Days of Wine and Roses (1962), Dir. Blake Edwards

 

Rating: 10/10

Days of Wine and Roses is definitely the kind of film I should’ve heard of. It stars one of my favourite actors the legendary Jack Lemmon and is directed by Blake ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ Edwards. But before I accidentally stumbled upon it on TV I’d never heard a word about it which is ridiculous because this is a marvellous, dark and moving film, up there with The Lost Weekend (1945) in its depiction of alcoholism.

Jack Lemmon stars as Joe Clay, a successful PR man who as part of his job seduces his top clients by drinking with them (much like Mad Men). What starts off as perks of the job quickly descends into something habitual and dangerous. When he meets the pretty secretary Kirsten (Lee Remick) at a client’s party she is a rather  innocent woman who biggest addiction is to chocolate and who never saw the appeal of alcohol. Joe soon initiates her to the pleasures of alcohol by mixing her a Brandy Alexander.

They soon get married and start a family though their happy family life is soon spoilt by their descent into alcoholism. Joe’s boss starts to notice his late starts and dishevelled and tired appearance and has to fire him, while Kirsten is becomes increasingly neglectful of their child and accidentally sets fire to their house after drunkenly falling asleep. They try to start afresh and stay at Kirsten’s dad Ellis’s (Charles Bickford) house, Joe trying to help out in Ellis’s nursery and win his approval again.  He soon reverts however to a terrible state and has to spend time in an insane asylum, while there he is befriended member of AA and manages to regain control of his life, while Kirsten remain lost in a drunken stupor spending nights in a cheap motel and refusing to attend AA meetings despite the pleas of Joe.

The strength of this film is that it shows how it doesn’t take too much for a formerly respectable person to lose all sense of decency and self-control. Joe is a likable charming guy but when his addiction grips him he quickly goes from being humorous-the scene in which he attempts to seduce Kirsten with flowers pulled from outside and which he destroys by trapping them in an elevator showcases Lemmon’s fine comic abilities – to tragic. He crawls on the floor and begs a disinterested barman to open his bar. And in another memorable scene he desperately and miserably searches Ellis’s greenhouse for the bottle of alcohol he had hidden in one of the plants, destroying Ellis’s carefully cultivated plants in the process and covering himself in earth. His time at the insane asylum meanwhile is a frightening display of what it’s like to go cold turkey; Lemmon’s sweating, twisting body, contorted face, pleading and screams resembling that of someone who really has lost his mind beyond recovery. Joe and Kirsten lose themselves to such a degree that as Joe tells Kirsten in  a pivotal scene, he saw himself in  a shop window and had to ask “I wonder who that bum is?” before realising it was himself.

It really is hard to take your eyes off Lemmon and this film really displays his range, while Lee Remick, an actress I hadn’t heard about before, also puts her all into the role of Kirsten. Her girlish begging to play and have fun (“Can’t have a drink with me , too good to have a  drink”) is moving and sad. While the scene in which she lies slumped in a darkened motel room with an empty bottle by her side, disinterestedly watching cartoons, her eyes empty, perfectly captures the loss of self and vitality that occurs when completely in the grip of an addiction. 

This film serves as a potent warning then to the dangers of indulging yourself just that bit too much, it is also a powerful study of how even family bonds and love can be undone by an all-consuming addiction. So do yourself a favour and see this film, you won’t regret it.

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