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February 23, 2010


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Great stuff, Glenn. Loved the Lillian Hellman crack.

One correction: Meg Ryan didn't get an Oscar nomination for WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN, try as she might.

Best alcoholic performance overlooked by the Academy: Lew Ayres in HOLIDAY, perhaps? I also liked the forgotten Philip Wood in OUR TOWN.

Tom Russell

"A shudder-inducing cautionary tale, for sure. And it wouldn't have been nearly so potent with any other pairing of performers."

So you would say the Blake Edwards-Jack Lemmon-Lee Remick version is more potent than the earlier John Frankenheimer-Cliff Robertson-Piper Laurie version?

Understand, having yet to see either version myself, I don't have an opinion; I'm just asking out of curiosity.

Arthur S.

One amazing and underwritten drunk role is Tom Ewell in Tashlin's ''The Girl Can't Help It!''.


I dunno whether these fit your thematic -- they aren't really leading roles, after all -- but I would mention James Dunn's Oscar-winning turn as the alcoholic father in A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN and Arthur O'Connell's nominated performance as the slowly recovering lawyer in ANATOMY OF A MURDER.

Incidentally, Lemmon and Remick are terrific in Edwards' feature of WINE & ROSES, but the original JP Miller teleplay with Robertson & Laurie, directed by Frankenheimer, remains a must-see.

Steve C.

So... does that mean that Tilda Swinton went full retard this year? (Doesn't matter - it's a killer performance even without the Oscar recognition.)


Carrying a movie while playing a pothead has always struck me as infinitely more difficult than doing the same while portraying a lush. In real life, after all, stoners are typically passive, not at all cut out to be the protagonsit of a film. (This is of course the overarching joke of THE BIG LEBOWSKI). Jeff Bridges in LEBOWSKI and Anna Faris in SMILEY FACE are the only two performers I can think of off the top of my head who successfully pull off the trick of making enthusiasts of the funky buddha seem compelling for one-and-a-half to two hours (though I suppose one could make a case for messrs Cheech and Chong in UP IN SMOKE). Significantly, Bridges and Faris are two of the most gifted actors out there.


As jbryant points out, no Oscar nom for Meg Ryan in When a Man Love a Woman, however her performance did earn her a SAG nomination that year. On that note, I'm thirsty.

Glenn Kenny

Holy crap, I don't know how I made that Meg Ryan error. I wasn't drunk, I swear!


One of my favorite drunk performances is Catherine O'Hara in WAITING FOR GUFFMANm

"We're talking about CHINA now! Er...MIAMI, we're talking about MIAMI now!"

The Siren

Big 2nd for James Dunn; I have never seen a more tenderly understanding, but still truthful, depiction of a well-meaning drunk in my life. Also, as Flickhead pointed out at my place, Nightmare Alley has one hell of a portrait of a descent into alcoholism, as is The Shining. The mother in Night Nurse is uncomfortably real, too. In terms of the lovable--or at least amusing--drunk, what, no WC Fields? And what about James Mason in Bigger Than Life, now on DVD at last?

The Siren

My poorly constructed comment above seems to class Mason in the Ray movie as "lovable," and needless to say that is NOT my intent. Carry on.

Glenn Kenny

Oh, I don't know, Siren, I think he's kind of adorable on that staircase, being all megalomaniacal and stuff...


Nice piece- The African Queen, though- Germans yes, Nazis no, WW1 you see. Cheers.

Glenn Kenny

Oy. The anti-German bias I've worked for so many years to correct rears its ugly head again. Back to therapy...

Michael Adams

Best drunk cameo: David Carradine in Mean Streets.


In my parallel-universe Oscars, Oliver Platt won a few years ago for The Ice Harvest. Best drunk in a movie since Laughton in Hobson's Choice.

Dan Callahan

Have got to put a word in for Susan Hayward, who got her first two Oscar nominations for playing drunks; number three, she was crippled, number four, full-out drunk, number five, "I Want To Live," she likes her liquor and she's executed in the gas chamber. Nobody drank more on screen for that Oscar gold.


One of the greatest movie drunks: James Cagney losing it over Priscilla Lane towards the end of The Roaring Twenties.


