Public relations man Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon) meets and falls in love with Kirsten Arnesen (Lee Remick), a secretary. Kirsten is a teetotaler until Joe introduces her to social drinking. Reluctant at first, after her first few Brandy Alexanders, she admits that having a drink “made me feel good.” Despite the misgivings of her father (Charles Bickford), who runs a San Mateo landscaping business, they get married and have a daughter named Debbie.
Joe slowly goes from the “two-martini lunch” to full-blown alcoholism. It affects his work and, in due time, he and Kirsten both succumb to the pleasures and pain of addiction. Joe is demoted due to poor performance brought on by too much booze. He is sent out of town on business. Kirsten finds the best way to pass the time is to drink, and drinks a lot. While drunk one afternoon, she causes a fire in their apartment and almost kills herself and their child. Joe eventually gets fired from the PR firm and goes from job to job over the next several years.
Seeking escape from their addiction, Joe and Kirsten work together in Mr. Arnesen’s business and succeed in staying sober for a while. However, the urges are too strong, and after a late-night drinking binge, Joe destroys an entire greenhouse of his father-in-law’s plants while looking for a stashed bottle of liquor.
After commitment to a sanitarium, Joe finally gets sober for a while, with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, a dedicated sponsor named Jim Hungerford (Jack Klugman) and regular AA meetings. When Joe tries to help Kirsten, he instead ends up drinking again, and goes to a liquor store that closed for the night. Joe breaks into the store and steals a bottle, resulting in another trip to the sanitarium.
Character to watch: Jack Lemmon as Joe Clay.
Journal your answers to the following questions after you watch the movie.
- How does this particular character’s journey compare with yours?
- Did the character develop certain characteristics during the movie that you have or that you would like to have? If so, what are those characteristics?
- What obstacles did this character face? What was his or her biggest challenge?
- What would you have done differently if you had been in the same position as the character?
- Is this character the type of person you would be friends with? Why or why not?