Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Best Actor 1962: Jack Lemmon in Days of Wine and Roses

Jack Lemmon received his fourth Oscar nomination for portraying Joe Clay in Days of Wine and Roses.
Days of Wine and Roses is an effective drama about alcoholics. I thought it was particularly effective because it did not start with the character basically dying from alcohol but it showed what lead to it very well.

Jack Lemmon received his first dramatic Oscar nomination after a three Oscar nominations for comedic performances. This certainly was his chance to shine in a dramatic sense. He begins in the film, with his character as a not overly spectacular sort of man who works as a public relations man for a company that requires him to do sometime degrading work like finding women for a party. Lemmon does not go for any cheap laughs with his behavior with this performance. He does not try to do any of his standard Lemmon behavior and plays Joe as a pretty standard person, that there is not anything that special about, and that is what leads to the strength later on in his performance. One thing Lemmon did brilliantly early on with his performance was his extremely subtle indications of his future alcoholism. Lemmon carefully showed him hold onto his drink a little tighter, and a little harder perhaps than a common social drinker. This was something small but somethign brilliant Lemmon did.

Joe soon finds love in the secretary Kristen (Lee Remick) of one of the people he works for. Their relationship works because both Lemmon and Remick really try for a pretty realistic romance. They conflict at first, but only briefly. They never seem to be going for an over the top Hollywood romance, and play it as just two people who have fallen in love which works far more effective. The two eventual find something which they have a lot of fun together that is of course Alcohol. The way Lemmon introduces her to it, is brilliantly played by Lemmon as him just basically wanting her in one the fun with him. Fun is also what they do have together, and their natural fun they have while drinking is both fascinating and disturbing. It is difficult thing to show the fun they are having without over doing it or making it disingenuous but both are actors pull it off magnificently.

Now after awhile of being married and drinking the adverse effects of drinking start to show, which allows Lemmon to really triumph in his performance. The first extreme indication of how bad the effect on him comes from an outburst against his wife when he cannot find a drink. Lemmon leads to these problems particularly well showing how Joe is always very much attached to his drinking and carefully shows how it grows on him. His first outburst though really is terrifying because how real Lemmon is and how cruel Joe becomes while looking for drinking having an intense hate for everyone and everything. Joe immediately calms down after he has a drink, and becomes regretful. Lemmon shows Joe, with pure realism, and it is really chilling scene because of Lemmon great performance.

They both are no longer able to keep a job to support their drinking and their daughter so they live with Kristen's father (Charles Bickford). In the sequences at his green house they are simply fascinating, first in their scene where Joe sneaks in Alcohol. The way they drink it and enjoy, it has the right oddity to it that really is disconcerting. There seems something odd, and unnatural about what they are doing, yet it rings completely true due to the drunken joy the two bring in the role, something that is almost disturbing. Not as disturbing though as the scene where Lemmon goes to look for another one in a pot in the greenhouse during a thunder storm. His breakdown in this scene is frightening creating a nightmarish scene through his performance, that simply feels almost too real. It is a brilliant scene and a remarkable feat from Lemmon.

Similar scenes come afterward which are almost hard to watch because Lemmon seems so real. His jerky and reactions in the sanitarium, are truly great feats of acting, that show Joe's problem is not just an addiction but a disease for him. Lemmon is brilliant in these scenes but he is also brilliant in the scenes of his recovery. Lemmon shows how Joe struggles to stay sober, and in fact loses it once, and relapses. Joe though pulls through that, and becomes rather regretful of his actions, and his inability to make Kristen to recover too. Lemmon has brilliant scenes in which he really shows the experience of Joe, which he internalizes perfectly. His greatest scene though at the end though is when he confronts Kriten after she has delved deeper in alcoholism, but Joe has recovered finding a job, being sober, and living successfully while raising his daughter. This final scene they have together is truly heartbreaking scene, where Joe struggles to reject her because she won't give up her drinking even though he still loves her. Lemmon's final speech is magnificent, and a truly honest portrait of a man who cannot keep with his true love, and he knows it is partially his fault that she drinks. The scene ends with her leaving, and him calling out once but holding himself back because he knows he has to. Lemmon is fantastic with this final scene putting the full amount of truth, and heart into his performance. This scene and the rest of his performance are truly remarkable feats of acting, and Lemmon certainly shows himself here to be a brilliant dramatic actor.


dinasztie said...

Great review, worthy of Lemmon's brilliance in this movie. I hope that he's your pick. He's so heartbreaking when he looks for the alcohol and damages everything. Chilling work, my pick without a doubt. I'm rooting for him.

joe burns said...

A terrific review! I think he'll come in second or third.

Did you like Remick just as much?

Louis Morgan said...

Dinasztie: Thank you very much.

Joe: Thanks. I liked her quite a bit I would say probably not quite as much as Lemmon but still a lot.