One of my all-time favorite actors is Jack Lemmon, as he never failed to illuminate the screen in any role he played, whether it was in a mediocre movie or in one of cinema’s most beloved films. While he’s probably best known for his more comedic work in films like The Odd Couple and Some Like It Hot, Lemmon was also a wonderful dramatic actor, and his work in the 1962 film Days of Wine and Roses was one of the first that showed just how far his talent reached when it came to films with heavier subjects as this one does.
The film follows a young public relations executive named Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon), who feels like drinking is a necessary part of his job to please his clients, though it’s an aspect he enjoys. While at a business party, he meets a client’s secretary, Kirsten Arnesen (Lee Remick). The two start seeing each other, and eventually marry and have a daughter together. But as Joe’s workload starts to pile up, so does his drinking, and he coaxes Kirsten to join him on a regular basis. Soon, their lives spiral downwards as their dependency on alcohol consumes their lives, and they must attempt to cure their alcoholism before things get worse.
The character of Joe Clay was one of Jack Lemmon’s favorite roles of his career, though portraying him in Days of Wine and Roses was no easy task. Three and a half decades after the film’s release, Lemmon revealed on an episode of Inside the Actors Studio that he was a recovering alcoholic. During the production of Days and Wine and Roses, Lemmon was a heavy drinker, as was Blake Edwards, the film’s director. Edwards became a non-drinker following the film’s completion and went into substance-abuse recovery. And both Lemmon and Lee Remick sought help from Alcoholics Anonymous long after Days and Wine and Roses wrapped. The social acceptance of Alcoholics Anonymous also grew as a result of the film.
The film received five Oscar nominations, winning one for its memorable title song by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer. Both Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick were nominated for their performances, but they lost to Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird and Anne Bancroft for The Miracle Worker, respectively. Lemmon and Remick also received recognition from the Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards.
Jack Lemmon’s work on Days of Wine and Roses wasn’t the first time he was praised for his performance. Throughout his career, he received numerous accolades for both film and TV, including more than a dozen Golden Globes nominations (three of which resulted in wins for performances in feature films). Lemmon was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won on his very first nomination for Best Supporting Actor in the 1955 film Mister Roberts. The rest of his Oscar nominations were in the Best Actor category, including ones for his iconic performances in Some Like It Hot and The Apartment, and he won his second and last Oscar for the 1973 film Save the Tiger.
Days of Wine and Roses is an excellent film, though it’s hard to watch at times because of its bleak portrayal of the effects of alcoholism, and much of that is due to the brutally realistic performances by the film’s leads. Jack Lemmon gives an especially dynamic performance, as his role allows him to show off his charismatic humor alongside some of his best dramatic work. The film really showcases how great of an actor Lemmon was, as it exemplifies his wide-ranging talents. And his performance in Days of Wine and Roses still feels as fresh in its portrayal as it likely did back at the time of its release.
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