Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Lost Weekend (1945)

Don Birnam (Ray Milland) is an alcoholic. His brother and his pretty girlfriend (Jane Wyman) try to help him, but when he is left to his own devices with a ten-spot, things go bad.

What does an alcoholic look like? Well, if you are in most movies of the 30’s to the 50’s, they were funny, harmless, frequently wore top hats, hiccuped a lot, and occasionally saw pink elephants. In The Lost Weekend, as in real life, they are well-intentioned, self destructive, rationalizing, and tragic. Also, not nearly as amusing as you’ve been led to believe.

This is my first film starring Jane Wyman I’ve seen. She was Mrs. Ronald Reagan at this time, but that wouldn’t last long. Ray Milland, having done a string of light comedies, wasn’t considered by many to be star material for an A picture, but the studio insisted. Milland, doubting himself, prepared by spending a night inside Bellevue Hospital. He would earn an Oscar. I was certain I had seen him in something else, but I don’t know what. Billy Wilder wrote the screenplay as an exploration of the life of Raymond Chandler after working with him on Double Indemnity. Chandler had an interesting relationship with the spirits.

The Lost Weekend is something of a departure for Billy Wilder. Not a comedy, and while it’s billed as Film-Noir, I don’t see it. It is a fascinating exploration of a tragic personality. Don means well but his demons intervene. If alcoholism has touched your family then this story will ring true. AMRU 4.
“We're both trying, Don. You're trying not to drink, and I'm trying not to love you.”

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