From the days of wine and roses finally comes a night like this.
Before Days of Wine and Roses movies rarely, if ever, dealt with the consequences of becoming a hardcore alcoholic. Aside of comedy bits with W.C. Fields, moviemakers shied away from the idea of taking a long hard look at the bottom of the bottle. All that changed when Jack Lemmon made a surprisingly dramatic turn along with Lee Remick in director Blake Edwards' sobering Days of Wine and Roses. Warner has finally released this Oscar nominated classic on DVD complete with a newly rendered widescreen transfer.
Facts of the Case
Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Odd Couple) is a guy everyone wants to have a drink with. Problem is that Joe doesn't know when to stop. Joe is a PR man and very good at his job. Unfortunately, Joe's drinking often gets in the way of doing his job. Laid off frequently, he always blames being fired as the result of "office politics." Joe finds a partner in Kirsten (Lee Remick, The Omen), a secretary Joe meets, wines, and dines. The two are soon married, even though Kirsten is not a drinker. That fact quickly changes when Joe introduces Kirsten to new types of liquor, including a chocolate brandy that immediately catches Kirsten's attention and taste buds. As the two begin a family and Joe bounces from job to job, they find themselves in over their heads and both Joe and Kirsten's drinking problems spiral out of control. After Joe lands in the hospital, he realizes that he is an alcoholic and must seek help through Alcoholics Anonymous if he's ever to regain his life again. But will Kirsten also follow his lead, or drink herself right out of a life of happiness and blue skies?
Days of Wine and Roses is a movie about the effects of alcoholism on one's personal and professional life, plain and simple. There isn't a whole lot to the film in terms of story or plot—this is a character study of two lovers whose lives are torn apart by their addictions. Before Days of Wine and Roses was released, Jack Lemmon had been featured in lighter comedies that weren't by any stretch of the imagination considered "dramatic intensity." He shocked both critics and audiences with his portrayal of Joe Clay, a role that garnered the actor an Academy Award nomination.
Lemmon's performance here is truly the centerpiece of the film. It's a role that requires the actor to walk a thin line of being both likable and despicable when he's drinking. Witness the scene in which Joe and his wife argue about what he considers to be his "social" drinking habits. As Joe builds a full head of steam, you can see Remick's character begin to weaken and buckle—she too will soon be cradling the bottle next to her hubby. It's a scene of both heartbreak and astonishment, one that proved Lemmon was one of the best actors of his generation. Though Remick is really second banana to Lemmon, she does a good job at playing his partner in boozing it up. In fact, I had more sympathy for Remick than for Lemmon—her drinking problem seemed to be facilitated by her need to be accepted by Joe.
The film was directed by Blake Edwards, who is now known more for his comedies (The Pink Panther, Micki & Maude) than his dramas. Yet Edwards shows restraint here as a director—instead of the film preaching to the audience, we're given more of a window to just watch these two people pour their lives down the drain. There is a beauty in Days of Wine and Roses, even if it is bittersweet in nature. I was expecting a slightly different movie (one where drinking was seen in a much more judgmental light) and was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.
If the end of the film seems a bit more downbeat than usual for the film's era, so be it—there's true gut wrenching honesty at work in the screenplay even with the moments of sometimes silly melodrama (a scene involving Lemmon confined to a padded room in a straitjacket is a bit goofy). Days of Wine and Roses is an excellent film that may be one of Lemmon's dramatic highpoints. And when the last scene finally comes to a close and the credits roll, you tell me if you don't agree: Lemmon's about to walk that long road on his own.
Days of Wine and Roses is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This black and white image looks great—Warner has done a very fine job of making sure the print is clear of any major imperfections, including dirt and grain. Once in a while a few minor flaws appear (including some edge haloing), though overall fans of this film will be very happy with how crisp this picture looks. The blacks are very solid and the grays/whites evenly rendered. As usual, Warner has produced a top-notch transfer for a golden oldie.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in English. Unlike the video transfer, this audio mix isn't anything spectacular. While the movie didn't require any type of 5.1 or DTS sound mix, generally speaking there isn't a whole lot to this mix. The good news is the dialogue, music and effects are all crystal clear without any distortion or hiss. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
While I wouldn't consider this DVD to be a full blown special edition of Days of Wine and Roses, there are a few meaty supplements that will surely please Lemmon fans. First up is a commentary track by director Blake Edwards. Edwards is often silent as he watches the film, but when he is talking, the director discusses the production, working with Lemmon and Remick, and the theme of alcoholism explored in the film. This is an above average commentary that will most likely be appreciated most by those who cherish the film.
Next up is a four-minute vintage interview with Jack Lemmon. This is a very odd supplement that features Lemmon on the phone, smoking, doing an interview, but we never hear the interviewer's questions. Also, half of the screen is black which, I presume, is maybe where the interviewer would have gone?
Finally there are two theatrical trailers for the film (including one humorous promo where Lemmon makes a personal statement about the film), each presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Though it's sometimes a bit hammy in its portrayal of alcoholics, Days of Wine and Roses is still an engrossing, moving picture that is one of Lemmon's best works. Warner's work on this DVD, one of five that was picked through a voting system by fans, is nicely rendered with a few informative features and good video and audio presentations.
Days of Wine and Roses is well worth the viewing. Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by Director Blake Edwards
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