No love for the family full of addicts in Lumet's Long Day's Journey Into Night? Sure they're over the top (esp. the hammy Richardson) but the nominated Hepburn is really mesmerizing, and she range of emotional terrain she covers over the course of the film is impressive. For someone with four Oscars, she never seemed to be rewarded for her actual standout work (I'd throw Suddenly, Last Summer and Summertime in there as well as this film). Robards was pretty damned great too, and Dean Stockwell holds his own against these heavyweights.

The Siren

Dan, I forgot Miss Hayward! Oh noes! She is completely terrific in I'll Cry Tomorrow. Bette Davis drank her way to a lot of nominations too; there's Joyce in Dangerous and Margo of course but there's also The Star ("C'mon Oscar, let's you and me get drunk"). There's Mary Astor's pathetic barfly in Act of Violence. Uncle Billy in It's a Wonderful Life is sort of midway between lovable and pathetic; there is, surprisingly, quite a lot of problem drinking in that movie.

Probably no one is going to plump for Rosalind Russell in Picnic, but I will nominate that for "most embarrassingly misogynistic drunk scene."

James Keepnews

Leave us not leave out Sir John Hurt, whose altered states -- I'm thinking of cannabis in Midnight Express, flask-binging for seemingly the entirety of Heaven's Gate, likely some hot outback rotgut fueling his Darwinian soliloquy in The Proposition, Priestly-fetishism in Love and Death on Long Island, &c, &c. -- all seem to carry the authority of lived experience. I think of his remarks about the late Oliver Reed (talk about, um, the aforementioned authority):

"He was a competitive drinker. He'd say, 'I can drink you under the fucking table.' And I'd say: 'I'm sure you could, Oliver. But where's the fun in that?'"

Fair question, and who'd deny watching John in anything is/was a far more fun activity than watching Ollie?


DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES...*shudder* Just reading the title of the film gives me flashbacks. I don't think I've read a review of it that didn't use the word "harrowing," and with good reason-- of all the films I've seen about drug addiction, it's the one that most got under my skin. I think your write-up of it is quite wonderful, and I love the point you make about how the movie turns their chemistry into anti-chemistry. Watching the film, I started to wonder why Blake Edwards didn't get more critical attention-- he can be erratic, but when he's on (as in this film), his mise-en-scene is incredibly powerful. Nearly as much as the performances for me, it's the downward mobility of the film's sets and costumes that convey the characters' dire straits.


Still have yet to see Golden Arm, or Lost Weekend. Better get on that.

The Siren

@Brian, I have a story about Days of Wine and Roses. I knew a man who went into alcohol rehab and they showed that movie during his stint. After he dried out, he was out one night with a friend and the movie came up. She remarked that it was a bit over-the-top. "I mean, that scene in the greenhouse was a little much, wasn't it?" she said, with a slight laugh.

He got very quiet and said, "Well, no. I thought that was pretty realistic."

Under the skin, indeed.


@Siren-- Wow. That's a really powerful anecdote, and very true, I think. Thanks for sharing that. For me, it's always that moment about halfway through, when Lemmon is away on a business trip and Remick gets so drunk that she accidentally sets the apartment on fire. The image of her, so soused that she's oblivious to her child and everything around her, and then the way Edwards conveys the incident through a phone call rather than showing it (Lemmon's stunned "My wife set our apartment on fire" so quiet that it both illuminates and underplays the melodrama), well...chilling stuff.


Wasn't Hopper nominated for Hoosiers?


@lazarus: I don't think it's Richardson being hammy so much as the character having hammed it up on stage and off for so many years that he doesn't know the difference any more and even when he's at his most sincere it still smells like ham hock.

Dueling Brit drunks: Dudley Moore and Peter O'Toole, both nominated within a year of the other, both losing.

Nice writing on Taylor in Virginia Woolf. But Burton's is really the great performance, even though he plays up to Taylor in scene after scene. It's a touching display of thespian uxoriousness but it's still his movie.

He was more or less playing himself by that point, but I liked Errol Flynn in The Sun Also Rises.


Forgive me if already mentioned, Ingrid Bergman won the Oscar for ANASTASIA and, if memory serves, that one has a key drunk scene early on. She was great with drunk scenes - see both NOTORIOUS and UNDER CAPRICORN.


No mention of SHAKES THE CLOWN? For a film that was set in a surreal parallel clowniverse, it was a dead-on depiction of a drunk.

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