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The Lost Weekend [1945 film]

by Billy Wilder (Director/Screenwriter), Charles Brackett (Screenwriter)

Other authors: Charles Jackson (Original novel), Ray Milland (Actor), Phillip Terry (Actor), Jane Wyman (Actor)

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A would-be writer's dissatisfaction with his life leads him on a three-day binge. This film gives an uncompromising look at the devastating effects of alcoholism.

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English (2)  Italian (1)  All languages (3)
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The Lost Weekend (1945)

Ray Milland – Don Birnam

Jane Wyman – Helen St. James
Philip Terry – Wick Birnam
Howard Da Silva – Nat
Doris Dowling – Gloria
Frank Faylen – ‘Bim’ Nolan
Mary Young – Mrs. Deveridge
Anita Bolster – Mrs. Foley

Screenplay by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, based on the novel (1944) by Charles R. Jackson
Directed by Billy Wilder

Black and white. 101 min.


It shrinks my liver, doesn’t it? It pickles my kidneys, yeah. But what does it do to the mind? It tosses the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar. Suddenly I’m above the ordinary. I’m competent, supremely competent! I’m walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. I’m one of the great ones. I’m Michelangelo molding the beard of Moses. I’m Van Gogh painting pure sunlight. I’m Horowitz, playing the Emperor Concerto. I’m John Barrymore before the movies got him by the throat. I’m Jesse James and his two brothers, all three of them. I’m W. Shakespeare. And out there it’s not Third Avenue any longer, it’s the Nile, Nat. The Nile and down into the barge of Cleopatra.

That’s what booze does to some people. No wonder they couldn’t resist it. How could anyone who becomes Michelangelo, Horowitz[1], Van Gogh and Shakespeare after a few glasses of rye? It’s rather a long way from Third Avenue to the Nile. But if you can shorten it with just a few shots, wouldn’t you take them?

This is a powerful movie, with a vintage Brackett-Wilder script, masterful storytelling by Billy in the catbird seat, a spooky score by Miklós Rózsa ahead of its time, and a cracking performance from Ray Milland. No question about that. And yet, it is not quite as powerful as it could have been. I can’t think of another picture about drinking, but speaking of gambling and drugs, hardly less popular addictions then as now, The Lady Gambles (1949) and The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), with terrific leading performances by Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Sinatra respectively, make me wonder why The Lost Weekend is so much better known than them. Both later movies are somewhat let down by upbeat and even melodramatic endings. But so is The Lost Weekend, which, morever, compounds the crime by finishing on a preachy note. The whole movie has single-mindedness and lack of subtlety that smack of pure propaganda. Billy Wilder generally avoided that in his movies, but this is an exception. Nobody is perfect, after all.

Nevertheless, watching Don Birnam sinking lower and lower is an enthralling spectacle. It covers rather a wide range from pinching a lady’s bag to liquor robbery to Gothic delusions about mice and bats on the wall. Special bonuses include, in addition to those mentioned in the first sentence above, evocative New York locations, whether real or painstakingly recreated in Hollywood, and very noir cinematography (although the movie is not really, as sometimes claimed, a film noir). Watch out for Nat the barman and a sweet supporting role by the cute Doris Dowling.

[1] The Horowitz reference is fascinating because that was seven years before Horowitz made his now legendary studio recording with Fritz Reiner. Horowitz is known to have played the “Emperor” but four times in his career, three of them in 1933, in New York with Toscanini, in Brussels with Monteux and in Paris with Cortot, and once in 1935 again in Paris (with Paul Paray). See the most extensive concertography of Horowitz online. After Hitler’s rise to power, Billy Wilder made his exit from Germany through Paris. It’s a long shot, but I do wonder if he heard Horowitz playing the “Emperor” there. Lucky chap if he did! ( )
  Waldstein | Jun 1, 2020 |
The desperate life of a chronic alcoholic is followed through a four-day drinking bout. (From IMDb) ( )
  DrLed | Nov 4, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wilder, BillyDirector/Screenwriterprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brackett, CharlesScreenwritermain authorall editionsconfirmed
Jackson, CharlesOriginal novelsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Milland, RayActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Terry, PhillipActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wyman, JaneActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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A would-be writer's dissatisfaction with his life leads him on a three-day binge. This film gives an uncompromising look at the devastating effects of alcoholism.

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