Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Days of Wine and Roses

I've briefly mentioned The Days of Wine and Roses several times before, but I've never done a full-length blog posting about it. It's getting another airing tonight at 8:00 PM as part of a night of movies dedicated to the music of Henry Mancini. If you haven't seen The Days of Wine and Roses before, you're in for an excellent movie.

Jack Lemmon stars as Joe Clay, who works as a public relations man for a large company in San Francisco. One of his job duties seems to be coordinating "entertainment" for visitng businessmen, which in this case means procuring lovely young women as the accompaniment for a business party on board a yacht. Joe deals with the drudgery and unpleasantness of his job by drinking, constantly asking the bartender to provide him with another drink. And then Joe meets Kirsten Arnesen (Lee Remick), whom his mistakenly believes is the kind of woman who owuld fit in at those "business parties". That's not the case at all -- she loves chocolate, not drinking. But, as unalike as the two are, they eventually fall in love.

At first, Joe loves Kirsten, but he also loves the bottle, leading to his drinking more and more. Kirsten wants to make her husband happy, so after a while, she decides to try a drink herself, and finds that she likes the taste of the mixed drink. You can probably figure out that what's going to happen next involves Kristen quickly becoming just as heavy a drinker as her husband, as well as the long downward spiral it puts both of them on. For Joe, that downward spiral means losing his PR job and then having to work a series of jobs as he's unable to hold down a good one. For Kirsten, it means drinking alone when Joe gets sent on a business trip. Eventually, her carelessness when she neglects other things for drink causes her to set fire to their apartment.

Joe and Kirsten then move back in with Kirsten's father Ellis (Charles Bickford), who runs a flower nursery north of San Francisco. He, understandably, isn't so certain he wants Joe around. After all, Ellis sees what Joe did to his daughter. To be fair, one wonders if Ellis' strict upbringing caused Kirsten to rebel when she finally got the chance, and that sort of rebellion could lead to drinking too much just to spite one's parents. Obviously, not drinking is one of the conditions Dad puts upon his daughter and son-in-law to live with him, and they're able to follow that... at least for a few weeks...

It's clear that the only way these two people are going to stop drinking is with some serious help. That help comes in the form of Jim (Jack Klugman), an alcoholic himself who has been able to stop his drinking thanks to the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. Joe starts attending meetings himself, and he's able to avoid the drink. But he's still got a problem: he's living with Kirsten, who is still a drinker. Can an alcoholic stay on the wagon if he's living with somebody who's still drinking? Or can he perhaps convince her that she too needs to try Alcoholics Anonymous and stop drinking.

The Days of Wine and Roses is not a pretty story. I don't have first-hand experience of living with an alcoholic, and my drinking is limited to maybe two glasses of wine or two mixed drinks with dinner. (Well, I did have too much to drink once when I was studying in Sankt-Peterburg, Russia, decades ago. But that's another story.) Still, the movie has the feeilng of authenticity. Compare that to, say Bigger than Life, which has a climax that makes me laugh at its ludicrousness. There's no such comedy in The Days of Wine and Roses. The performances are also quite good. Jack Lemmon is wonderful, while Remick does a tremendous job as the woman we see become an alcoholic before our very eyes. Bickford and Klugman are also quite good in their supporting performances.

TCM lists The Days of Wine and Roses as being available for purchase from the TCM shop for a surprisingly low price.

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