Days of Wine and Roses (1962): Alcoholics Anonymous

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I had always heard Days of Wine and Roses was shown to members of AA. It’s no small coincidence the co-founder Bill Wilson served as a technical advisor. But I never realized how integral it is to the very integrity of the plot.

Jack Lemmon had the penchant for playing lovable losers — the corporate schmucks who are a bit sleazy but have just enough charm to make them relatively endearing. In this one, he’s Joe Clay, a public relations man who nevertheless finds himself to be “a eunuch in a harem” and a glorified pimp for businessmen.

To some, he may feel reminiscent to C.C. Baxter who was an ambitious fellow with a similar conundrum. Because he has a conscience in this callous corporate jungle. Clay likewise, is a character with a decent streak. He feels uncomfortable with certain duties thrust upon them.

He gets off on the wrong foot with the bosses secretary Kirst Armeson (Lee Remick), followed up by rejected peanut brittle offerings in an attempt to make amends. Though ultimately his persistence and a certain amount of candor straighten things out between him.

Getting along is not their main problem anyway. The issue which will become most troubling is his penchant for a little merriment after hours. In other words, he likes to drink. “Booze makes you feel good,” he says. Something to let off a bit of steam like any extracurricular. In a way, it’s kind of endearing when they’re standing on the water’s edge reminiscing together, Joe’s a bit tipsy.

From these moments onward, Days of Wine and Roses is capable of contending with some of Wilder’s comedies like The Apartment and The Fortune Cookie while being superior to Edward’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, despite being less well-known. It’s hardly going out on the limb to say this offering is his best work. Because whatever his plethora of comedies might say about him, beloved as they are, Days of Wine and Roses shows a capacity for completely different material. He does it justice juggling tones.

Maybe it’s a matter of how she carries herself or her hairstyle but Lee Remick never felt more mature and self-assured than in Days of Wine and Roses. It’s as if she has aged — still beautiful and alive — but there is something more to her now.

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She lives in “The Roach Kingdom” and begins a romance with Clay, which ends with marriage on the fly. She takes him home to her daddy (Charles Bickford) and he doesn’t approve exactly but he gives them the benefit of the doubt. They seem happy.

But you don’t cease to be your old self and suddenly become someone new once marriage is decided upon. As is the case in all scenarios, you bring your baggage along with you and it can either make you a more steadfast couple or be the millstone around your neck drowning you mercilessly.

If he is a flawed husband than he is a flawed father as well. Alcohol-fueled giggle fits are endearing at first but when they turn heated and verge on the uncontrollably violent the destructiveness of alcoholism becomes overpowering

Their daughter feels like a casualty as their parenting suffers. First, Joe comes home swacked one evening and wakes the baby in a fit. Then, slowly Kirst gets pulled down with him. Her own dive toward alcohol dependence ends in a house fire of her own creation.

The effectiveness of the storytelling has to do with the alcohol not being front and center as it insidiously moves in on a man’s life. Here are a man and a woman. This is a love story. But it goes horribly awry.

What follows is a horrifying cut to Jack Lemmon in a straitjacket. Grimace-inducing. We have gone far beyond a mere mealy-mouthed drama. We have reached the point of positively no return. No film thus far, not even The Lost Weekend has managed this low before, so it seems.

Unfortunately, it’s a result of countless appreciative viewings of  Some Like it Hot and The Odd Couple that causes me to often label Jack Lemmon a comedian rather than a “real” actor. But what an oversight that is. He is absolutely phenomenal without a shadow of a doubt. Like Peter Sellers, Robin Williams, and Jim Carrey, it does seem funnymen are often capable of extraordinary dramatic performances because it’s so true there is an inherent polarity between comedy and tragedy. Yet they are so closely tied together.

Jack Klugman (another future Odd Couple veteran) appears as an AA man who acts as Joe’s anchored lifeline providing tough love with pragmatic advice. “Just one more” is a lie. And assuming that we have enough willpower to overcome it is equally pernicious. Pretty soon we’re content to live in spiraling cycles.

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Meanwhile, Kirsten balks about joining AA. She doesn’t want to degrade herself in front of a group of people. She deems herself better than that and goes on living the lie, getting by on willpower.

There comes a time in everyone’s life where the bottle is God. Joe is finally made to realize that but now his wife is so tainted. He pleads with her, “There’s just room for you and me, no threesome.” His wife proceeds to go out the door.

He looks out the window and watches her disappear into the night. Then, he looks out the window again and the street’s empty. The only thing there is a neon “Bar” sign flashing in the night. He looks at it grimly knowing that it took his wife away from him.

