The Warner Archive Collection contains a treasure trove of classics, and though I consider myself an avid film buff, it’s a shame it took me 48 years to finally catch Days of Wine and Roses. The alcoholism storyline kept me at bay all of these years, and even if that aspect may give you pause as well, move forward and check out this absolute gem!
As much as I’ve spent humming the Oscar winning title track (lyrics by Johnny Mercer, music from Henry Mancini), Days of Wine and Roses wasn’t on my immediate list of movies to view, but lately I’ve interested in the career of filmmaker Blake Edwards.
Best known as director of comedically driven, entertainment fare (A Shot in the Dark, The Pink Panther, 10), Edwards is also known for his marriage and collaboration with Julie Andrews (they worked on such films as Victor Victoria and SOB). As Edwards points out in the Days of Wine and Roses commentary, his dramatic work (Experiment in Terror, TV’s Peter Gunn, and of course this film) has often been overlooked. I count myself as none of the “overlookers,” but Days of Wine and Roses absolutely changed that view.
Here are 5 reasons why Days of Wine and Roses is a must add Blu-ray to your Warner Archive Collection (and by the way, if this is your first stab at getting a Warner Archive disc, this is a great start):
Days of Wine and Roses Features A Combustible And Oscar Nominated Collaboration Between Lee Remick And Jack Lemmon
The narrative centers on Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon), a San Francisco publicist who, though successful, is a bit tired of procuring women for high powered bigwigs to keep his accounts. He actually mistakes Kirsten (Lee Remick) as one of the party girls he’s recruited and treats her poorly . . . until he discovers that she’s his boss’ secretary!
Running at 117 minutes, the feature focuses on the rise and fall of their relationship, a coupling whose foundation centered on massive consumptions of alcohol. Remick and Lemmon both received Oscar nominations for their performances in the film, and it’s also considered Remick’s most acclaimed role.
The Lemmon and Remick pairing simply works, and when the two actually go head to head they really feel like a couple. Their blowups rival the confrontations of this year’s Marriage Story, another tale that focuses on how love sometimes doesn’t conquer all.
Remick’s vulnerability, as well as her moments of clarity (during the character’s sober moments), is fully on display with Days of Wine and Roses, and during the first half of the film I actually thought she was going to steal the show. Jack Lemmon’s lifelong battle with alcoholism has been documented, and it’s safe to assume that he brought some of his own personal battles into the role.
A sanitarium sequence, wherein Joe absolutely hits rock bottom, is a terrifying sight to see, and it’s amazing to watch Lemmon simply go for it. Although the film is blessed with a terrific script from JP Miller (based on his teleplay), both actors absolutely elevate the material.
Days of Wine and Roses Steers Clear Of Sappy Melodrama
The movie’s moniker hints that although this movie focuses on the destructive effects of alcoholism, the tale isn’t just a doom and gloom story. Joe and Kirsten, even in the grips of their addictions, truly love each other and Blake Edwards makes sure we adore them as well.
Joe and Kirsten’s battle of the sexes courtship is fun to watch (the first 20-30 minutes of the movie feels like a Billy Wilder film), and although Joe seduces teetotaler Kirsten with a Brandy Alexander, watching them gradually fall in love with another is actually an immersive experience. Credit goes to JP Miller’s script for making these conversations lively as can be, and it also helps that Remick and Lennon have undeniable chemistry.
These moments of laughter and levity somewhat temper the brutally devastating sequences of the film. And when the story gets really dark, Edwards doesn’t turn his film into a saccharine, melodramatic treatise on conquering one’s demons. Instead, he opts for a more realistic and human approach to their conflicts.
The Blu-ray Transfer Is Crisp And Clean
Credit goes to Warner Archive for making this Blu-ray an absolutely gorgeous transfer. Lensed by Philip H. Lathrop (he also worked with Blake Edwards on The Pink Panther), Days of Wine and Roses was shot in black and white to achieve a documentary feel. Since much of the film is set during nighttime, Lathrop imbues a healthy portion of the film with a shadowed look (echoing the film’s dark material), and thankfully the images on the Blu-ray don’t appear muddied or grainy. Even in the blackest corners the images pop on the screen, making Days of Wine and Roses a Warner Archive Blu-ray that I will basically never give away (I will probably gift the film to some of my fellow cinephiliac friends).
The Oscar Winning Title Song Continues To Haunt And Isn’t Overused
Days of Wine and Roses is one of Henry Mancini’s most popular songs (Johnny Mercer’s lyrics, as always, are spot on), but thankfully the track’s arresting melody isn’t slathered all throughout the film. A lesser filmmaker would have used the title track as a storytelling crutch, but although the song is an important element of the narrative (there are various music cues and variations interspersed in key scenes), it doesn’t overwhelm the overall story.
Just like the drama that supports the narrative, the music isn’t overplayed to disastrous effect. And when the song kicks in during the picture’s climax, it delivers a subtle knockout punch.
The Blake Edwards Audio Commentary Is Simply A Must
The Blu-ray comes with the theatrical trailer and a vintage Jack Lemmon interview where the conversation is one-sided (you don’t hear the interview’s questions over the phone). Both extras are fine, but the total keeper is the director’s commentary from Blake Edwards (he passed in 2010).
Edwards admitted he had not seen the film since 1962, and there are stretches of the track where there is dead air (he’s essentially watching and reacting to the film as an audience member). When he does chime in, however, his comments are very insightful and wistful.
During the commentary, Edwards recalls bumping into Lee Remick at a hospital (she died at 55 from cancer), citing that although she was frail he did notice her unmistakable eyes. He also wonders why JP Miller wasn’t an even more successful writer, adding that Days of Wine and Roses was his finest work as a scribe. The entire commentary is extremely candid, and hearing Edwards give insight on his career as well as the people he worked with makes Days of Wine and Roses a worthy purchase even if you don’t think the film’s a classic!
I’m giving Days of Wine and Roses a 5 out of 5, and thanks to this movie I’ll be watching a tone of Blake Edwards films down the road (first up is Experiment in Terror, a feature released the same year and starring Lee Remick as well!).
Filled with Grade A storytelling and seminal performances, Days of Wine and Roses is a worthy addition to your Blu-ray collection. As much as I often pare down my discs due to space issues, this one’s a keeper!
****The Days of Wine and Roses Blu-ray is available on Wbshop.com.