Blake Edwards’ harrowing 1962 film version of the celebrated Playhouse 90 production of J.P. Miller’s Days of Wine and Roses extends the brutal extremes of alcoholism to almost the breaking point.
The Production: 4.5/5
Blake Edwards’ harrowing 1962 film version of the celebrated Playhouse 90 production of J.P. Miller’s Days of Wine and Roses extends the brutal extremes of alcoholism to almost the breaking point. Difficult to watch but necessary in depicting the destruction such an illness can bring to an otherwise normal family, the director injects some humor into the dire proceedings as often as he can, but the movie is strong stuff and not for the timid. Exemplary performances from four leading players also make this a must-see for admirers of really great drama.
Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon) is a rising young public relations executive when he meets Kirsten Arnesen (Lee Remick), a pretty secretary, at a business party. Joe and Kirsten are both ambitious, and they are on the road to success when they fall in love and marry. Soon after, however, Joe coaxes Kirsten to begin drinking with him on a regular basis. Eventually, they are both become dependent on alcohol and begin to lose everything. Their marriage deteriorates, and their lives spiral into disaster even as they try with spotty success to wean themselves off the bottle. But that constant craving for just one more drink refuses to go away.
J.P. Miller adapted his original teleplay into this movie script, and director Blake Edwards, at this time known for his comedies more than for his dramas, was brought on board to inject whatever lightness he could to help spell the grimness of the subject matter and the ugliness of the conditions in which alcohol will leave the film’s two protagonists. And he’s quite successful in the film’s first hour; especially amusing is Joe’s tipsy return home with tulips picked from the apartment garden but in his obliviousness with their blossoms chopped off by a closing elevator door. And Edwards and Miller also inject gently and early on some casual drinking into the Clays’ lives: his for work entertaining clients and later attempting to wash some of the more distasteful elements of his job out of his mouth, hers enjoying her first mixed cocktail, a brandy alexander due to her fondness for chocolate, and then beginning to have cocktails before dinner, champagne or wine during dinner, and after-dinner drinks to complete evening after evening until it has become a part of her daily routine. But Edwards doesn’t spare us the indignity of their degradation: Joe has three traumatic experiences on camera: straightjacketed in a psych ward to survive withdrawal, a particularly wrenching sequence where he destroys a greenhouse looking for a bottle he’s hidden for emergencies, and finally tied down to a table to prevent him hurting himself during his hallucinations from the DTs. And while Kirsten’s withdrawals aren’t shown on camera, we see her at her worst: hurling vitriol and using various wiles on her husband who’s remained sober while she’s basked in her drunkenness trying to get him to join her off the wagon.
It’s a high water acting mark for both Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick with roles so juicy that they can run the acting gamut from charming to debased and back again (in Lemmon’s case several times) all the while jolting us constantly with their misery and addiction. Charles Bickford is commanding and determined as Kirsten’s rigid father, and Jack Klugman offers quiet, gentle compassion and strength as Joe’s concerned AA sponsor. Familiar faces Alan Hewitt and Jack Albertson pop in as PR executives who in Albertson’s case seems to be having similar troubles with alcohol and in Hewitt’s case has a short fuse for executives who can’t do their jobs after constant heavy drinking.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully rendered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Another one of Warner Archives’ brilliant black and white transfers, this pristine image is simply exemplary. Black levels are rich and inky, and whites are clean and sublime. Sharpness is superb with a real film-like image being offered. Contrast has been dialed in to perfection. There are no problems at all with dirt, dust, scratches, or debris.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track offers a rich and compelling era-typical soundtrack. Henry Mancini’s Oscar-winning title song and beautiful score sounds wonderful mixed so expertly with the dialogue and sound effects into a single track. Any age-related problems with hiss, flutter, hum, or crackle have been completely eliminated.
Special Features: 2.5/5
Audio Commentary: director Blake Edwards offers a stop-and-go commentary with comments about the actors, the writer, and other behind the scenes crew sprinkled among long stretches of silence. He admits it’s been decades since he watched the movie and seems to get absorbed in the drama forgetting to comment quite often.
Jack Lemmon Interview (5:06, SD): a one-sided interview with Jack Lemmon on the set obviously staged so local interviewers can film their scripted questions to his already filmed answers.
Theatrical Trailer (3:33, HD)
One of the greatest movies in the filmographies of Blake Edwards, Jack Lemmon, and Lee Remick, Days of Wine and Roses is heavy drama at its strongest and most memorable. The Warner Archive Blu-ray release brings this tragic story to crisp and clear high definition life and comes with a hearty recommendation.