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Days of Wine and Roses

Newer does not necessarily mean better. When the opportunity arose to make a film version of J. P. Miller's powerful TV drama Days of Wine and Roses, actor Jack Lemmon suggested that the studio hire Blake Edwards (according to Edwards, that is) rather than the Playhouse 90 production's original director, John Frankenheimer. On the big screen, Roses began as a Fox project, but ended up at Warner Bros. when the Fox studio started going down the Nile with Cleopatra. With the advent of Lemmon's participation, little remained of the founding teleplay, except for actor Charles Bickford reprising his role. Edwards had started out in television, too, first as a writer then after that mostly noted for the series Peter Gunn, and when he moved into features he was associated with comedies. Lemmon, too, had been in a long string of comedies, and it's easy to assume that both filmmakers were using the opportunity to "stretch". Unfortunately, Edwards, who is kind of a combination of George Stevens (comedy director turned prestige filmmaker) and Vincente Minnelli (excitable content with no distinctive visual style), tilted the original material towards schmaltz, from the comically lush theme-song by Henry Mancini to the exaggerated binge scenes. According to one Lemmon biography, the actor felt a little bad about the fact that his friend Cliff Robertson, who had appeared in the TV production, wasn't invited to be in the movie, but the studio insisted on a certified star for the film. Meanwhile, Lee Remick replaced Piper Laurie. As in the original, Joe Clay (Lemmon) is an organization man, a San Francisco based ad agency public-relations agent who meets and begins to court Kirsten Arnesen (Remick). One night he plies her with a Napoleon and thus begins her downward slide into alcoholism, abetted by his own battle with the bottle. Clay, after some harrowing experiences in the drunk-tank and the mental ward (well-acted by Lemmon), begins slowly getting his act together with the help of AA and his designated "buddy" (Jack Klugman, who would later play on TV the Oscar role that Walter Matthau played opposite Lemmon in the movie version of The Odd Couple). Ultimately, Days is an ad for AA (like its modern-day equivalent, Clean and Sober), but the bleak and even ambiguous ending is to its credit, with the now sober Clay staring out a window after his wife who wanders off into the night, the huge neon sign advertising "Bar" flashing like a beacon beckoning him, and like a brand-name stamped across the former ad-man's face. Lemmon's overdone wackiness is mitigated by a few great speeches ("You and I were a couple of drunks on a sea of booze and the boat sank") and Remick modulates a descent into sluttiness very well. What's missing is the calm plausibility of the original TV broadcast, revived briefly on cable TV in the 1990s. Lemmon was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to Gregory Peck for To Kill a MockingbirdDays won only for the overproduced theme song.

*          *          *

Meanwhile, the DVD version of Days of Wine and Roses has the distinction of offering one of the worst audio commentary tracks of all time. To paraphrase Woody Allen, not only is it bad, but there is so little of it: Edwards's tedious or obvious remarks are frequently interrupted by long, long pauses. It's like being stuck in the living room with a dozing uncle who wakes up occasionally on a sleepy Sunday afternoon to screech at the TV screen. As soon as the track starts, Edwards admits that he doesn't understand how audio tracks work (he's done at least one before, for Victor/Victoria). How can people watch the movie and listen to him at the same time?, he wonders out loud. Then there is a long pause, after which Edwards comes back on to tell us that someone just explained to him how audio tracks work (watch movie, then listen). One imagines a dog-tired engineer growling into a microphone from a sound-booth to the restless Edwards, the engineer's faux-patient explanation edited out later. Then, settling back in, Edwards expresses surprise that the film is in black-and-white (!), and he reveals that he hasn't seen the picture since he made it back in 1962. Was it too much to ask that Edwards watch the film the night before the recording and do a little research? Can't he even look in a book to refresh his memory about the cast and crew? Then, after waxing ecstatically (and hollowly) over the "classy" Lee Remick, Edwards slips into intermittence. At one point, he describes imbibing with Lemmon one night and wondering out loud if they, too, were alkies, like Joe Clay, but he doesn't go into much detail. Also on the disc is a vintage prefabricated interview with Lemmon (5 min.), who flamboyantly smokes while looking convincingly spontaneous. He sits on the left of the screen, while the right half is blacked out. That's where the local TV journalist was supposed to be inserted in different markets (on this feature we don't hear the questions). The footage of the interview appear to be shot at the same time as footage of Lemmon talking to the camera included in the two theatrical trailers also in the package. The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is impeccable, and the monaural audio is adequate, coming with English, French, and Spanish subtitles. Snap-case.
—D.K. Holm



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