The film depicts the insidious nature of addiction in modern life, following the downward spiral of two average Americans who succumb to alcoholism and attempt to deal with their problem.
Joe introduces Kirsten to social drinking and its pleasures. Reluctant at first, and after her first few Brandy Alexanders, she admits that having a drink "made me feel good."
At one point Joe walks by a bar and sees his reflection in the window he goes home and says to his wife:
Later, when Joe is demoted due to poor performance brought on by too much drink, he is sent out of town on business. Kirsten finds the best way to pass the time is to drink, and drink a lot. While drunk one afternoon she sets fire to their apartment and almost kills herself and their child.
When Joe finally gets sober for a while, with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous and their meetings, he tries to convince his wife to go dry. Joe explains to Kirsten:
The film pulls no punches and by the end of the film it offers hope to viewers wishing to recover from the ravages of "King Alcohol" via the self-help group Alcoholics Anonymous.
Miller's teleplay for Playhouse 90, also titled Days of Wine and Roses, had received favorable critical attention and was nominated for an Emmy in the category "Best Writing of a Single Dramatic Program - One Hour or Longer." Manulis, a Playhouse 90 producer, decided the material was ideal for a groundbreaking movie. Some critics observed that the movie lacked the impact of the original television production. In an article written for DVD Journal, critic D.K. Holm noted numerous changes that altered the original considerably when the material was filmed. He cites as an example the hiring of Jack Lemmon. With his participation "little remained of the founding teleplay, except for actor Charles Bickford reprising his role.
Edwards became a non-drinker a year after completing the film and went into substance recovery. He said that he and Jack Lemmon were heavy drinkers while making the film. Edwards used the theme of alcohol abuse often in his films, including: 10 (1979), Blind Date (1987), and Skin Deep (1989). Both Lemmon and Remick sought help from Alcoholics Anonymous long after they had completed the film. Lemmon revealed to James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio his past drinking problems and his recovery. The film had a lasting effect in helping alcoholics deal with their problem. Today Days of Wine and Roses is required viewing in many alcoholic and drug rehabilitation clinics across America.
The picture was released in the United States on a wide basis on December 26, 1962. The box office receipts for the film were good given the numbers reported are in 1962 dollars. Total sales were $8,123,077.
The staff at Variety magazine liked the film, especially the acting, writing, "Miller's grueling drama illustrates how the unquenchable lure of alcohol can supersede even love, and how marital communication cannot exist in a house divided by one-sided boozing...Lemmon gives a dynamic and chilling performance. Scenes of his collapse, particularly in the violent ward, are brutally realistic and terrifying. Remick, too, is effective, and there is solid featured work from Charles Bickford and Jack Klugman and a number of fine supporting performances.
In a review of the DVD critic Gary W. Tooze lauded Edward's direction and the acting, writing, "Blake Edwards's powerful adaptation of J.P. Miller's Playhouse 90 story, starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick in career performances, remains a variation in his body of work largely devoted to comedy...Lemmon is at his best and ditto for Remick in this harrowing tale of people consumed by their mutual addiction. This turns to an honest and heartbreaking portrayal of alcoholism as deftly done as any film I can remember.
Margaret Parsons, film curator at the National Gallery of Art, said, "[The film] remains one of the most gut-wrenching dramas of alcohol-related ruin and recovery ever captured on film...and it's also one of the pioneering films of the genre.
The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 100% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 7 reviews.
Academy Awards Nominations (1963)