Blake Edwards and Jack Lemmon, my mind automatically jumps to the madcap, sprawling 1965 comedy The Great Race. It was a favorite of mine growing up, and I still enjoy it a lot. As far as critical acclaim, the duo paired for a film that couldn't be a bigger departure in tone, 1962's Days of Wine and Roses.
A successful public relations man for a firm based in San Francisco, Joe Clay (Lemmon) both likes his job and is equal parts frustrated with it. During a boat party hosted by one of his clients, Joe meets Kirsten (Lee Remick), a beautiful secretary who he likes, but she wants nothing to do with him. Upon actually talking with Joe though, she starts to fall for him, and then it's only a matter of time before they are dating and then married with a kid. As their relationship develops though, Joe's main passion, drinking, begins to affect Kirsten too. What starts off as a drink here and there turns into something much more severe, threatening to tear the relationship apart.
As I watch certain movies, I try to remind myself that the purpose of every single movie is not necessarily to entertain. Some movies you just sit back and watch. Take in the acting, the cinematography, the music, whatever. This is a dramatic movie. I feel safe saying you won't just out and out enjoy it, much less like it. Edwards' film documents in great detail two people's descent into alcoholism, and not surprisingly it isn't a barrel of monkeys to watch. It is intensely uncomfortable to watch and never even eases up just a little.
So looking at the entire film, I just can't give it an overly positive review. Seeing the descent into alcoholism is fascinating to watch in a sick way. Early on, we see Joe bring over two grocery bags of booze to Kirsten's apartment, emptying them and giggling about it. He introduces his future wife to alcohol, the duo just drinking occasionally only to eventually end up as boozehounds. The issue becomes -- on a purely movie basis -- is that it just wasn't interesting to watch (for me at least). How many times can we see people going back to the bottle after achieving some sort of sobriety? Yes, I realize that's the reality of alcoholism, but as a film, that doesn't make it any easier to tolerate. It gets tedious, and with a 117-minute movie, it feels significantly longer thanks to its episodic story techniques.
Where the movie is worth recommending is the performances from Lemmon and Remick as Joe and Kirsten. Their chemistry is without question. They look, act and talk like a couple madly in love, drawn to each other as if the universe wants them to be together. There is a genuine connection of some sorts between them, but eventually their relationship becomes more about the alcohol and bonding over their mutual love of alcohol than anything. Their drunk scenes are pretty bad (literally with some unintentional laughs but also uncomfortable to watch), and their crumbling relationship is difficult to watch. On performance alone though, it's two great acting jobs. Both were nominated for Oscars, Lemmon losing to Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird) while Remick lost to Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker).
The story requires a focus heavily on Joe and Kirsten, but two other performances stand out. One is Charles Bickford as Ellis, Kirsten's widowed father. This is a Dad who just wants the best for her daughter, even seeing that this relationship could be an issue the first time he meets Joe. Also look for Jack Klugman as Jim Hungerford, Joe's eventual Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. Both are small parts, but both left a very positive impression.
Again, my review is only based on an entertainment level as I try to do with all my reviews. As a film, it is easier to judge. The acting is great, Edwards' direction solid as always, and the shadowy black and white cinematography is ideally suited to the darkness of the story. On the other hand, it simply wasn't a film I enjoyed. It's a tough film to get through in spite of all those more technical positives. Ahead of its time for a 1962 audience, yes, but just not a film I will revisit soon.
Days of Wine and Roses <---trailer (1962): ** 1/2 /****