…In relentless pursuit of all performances nominated and won!
Searing, gripping performances drive Days of Wine and Roses, the 1962 drama depicting the ravages of alcoholism on a young married couple, directed by the acclaimed Blake Edwards. A surprising smash success when it was released, the film was showered with critical praise and lauded with 5 Oscar nominations. Its only win was for its popular, sentimental title song, but without a doubt, the movie showcases one of Jack Lemmon’s best performances (though he was nominated for Best Actor, the clear winner that year was Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird). Matching Lemmon scene-by-scene along the way was Lee Remick, in her one and only Best Actress nominated performance.
Fresh, pretty Kirsten Arnesen (Remick) is a relatively ‘un-sullied’ secretary working in a New York office when she meets Joe Clay (Lemmon), a smooth-talking PR man who can’t seem to find himself a lucky break at work. Their relationship starts off awkwardly, but after a date or two, they find themselves falling quickly in love. The only drawback? Joe likes to drink. Kirsten was raised NOT to drink, but charming persuasion on Joe’s behalf finds her tipping back a couple Brandy Alexanders to get started. In predictable fashion, after the two are quickly married, they also speedily fall victim to rapid alcohol consumption. Despite intervention by Kirsten’s reclusive gardener/nursery owner father (Charles Bickford, in an especially strong portrayal), and a staunchly supportive Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor (Jack Klugman), both Kirsten and Joe find themselves constantly spiralling back to the bottle again and again. Joe makes the stronger recovery towards the end, largely out of his love for his wife. The final scenes of the film are not what you might think – and I will stop here, lest I give anything further away. But I gotta say, it’s pretty powerful stuff.
Several of the scenes between Lemmon and Remick are riveting. They convey the urgent sense of desperation in their mutual addiction brilliantly, both together and apart. Though it’s about alcoholism, the film is a harrowing portrait of how devastating any addiction can be. Remick is in top form, turning in a remarkably nuanced performance. Her character at the beginning of the film is sweet, light, and engaging, making her downfall as she succumbs to drinking especially heartbreaking. It is as if we are witnessing all the innocence and gaiety of life draining out of her eyes at times. Lemmon is outstanding. Perhaps the most memorable of his scenes is when he searches Kristen’s father’s greenhouse in a drunken rage during a rainstorm, frantically trying to find a bottle he has stashed in one of the flower pots. It is one of those film moments that burns itself on your mind. Bear in mind – playing drunk is no easy feat (take it from someone who has done it onstage!). These two ace it and make it sharply believable.
Though neither Lemmon nor Remick won the Oscar in 1962 (Remick lost to Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker), their work in Days of Wine and Roses stands the test of time. My only slight fault with the film – and perhaps this is because I’m watching it now, in the 2000’s and not in the 1960’s – is its slightly obvious predictability in the beginning of the film. You know where the story is going by almost blatant “wink wink, nudge nudge” hints – what with Jack Lemmon’s fast drinking and the subsequent encouragement of Kirsten’s drinking. I was a little worried how it would resolve. Thankfully, Edwards directed his actors to stunning, multi-layered performances which brought the reality of the issue to full light frame by frame, and the end result justified the means.