Saturday, September 15, 2012

Film Review: The Lost Weekend (1945)

Still as amazing now as it was then.
Photo Courtesy of
TCM: A writer fights to overcome his addiction to liquor.

     I remember the first time I watched this film. I was at my father's, in my room, sitting in my computer chair, completely aloof to everything and anything around me. The film had just started, but the moment I saw Ray Milland's character, Don Birnam reach outside his window to grasp hold of the bottle dangling outside his apartment window on a string, I was hooked.
     Near the end of the film , my father walked in and wanted to know what I was watching. When I told him that it was The Lost Weekend with Ray Milland and Jane Wyman, he told me about this man that he used to know when he was a kid, and while he didn't hang his bottles outside of a window tied to a string, he did bury them under the bushes next to the fence. And that there were days when the yard would be up heaved and destroyed from his incessant digging as he searched for the bottles that he had forgotten where he put. His wife, my father told me, had been a very sweet and dear woman, and while the man was very kind when he was sober, he turned into someone completely different when he was drunk.
Don deciding his fate.
Photo Courtesy of
     My father's memory of this man and woman (and their children) made me sad. I've never experienced something like that before in all my life, and to hear that my father had, and that it was a connection to The Lost Weekend . . . it only left me even more despondent.
     That's when I realized that to watch The Lost Weekend, despondency and hope are the exact emotions that you need to be feeling by the end of it, and if you aren't, you seriously need to get yourself checked out.
     For me, The Lost Weekend was (is) one of those films that you really want to see, but you know what it's about, and you find the subject matter incredibly hard to watch, but you suck it up and you watch it anyways and before, during, and after a storm of emotions are lashing out inside of you and you're just left there going . . . "Oh. My. God." And you know if your life suddenly ended right there, you would be a better person for having seen the film.
Don: A man of conflicted emotions and needs.
Photo Courtesy of
     Oh, yeah. It's like that.
     As I have stated before, Ray was a vastly under-appre-ciated actor whom many thought could only play the romantic men of the slapstick comedies. Still today he is mostly seen as the romantic lead. People! Ray was so much better than that! He was Don Birnam. Ray Milland didn't exist; he just wasn't, but Don Birnam . . . Don was real; he was. His pain was real. His fears were real. His addiction was real.
Ray and Oscar: A beautiful pair.
Photo Courtesy of
     And I'm not the only one who thought that Don--I mean, Ray, was amazing. The nominees for the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1945 were Bing Crosby for The Bells of St. Mary's, Gene Kelly for Anchors Aweigh, Gregory Peck for The Keys of the Kingdom, and Cornel Wilde for A Song to Remember, and of course Ray Milland for The Lost Weekend. Now, I've seen four of the five films listed (A Song to Remember being the one I haven't seen), and while I love Bing, Gene, and Gregory, and Cornel, I have to admit that they got that year right. Ray deserved the Oscar. His performance was raw. Powerful. Real. Terrifying.
Don's pain is palatable.
Photo Courtesy of
Needing that drink . . .
Photo Courtesy of
     The Lost Week-end, despite being sixty-seven-years-old, is a film that hasn't become "dated" in any sense of the word due to its subject matter. There are some films that become dated (I hate using that word) because of its subject matter, and that's simply because of the influence on the passage of time we have come to think of and treat things differently then we did in 1945. Alcoholism was taboo back in the day, a subject that was considered "trash talk" and wasn't dare discussed at afternoon tea. And that's exactly what The Lost Weekend is addressing. We should never cover up things as being an alcoholic. We shouldn't be ashamed for being one; and we shouldn't be ashamed for seeking help.
     I would like to point out how remarkable that The Lost Weekend was even made. Look at that release date: 1945 . . . This film is a product from a time when a man could not sit on a woman's bed (even if they were confined to the holy state of matrimony) without at least one foot on the floor which makes me cock my eyebrow and give a good ole' long "Mmmmmhmmmm. Yeah, sure. That makes sense." And according to Billy Wilder, the liquor industry offered Paramount five million dollars to not release the film . . . [he suggested had they offered it to him, he would've taken it, but I doubt that because it doesn't really seem to jive with Wilder's personality] (TCM).
Cary Grant and Ray Milland
Cary and Ray.
Photo Courtesy of
     Now, once you see this film, you'll obviously see how perfect Ray was for it. I couldn't see anyone else as Don Birnam . . . surprisingly, however, Ray was not the one and only choice for the role. Jose Ferrer was offered the role (I've seen maybe one of his films, so I can't really say anything about that choice) as was . . . Cary Grant! My Cary! I read that Wilder took the script to Cary, and he thought he read/acted it brilliantly (of course he would), but that Cary didn't want to do the film because he didn't feel that anyone would accept him as a broken man, as an alcoholic--and as much I would love to see how Cary would portray Don Birnam, I'm glad Cary had the insight to know that he as Don Birnam just wouldn't be accepted. And The Lost Weekend HAD to be accepted. It was much too of an important film for it not to.
     There have been a lot of films about alcoholism produced since The Lost Weekend, but I'm going to go so far as to say that this 4/4 stars film has never been matched, the closest that comes to it though would be Jack Lemmon's Days of Wine and Roses. If you haven't seen The Lost Weekend, I highly suggest that you do--and soon. I warn you, though, it will change you. I don't know how exactly. I just know that it will. Somehow. Someway.


azw596 said...

A powerful review of what obviously is a most powerful film! A sensitive subject indeed, and I look forwrd to watching Ray's sensitive handling of it! Many thanks!

Page said...

I agree with what you've said here. The Lost Weekend is a must see even though you know it's going to leave you sad and heartbroken throughout most of it. You also mention that Milland was underrated. I couldn't agree more. I'm very fond of him and Franchot Tone, William Holden who you don't hear a lot about when lists are made about great actors.

A very thoughtful and honest review of such a great film.

silverscreenings said...

Good review! I agree that it's a movie you should see, that you're glad you saw, and that you're a bit different for having seen it.