In a manner of speaking, they were unfaithful to one another. No, not with another person but another thing — an obsession that ripped apart their marriage with a canker that cannot be easily eradicated. Days of Wine and Roses manages to document it all with a harrowing lucidity hardly pulling a gut punch. It also conveniently forgets to tack on a happy ending.

Is it any wonder that Blake Edwards, Jack Lemmon, and Lee Remick, who had all struggled with excess alcoholism at a time, eventually all quit the habit? There is no more potent indicator. If it does its job, there will be at least several moments where your insides will squirm and you will be repulsed. For people so amiable, Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick do an astonishing job.

4.5/5 Stars

Review: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

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Every time I return to Breakfast at Tiffany’s certain things become more and more evident. Mickey Rooney’s characterization as Mr. Yunioshi is certainly an egregious blot on this film, but if you look around the nooks and crannies, it’s full of quirky sorts who can be described as weak caricatures at best. Buddy Ebsen and Patricia Neal are wonderful actors but for some reason, they feel out of place in this one. I love Martin Balsam too but he’s not quite right either.

Still, all those complaints go away when I see those opening shots. If a film is defined purely by its opening sequence, this would be one of the most sublime films of the 20th century. Because watching Audrey Hepburn walk the silent streets of New York right outside of Tiffany’s is as good as it gets. There’s a perfect cadence to the sequence. We learn so much about the character of Holly Golightly in a few short moments and New York has never been a more magical place — as hushed as it is when her solitary taxi pulls up to the curbside.

Moon River lends a beautiful melancholy to the sequence and it’s absolutely marvelous. But then the illusion is broken when Holly gets home chased by a caricature of a man and accosted by her caricature of a landlord. The yellow face is deeply unfortunate but to a lesser extent so are many of the other portrayals.

Because it’s so easy to care for Holly. Audrey Hepburn makes us care for this woman who doesn’t quite understand what it is to need other people, to love other people, and to be okay with that. She’s scatterbrained in all the best ways. By proxy, we like “Fred, Darling” (George Peppard) because he is a stand-in for the audience as we get to know her better. He’s conflicted but also mesmerized by her like we are. She’s truly something special. And all the affection that we hold for her is because she is Audrey Hepburn. We cannot help but love her — unless I’m just speaking for myself — which easily could be the case.

Still, Truman Capote’s source novel was a very different animal and it could have become a very different film altogether with Marilyn Monroe initially slotted to star. But with her sweet smile and demure image, Hepburn brought something of herself to the role. Still sweet but more extroverted and out there.

It’s easy to peg this as her best performance because it does have so much character and her wardrobe by Givenchy becomes a perfect extension of Holly Golightly. In every sequence, she’s impeccably dressed and even when she’s in her pajamas she looks ready for a night out on the town. But of course, with all of those nights on the town, she’s come to her conclusions about men. They’re all either “rats” or “super rats” only looking out for themselves.

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Holly winds up with her cat and the man who wants to love her, perhaps even the man that she deserves. Anyways he’s probably the closest thing she can achieve in the cinematic landscape at hand. However, it is unfortunate that Breakfast at Tiffany’s is not quite the film that Audrey Hepburn deserved. It rightfully so galvanized her iconic status for the ensuing generations. It’s only a shame that the film is not a greater achievement than it is, settling instead to be a generally light and diverting romcom from  Blake Edwards.

But do yourself a favor and listen to Moon River again and again on repeat. The version doesn’t matter too much whether Mancini, Andy Williams or Hepburn herself. It’s one of the most remarkably mellifluous tunes of all time and truly worthy of Audrey Hepburn’s performance in this one.

4/5 Stars

The Pink Panther (1963)

Pink_panther63I came into the Pink Panther with a bit of prior knowledge about the franchise and Henry Mancini’s legendary theme music. In all honesty, the first film I ever saw in the series was A Shot in the Dark (1964). Peter Sellers‘ Inspector Clouseau is the undisputed star of that film which came out only a year later.

That’s why this initial installment from Blake Edwards was rather surprising, to begin with. This is a David Niven vehicle with him playing a modern Don Juan of sorts who also is a world renown thief known as “The Phantom.” He and his female accomplice have their eye on the equally well-known diamond christened the Pink Panther. It now is in the possession of a beautiful young princess (Claudia Cardinale), but the people of the country believes the diamond belongs to them. Into this seemingly serious story of theft and international relations waltzes in the ever-bumbling but good-natured Inspector Clouseau.

Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven) has his eyes on Princess Dala, surveying her every movement. What he doesn’t know is that his young nephew (Robert Wagner) is up to some tricks of his own, and he flees the United States in search of his uncle. Clouseau leaves France with his lovely wife Simone (Capucine) and follows the princess to a ski resort to see if he can sniff out the culprit. They turn out to be a lot closer than he realized.

It’s during a chaotic masquerade ball when the diamond is in jeopardy, with several costumed apes having their eyes on it. The bumbling Clouseau clumsily tries to set a trap, and yet he unwittingly stumbles upon the culprits leading to a chaotic car chase. In fact, The Pink Panther has a rather odd ending with the culprits getting away and Inspector Clouseau getting the blame. Don’t be too worried, however, because Sellers brought the character back numerous other times.

Despite being initially relegated to a supporting role, there is no doubt that Sellers steals his scenes with his ad-libbing and numerous brilliant pieces of slapstick. He might be stepping on his Stradivarius in the dark or getting his hand jammed in a beer stein.  It’s all the funnier when everyone else is playing the scenes relatively straight. There were some other humorous sequences of deception as the culprits try and pull the wool over the Inspector’s eyes. It’s not all that difficult because he’s an utter buffoon. But lovable. Did I mention that?

3.5/5 Stars

The Party (1968)

7af4c-party_movieWhen you begin to watch the Party it becomes obvious that it is less of a comedy film and more of a comedy concept. Peter Sellers in all his glory is a bumbling Indian actor who is mistakenly invited to an elegant party. He is in many ways very similar to Mr. Hulot. Both are likable mess ups who are constantly getting themselves into trouble.

I am of the opinion that Seller’s comic genius alone could carry a film. However, the Party has a great multitude of weirdos and snobs that create a great comedic collaboration. Possibly the best example would be the constantly inebriated waiter. Furthermore, by the end the Party is no longer distinguishable and it culminates in a surreal world of bubbles and groovy music. This was the only collaboration of Sellers and Blake Edwards that was not Pink Panther and it honestly is not half bad! We even get a performance from a young Claudet Longet.

This is one of those films that might be lacking in plot at times but it is more fun simply to sit back and watch the fireworks begin.

3.5/5 Stars

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard, the movie follows the lavish lifestyle of the ditsy Holly Golightly. Moving into her apartment building, the down-on-his-luck writer Paul immediately grows fond of Holly’s quirky personality. Considering each other simply friends, Paul comes to one of Holly’s wild parties and they journey through New York together. However, although Paul is falling for Holly, his circumstances seem to prevent it and besides she is oblivious to his affection. Slowly they fall farther apart with Holly’s upcoming marriage to a wealthy man. In the end they do reconcile, embracing in the rain (of course). Holly has finally found a man who truly loves her and does not use her. The love story is an interesting one and Hepburn gives a lively performance. Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” is a wonderful addition to this film. I would say however that this is not my favorite film with Hepburn because it is certainly hard to top Roman Holiday.

Needless to say, this is a film that I have a difficult time  making my mind up about. I will wholeheartedly admit that I enjoy Audrey Hepburn movies ranging from Roman Holiday and Sabrina to Charade and Wait Until Dark. Of all of her performances, Holly Golightly is arguably her most iconic. Perhaps this is because she played against her usual gracefully timid image or maybe it was  the memorable wardrobe put together by Givenchy. Breakfast at Tiffany’s also has some wonderful supporting actors such as Patricia Neal, Martin Balsalm, Buddy Epsen, and an unfortunately badly cast Mickey Rooney. I think I would conclude that if Tiffany’s was just composed of its beautiful opening sequence accompanied by Moon River and the final romantic moments, I would thoroughly enjoy it. However, some of the moments in the middle I suppose are not as memorable or downright strange, making this a far from perfect film. It is, however, still an enjoyable romantic comedy that showcases Audrey Hepburn and includes the best of Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer.

4/5 Stars

A Shot in the Dark (1964)

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Starring a cast including Peter Sellers, Elke Sommers, Herbert Lom, and George Sanders, this comedy-mystery opens with several bustling individuals in a mansion, followed by a gunshot. A pretty maid who was found with the gun is assumed to be guilty, but the bumbling Inspector Clouseau thinks otherwise. He has run ins with his crazy boss, his man servant Kato, and the police, while he clumsily tires to solve the case. Everything seems to point to Maria after more murders. However, Clouseau spends time with her and it becomes evident to us that a black-gloved man is after him. In the melodramatic, chaotic final scene, Clouseau attempts to name the murderer, and the case is solved, no thanks to him. This second installment of the Pink Panther had some funny moments and the slapstick was very good.

4/5 Stars