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Film / Days of Wine and Roses

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From Blake Edwards — the director of such future comedy classics as The Pink Panther, The Great Race, and The Party — comes this harrowing, heartbreaking 1962 drama about the destructive nature of alcohol addiction, adapted from a 1958 Playhouse 90 teleplay and starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick.

Joe Clay (Lemmon), a San Francisco public relations executive and "social drinker", meets Kirsten Arnesen (Remick), his boss's secretary. At first they don't get along very well, but after a date where Joe introduces the teetotaler Kirsten to alcohol, they find themselves falling for each other. Eventually they get married, have a daughter and a supposedly comfortable life. Supposedly, because the stress in their lives prompts them to start drinking more frequently and slowly begins to affect their lives and those of everyone who's close to them, including Kirsten's stern-but-loving father (Charles Bickford). Things start to go downhill from here.

Before Requiem for a Dream became a hit by depicting substance abuse in a very disturbing way, Days of Wine and Roses already did it almost 40 years earlier, albeit with less Surreal Horror.

This is also the film that made Jack Lemmon, emblematic protagonist of the hilarious Some Like It Hot and the heartwarming The Apartment, an acting force to be reckoned with in heavy drama as well as comedy.

In 2023 a musical adaptation of the film opened off-Broadway, with book and score by Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas. A Broadway opening of the musical is set for January 2024.

Days of Wine and Roses contains examples of:

  • Addiction Displacement: When Joe becomes sober after the greenhouse scene, he smokes a lot to appeal his addiction. Also, several attendants of the Alcoholics Anonymous are seen smoking for the very same reasons.
  • The Alcoholic: The main theme of the movie. Both Kirsten and Joe become unable to function without a steady supply of alcohol.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Joe and Kirsten, when they first meet.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Bordering on a Downer Ending. Joe eventually gets sober, but Kirsten doesn't, and they break up.
  • Descent into Addiction: Joe arguably had a head start on Kirsten, but both deteriorate to the point that the only thing that matters is alcohol. Joe gets past it, but Kirsten doesn't.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Accompanies the scene where Joe trashes the greenhouse looking for a hidden bottle.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: At the end of the film, Kirsten admits that she "can't get over how dirty everything looks" without alcohol.
  • Going Cold Turkey: The harrowing scene that follows the greenhouse sequence shows Joe in a sanitarium, in a straitjacket, having a violent seizure—the DTs.
  • Hangover Sensitivity: In a different sort of movie it might be played for laughs when Joe comes into the office hung over, but in this one it shows that he's losing control.
  • Hitler Cam: Combined with a POV shot. Joe has attempted to steal a bottle of liquor, but he stumbles and falls down the landing. As he squirms in the dirt the store owner trots up and takes the bottle out of his hand. Then we get the POV from Joe's shot as the liquor store owner, standing over Joe cackling evilly, pours the bottle all over Joe's face.
  • Literary Allusion Title: From Ernest Dowson's 1896 poem "Vitae Summa Brevis" (which Kirsten recites in-universe):
    They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
    Out of a misty dream
    Our path emerges for a while, then closes
    Within a dream.
  • Mistaken for Prostitute: When Joe first meets Kirsten he mistakes her for part of the hired female "entertainment" at a client's yacht party.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Joe introduces a reluctant Kirsten to alcohol using chocolate, her favorite food. Had he not done it, he could have avoided the future Hell they would be living.
  • Off the Wagon: Joe and Kirsten try to quit alcohol while working for Kirsten's father, but late one night, in one of the film's more harrowing sequences, Joe gives in to temptation and ransacks a greenhouse looking for a hidden bottle of booze.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: One scene has Joe encountering a drunken Kirsten in a seedy motel room while a Bugs Bunny cartoon plays on a TV in the background.
  • Title Theme Tune: Composed by frequent Blake Edwards collaborator Henry Mancini and with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Kirsten was a straight-laced secretary until she met Joe, who — without intending to — turns her into an alcoholic wreck. Kirsten's father quite correctly calls Joe out for this.
    Pop: You started my daughter drinking!
  • Tropaholics Anonymous: The film was one of the first to show an alcoholic getting help with addiction through Alcoholics Anonymous.
  • Uncomfortable Elevator Moment:
    • Or the equivalent thereof on a boat, as Joe and the hookers for the yacht party stare at each other awkwardly as they zip out to the yacht on a launch.
    • There's also one in an actual elevator, as Kirsten and Joe have a spat in the office building and then wind up taking the same elevator down.