Filmsite Movie Review
Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
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Days of Wine and Roses (1962) is the intense dramatic portrayal of an alcoholic, co-dependent couple. The film's poster describes its intriguing premise: "It is Different. It is Daring. Most of All, in Its Own Terrifying Way, It is a Love Story."

The Story

SF public relations advertising executive Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon), a former social drinker, turns to alcohol due to pressures at work. He also meets pretty tee-totaling, Encyclopedia-reading secretary Kirsten Arnesen (Lee Remick), who works in his building. One evening as they leave work and share an elevator, she slaps him in the face when he insults her about her 'special qualifications' for her job:

What special qualifications do you feel that you have for a job that allows you to sit around all day and chat with the boss? I heard about your job. Maybe answer a few personal letters for him and accompany him to parties? Hmm? You spend half your working day reading a book while two typists who get less money than you do all the work? Hmm? ...I'll tell you what special qualifications you have. You're pretty. That's what 'special qualifications' you have. And that old lech loves to have you around to look at and lean on when he gets drunk, like he did last night. And who knows what else. That's what 'special qualifications' you have.

Afterwards, he makes a goofy face behind her.

Eventually, they reconcile and have dinner together, and Joe entices her (knowing that she is addicted to chocolate) to become a social drinker one night: "It's special, for you. It's chocolate. Go on, try it" - buying her a chocolate-flavored (with crème de cacao) Brandy Alexander cocktail. She reacts to its pleasant taste: "Oh, it's good, it is."

When invited to Kirsten's second-floor apartment ("the roach kingdom") for a "home-cooked meal," Joe toasts "To men of principle, wherever they may be," as he sprays her place to kill cockroaches with roach killer: "Cockroaches. Come out, wherever you are...You're gonna go to cockroach heaven." Kirsten's neighbor Dottie (Maxine Stuart) knocks on their door and complains about the cockroach spraying - and riling up the other tenants:

Oh, well, now, you ought not to do that. I mean, you get 'em all stirred up, and what's the good? Now you made a mess. You gotta think about other people, you know. Well, I mean, look, look, I don't like to complain, but, I mean, this is ridiculous. They don't bother anybody. They don't destroy anything. You know they're there. You leave 'em alone, they leave you alone. You lock up what you don't want crawled over, and that's that. But all of a sudden, you start spraying that stuff on the walls, and look at the mess.

When they duck away into her apartment to escape the chaos among the other tenants in the stairway, Kirsten laughs and jokes with Joe - with a warning: "You've undermined the whole base of metabolism of the building" and that the cockroaches would track him down: "You'll be a goner!"

While drinking one night together by the SF Bay, Kirsten tells boozing Joe about a dream she had of being murdered, and the fact that her father was very private and uncommunicative during her upbringing. Then, she recites poetic words to him - the derivation of the film's title:

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.

Eventually, Joe realizes that his livelihood and family (after marrying her - and they both become heavy boozers) are seriously threatened by their drinking. He delivers an honest assessment to his mutually-boozing wife Kirsten of how alcoholism has made their marriage relationship a "threesome" - after he had looked at his reflection in a Union Square Bar window. He forces her to take a good, harsh look in the mirror with him:

And I thought, 'I wonder who that bum is.' And then I saw it was me. Now, look at me, I'm a bum. Now, look at me, look at you. You're a bum! Look at you. And look at us. Look at us, come on! Look at us. (He drags her to a mirror) See? A couple of bums. Now, look! You've gotta listen to me. It came to me all of a sudden. I saw the whole thing. You know why I've been fired from five jobs in four years, and it's not politics, like we always say. It's not office politics or jealousy or any of that stuff. It's booze! It's booze!...We have more than a couple of drinks, we get drunk! And we stay drunk most of the time.

Later, after going on a 'bender,' a desperate and frenzied Joe madly tears apart and smashes the contents of his father-in-law's greenhouse-nursery to search for a hidden bottle of liquor. He has horrifying, brutal, and realistically-portrayed experiences detoxifying and suffering delirium tremens in a hospital ward, while confined in a strait-jacket.

In the film's ending, Kirsten (now sober for only two days) attempts a reconciliation (but admits she is uncertain that she is able to conquer her alcoholism), while a sobered up Joe (for a year) tells her in very clear terms:

I'm afraid of you. I'm an alcoholic, I can't take a drink. And I'm afraid of what we'd do to each other....You and I were a couple of drunks on the sea of booze, and the boat sank. I got ahold of something that kept me from going under. And I'm not gonna let go of it. Not for you, not for anyone. If you want to grab on, grab on. But there's just room for you and me, no threesome.

Kirsten wanders off after their failure to come together, and Joe tells their young daughter Debbie (Debbie Megowan) that she might not return: "Honey, Mommy's sick. And she has to get well before she can come home."

The ambiguous final shot reveals that a huge reflected flashing neon "BAR" sign - visible outside the window on the street below - appears to beckon Joe to enter.