The Lost Weekend (1945)

Synopsis:

After supposedly giving up drinking, alcoholic writer Don Birnam (Ray Milland, The Big Clock) is preparing to spend the weekend out of town with his younger brother, Wick (Phillip Terry, Born to Kill). But Don, who has been secretly drinking, sneaks out to buy a bottle of whiskey he intends to take with him on the trip. However, Don’s plan goes array when he makes a short detour to a local bar and gets drunk.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“I shall have to drown my sorrows with a jigger of rye. Just one, that’s all.”

I wasn’t entirely surprised to discover during my latest watch of Billy Wilder’s delirium tremens opus that the film hasn’t aged well. A once daring Hollywood movie about alcoholism, today The Lost Weekend doesn’t look like much next to addiction-movies like The Panic in Needle Park (1971) or Leaving Las Vegas (1995).

Although The Lost Weekend has lost its ability to shock the audience, it’s still an engrossing drama thanks to Wilder’s superior storytelling skills and Ray Milland’s Oscar-winning performance as the alcoholic writer. It’s also a remarkably raw movie — regardless of some lukewarm efforts to suggest a happy resolution, the truth is that there is no reason to believe that the writer will ever stop drinking.

Another thing that caught me eye, and frankly, had never noticed before is that the film’s tone and style resembles a horror movie (it’s like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in a modern-day setting). John F. Seitz’s (Double Indemnity) relentlessly grim camerawork creates a great sense of despair. Miklós Rózsa (Time After Time) comes up with another eerie music score, which punctuates the brooding atmosphere. 

Furthermore, The Lost Weekend makes a valiant effort to realistically depict the impact addiction has on friends and loved ones. Having dealt with a couple of drug addicted family members, I can personally attest to the fact that the movie is right to suggest that there is a fine line between helping and enabling an addict.

If the movie has one weakness, it’s that we aren’t given a strong reason for the protagonist’s addiction. The movie is based on Charles Jackson’s 1944 autobiographical novel of the same name, and in the book the writer drinks to suppress his homosexuality. Obviously, Wilder and writing partner Charles Bracket weren’t allowed to keep the gay subtext, and, consequently, the movie isn’t as interesting as it could have been.

In any case, the whole movie hinges on Milland’s ability to convince viewers that he is a desperate addict, and he delivers the goods. In later years, Wilder was dismissive of Milland’s acting skills (the filmmaker apparently never got over the fact that his first choice, José Ferrer, Cyrano de Bergerac, was vetoed by the studio, Paramount Pictures), but I thought Milland was utterly convincing in the challenging role.

Backing Milland’s superb performance is a fabulous cast. Jane Wyman (Johnny Belinda) strikes the perfect balance between dedication and masochism as Milland’s long-suffering girlfriend. Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine’s mother, Lilian Fontaine, plays Wyman’s mom. Doris Dowling (The Blue Dahlia) is an “escort” who has a crush on Milland. Howard Da Silva (1776) is great as the cynical bartender, Nat.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Context is important when analyzing old movies, more so with a film like The Lost Weekend, which broke barriers as the first Hollywood production to deal with the subject of alcoholism in a true-to-life fashion. While it has lost its edge, Billy Wilder’s Oscar-winning production (it won four Oscars, including Best Picture) paved the way for movies like The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), etc. B&W, 101 minutes, Not Rated.

This is my contribution to The Travel Gone Wrong Blogathon, hosted by 18 Cinema Lane.

23 responses to “The Lost Weekend (1945)

      • And she is stunning in it…a powerful film, especially how you see alcohol gradually take over their life, leading to the powerful scene where they try to break into the liquor store because it’s closed and they need more to drink!

        Liked by 1 person

        • You absolutely right. She and Jack Lemmon are superb. I also liked Charles Bickford’s performance as Remkick’s dad (you can see the anguish on his face). I liked the movie because (unlike Lost Weekend) it shows the gradual deterioration — one martini at a time. I believe there is a scene where Bickford says (I’m paraphrasing here), “How did this happen? My daughter wasn’t even a drinker.” Heart-wrenching!

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Good review and thanks for joining my blogathon! While I haven’t seen ‘The Lost Weekend’, I have seen ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’. In my opinion, it’s one of those pictures that tried to say so much, but ended up saying so little. But I do commend that film for addressing a topic that wasn’t openly talked about in the time of its release. If you’re interested, here’s a link to my review of ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’:

    Take 3: The Man with the Golden Arm Review

    Liked by 1 person

      • In my years of movie viewing, I’ve discovered there are two types of films: timeless and timely. You bring up an excellent point about the filmmaker’s eagerness to lecture. This decision can cause a creative team to place the message before the story, instead of allowing the message to organically grow from the story. A good example of how the message and story can work hand-in-hand is the Hallmark Hall of Fame film, ‘Sweet Nothing in My Ear’.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The Travel Gone Wrong Blogathon is Ready to Set Sail! – 18 Cinema Lane·

  3. Ray Milland earned his Oscar in spades there, such a moving and honest depiction of a man struggling with the demons of drink. One of the first to give hope to all the addicts who wanted to change.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are right. This is a far cry from the stereotypical “happy drunk” we see in movies like The Thin Man series. Lost Weekend changed all that. However, it’s kind of strange that the “happy drunk” came back in the 1980s with movies like Arthur and My Favorite Year.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Been a long time since I’ve seen this one, but I found the DVD recently for a buck, so I’ll give it a re-visit. What I most want to look for is its label as a ‘film noir’…I always wondered how a film about alcoholism could be noir, but I guess I’ll find out. Did you notice any obvious noir aspects to the film?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s an interesting question. Is film noir a genre or a style of filmmaking? If it’s a genre, then Lost Weekend isn’t noir. But if noir is defined by its style, then the movie is clearly noir. From a visual standpoint, Lost Weekend is identical to Double Indemnity (both movies were made by the same crew). Personally, I thought the movie was closer to a horror movie than a noir thriller, but that’s just me.

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  5. What a coincidence! I just watched The Lost Weekend a week ago, because I’ve been watching and reviewing every remaining Best Picture winner. The Lost Weekend really stood out to me for its simple story and intense subject matter. Great review, though I think the movie has aged rather well in terms of alcoholism.

    Liked by 1 person

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