Film Review: Days of Wine and Roses

While attending the 1963 Academy Awards, Gregory Peck was (according to IMDB), totally convinced that his good friend Jack Lemmon would beat him to the Best Actor Oscar for his searing portrayal of an alcoholic in Days of Wine and Roses.

It was reading this snippet of trivia while researching my last review for To Kill a Mockingbird that led me to this movie. I think it also highlights how unjust the awards are because to choose Peck’s performance over Lemmon’s is like saying David Rudisha is a better runner than Mo Farah or Usain Bolt. Some Hollywood icon (whose name escapes me right now) once stated that, in order to judge which actor has given the best performance of the year, surely they all need to playing the same role.

But la de da! That’s the way it is.

Anyhoo, the snippet led to me to the movie and so I watched it. And, to quote Dr Sam Beckett from the beginning of each episode of Quantum Leap – “Oh Boy!”

Days of Wine and Roses tell the story of Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon), a skilled PR man who can booze with the best of them. He has to, for it seems to go hand in hand with his job. But what he really is, is an alcoholic.

One day he meets and falls in love with the pretty secretary of a client, Kristen Arnasen (played by Lee Remick), who happens to be a teetotaller. Her weakness, she admits on their first date, is chocolate, but that changes once Joe introduces her to Brandy Alexanders – a brandy based cocktail with creme de cocoa.

The pair get married and soon have a child but Joe’s drinking worsens and because he doesn’t want to come home after a hard day’s work to spend a quiet, sober evening with his dull, “shushing” wife, she feels pressured into “loosening up” over a few drinks with him. And from there, their downward spiral into full-blown alcoholism is rapid and full. Suddenly, what started out as a slightly quirky romance film (albeit one with a subtle underlying sense of doom) becomes a powerful and bleak tale of addiction and ruin.

The film was adapted by JP Miller, who wrote the original Emmy nominated teleplay for Playhouse 90 in 1958. Producer Martin Manulis (also from the Playhouse 90 team) thought the story would make a good movie and so with Blake Edwards (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Pink Panther) in the director’s chair, Charles Bickford (A Star is Born, The Big Country) and Jack Klugman (12 Angry Men, Quincy M.E.) giving solid acting support and Henry Mancini providing the music, they made the movie partly on location in San Francisco and then set out on the road for the Oscars.

It would win only one Academy Award for Best Original Song, Mancini (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics) but it got four other nominations – Best Actor (Lemmon), Best Actress (Remick), Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.

Days of Wine and Roses is most definitely not a feel-good movie but it will make you think about your own drinking habits, however briefly. It’s engrossing film drama though and I’m not at all surprised to read that it is required viewing in many alcoholic and drug rehabilitation clinics across the U.S. It’s that real.