A Best Picture This Feature Presentation: Days of Wine and Roses

Kristen walking away from her husband in Days of Wine and Roses

Our Best Picture This Presentation hits the seedy bars and dark streets to review Days of Wine and Roses wherein Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick give vivid and powerful performances as couple caught in the grips of alcoholism.

Days of Wine and Roses

Days of Wine and Roses (1962), directed by Blake Edwards, wasn’t the first movie to tackle the subject of alcoholism.Lionel Rogosin’s On the Bowery (1956) documented the lives of homeless men scrounging and scamming for their next drink. Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (1945) told the story of Don Birman whose drinking resulted in days of blackouts and alienation. I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955) and A Star is Born (1956) tackled celebrity alcoholism. Today it seems like celebrities, whether as a PR stunt or out of genuine concern, are checking themselves into a Hollywood rehab center at a breakneck speed. 

Joe Clay on the phone hiring girls for his client
There’s a fine line between a social drinker and an alcoholic.


Decades later, Nicolas Cage would win a Best Actor Oscar as Ben Sanderson, an alcoholic who is determined to drink himself to death, in Leaving Las Vegas. The 80s saw the likes of Less Than Zero, The Boost, Clean and Sober, and Barfly. The 90s saw the releases of Trees Lounge, When A Man Loves A Woman, and The Verdict. James Coburn won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in Affliction. Hollywood has had a love affair with alcohol from almost the start of film and the tradition continues today.

Lee Remick love booze more than you in Days of Wine and Roses.

Days of Wine and Roses stars Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick as Joe and Kristen Clay. The IMDB plot description says the movie is about an alcoholic who “marries a young woman and systematically addicts her to booze so that they can share his “passion” together.” If it was only as simple as a one line synopsis, Days of Wine and Roses would not have become the classic that it has become. 


It would be easy to say it’s Clay’s fault Kristen found herself at the wrong end of a bottle. But as Jim Hungerford (Jack Klugman), Joe’s AA sponsor, what was the strawberry that gave the diabetic diabetes? Was it the first strawberry or the last? Basically, Jim is saying that it’s not Joe’s fault Kristen is an alcoholic. It could have happened at anytime, any drink.

Kristen’s father and mother kept her from “the drink” her entire life. It could have been by some moral or religious code, but he has a beer later in the movie. So zero tolerance of alcohol is off the table. It could very well be that her father knew Kristen would become an alcoholic if she started to drink. Today we know there’s a gene at work in our DNA that may contribute to alcoholism. In 1962, people may not have known of the gene but they would have known who in their family was an alcoholic and could associate the family links. 

Joe looks for Kristen in an empty apartment

Kristen may have already been an alcoholic in the waiting and Joe may have offered Kristne her first drink, “systematically addicting” her to booze relieves Kristen of any responsibility. It takes her own agency away from her. Kristen had ample opportunity to  get help and stay clean. Her father let them both live and work on his farm in the hopes that they would stay sober. Even has Joe was coming up with his plan we knew it was doomed to fail.

A Friend of Bill’s

Although he stumbles, Joe finds his way back to Alcoholics Anonymous where he stays sober for more than a year when Kristen returns into his life. The love is real. Joe wants her back. He only wants her back if she admits she’s an alcoholic and attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. It’s an agreement she can’t make out of pride. More importantly, she tells Joe she likes drinking. This is something that Joe had nothing to do with. Joe also had nothing to do with Kristen abandoning her child. In the grips of alcoholism, Kristen can’t be blamed for her actions either. It’s a demon that isn’t easily shaken off.

Joe tries to get Kristen to stop drinking
“Look at us. We’re a couple of bums!”

Edwards, and J.P.Miller’s script adeptly shows the destructive nature of alcoholism on the addict, their family, and their friends. To be sure, it’s a destructive disease. The final scene of Kristen walking from Joe and their daughter is one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the movie. It’s a tragic movie with only a glimmer of hope at the end. 

Joe looks for Kristen

Awards and Nominations

Days of Wine and Roses was nominated for five Academy Awards at the 1963 Academy Awards. Both Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick were nominated in the Best Actor categories. Neither one won Oscars. Gregory Peck won for To Kill A Mockingbird and Ann Bancroft won for The Miracle Worker. Henry Mancini and John Mercer were the only winners from the movie winning for Best Song, Days of Wine and Roses. The song would be later be covered by Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, and Jazz legend Wes Montgomery.

Although Days of Wine and Roses was not nominated for Best Picture and it’s our job to either Kick or Keep the Best Picture nominees, we’ve made an exception this time. Days of Wine and Roses is an absolute Keeper.