Jack Lemmon and I used to engage in friendly debates about the merits of Blake Edwards' "Days of Wine and Roses" (1962), a film of which Jack was very proud. And with reason. His first truly dramatic role on screen (not counting Robert Parrish's "Fire Down Below"), the Edwards melodrama on alcholism inched the actor closer to the kind of credibility and respectability that usually evades affable light comedians and, of course, brought him his fourth Oscar nomination, third as best actor.
Personally, I appreciated anything that earned Lemmon kudos but, for me, "Wine and Roses" always plays as a rather facile polemic, a little too obvious and lacking in any subtlety whatsoever. This is epitomized by Jack's big scene where he tears apart a greenhouse looking for the booze his character hid there. It never fails to make me squirm and cringe.
Frankly (and I hate to say this), all of Jack's "harrowing" scenes in the film are rather cartoonish. Oddly, Lee Remick, as the adoring wife his character pulls into alcoholism, is much more effective in her moments of deterioration, poignantly so. Jack's best sequence in the film, hands-down, is the one where he comes home from a company party drunk, wakes up Remick and their baby and then, mortified by his own behavior, begs for forgiveness, clutching Remick and burying his head in her stomach. This scene leads to the film's downward-spiraling second half.
The film's first half, lighter and more naturalistic, is really quite wonderful, with the playful interplay between Jack and Remick during their courtship scenes setting up both of them as sympathetic and likable characters. That's important because we're supposed to care about these two people, especially as they are enveloped by evil alcohol.
Lemmon's Joe Clay in these scenes seems like a cousin to his Bud Baxter in Billy Wilder's "The Apartment" (1960). Both are ambitious careerists and one can see Clay as an extension of Baxter as they share the same wrong-headed path. Clay is what Baxter surely will turn into.
Having just come off Richard Quine's "The Notorious Landlady," Jack is still in his nimble, boyish mode in these early sequences and Remick's natural girlishness complements him, shrewdly coaxing the innocence hidden beneath his Public Relations Man swagger to the surface.
BTW, Turner Classic Movies will telecast "Days of Wine and Roses at 10 p.m. (est) on 15 May. Check it out - and feel free to disagree.