is trying so hard to change.
I had to know why he didn’t win the Academy Award for Best Actor that year because that is a career performance he puts in. Turns out it went to Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird, another worthy performance. Looking over the nominees that year we also had Peter O’Toole for Lawrence of Arabia and Burt Lancaster in Birdman of Alcatraz.
Lee Remick puts in a wonderful performance as well, especially since she begins the film as an innocent young woman who’s never touched a drop of liquor in her life and becomes a sad, hopeless and lonely alcoholic woman by the end of the film. She also was nominated for an Academy Award and fellow nominee Bette Davis (for one of my favorite movies Whatever Happened to Baby Jane) said, “Miss Remick’s performance astonished me, and I thought, if I lose the Oscar, it will be to her.” Quite a statement considering the incredible ego Bette Davis was known to have. They both lost to Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker however, not my favorite movie but still a great performance.
Which got me thinking about why we don’t have as many fantastic performances as we did in 1962. Sure we have great talent and performers that put in a performance worthy of being called the “Best,” (The careers of Tilda Swinton, Daniel Day-Lewis and Christian Bale immediately come to mind), but we don’t have as many consistently wonderful performances as back in 1962 even though we have way more movies released.
But I’ve gotten completely off topic here…