"If it happens, it happens and I hope it does. I've had six years of this. I've had my bellyfull... Who are we fooling? We've tried everything, haven't we? We've reasoned with him. We've baited him. We've watched him like a hawk. We've tried trusting him. How often have you cried? How often have I beaten him up? Scrape him out of a gutter and pump some kind of self-respect into him and back he falls, back in every time." --Wick Birnem to Helen St. James (The Lost Weekend, 1945)I find it extremely ironic that by the time I got around to seeing this movie, I was nursing a pretty horrible hangover. If there was ever a movie designed to stop someone from drinking, this would be it. It is also a gritty and aching portrayal of a desperate alcoholic. It was strange to see a film that focused on just alcoholism, rather than the extensive drug that would be seen today. But more importantly, this film marks the first of the 1940s winners with a much darker tone.
Failed writer and alcoholic Don Birnam, played by Ray Milland, lives in New York City with his brother Wick. In an effort to get Don away from temptation, Wick plans a weekend in the country for them. Despite Don's protestations of sobriety, he is secretly planning to bring along his whiskey. But Wick finds the bottle and pours it down the drain. Desperate to find some alcohol, Don suggests Wick take Don's girlfriend, Helen St. James, played by Jane Wyman, to the symphony so Don can get some rest. When they leave, Don finds money Wick left for the maid, buys some whiskey and then goes to have a drink at Nat's Bar on 3rd Avenue. He plans to be home on time, but gets too drunk and only makes it home in time to hear Wick tell Helen that he is fed up with Don and plans to leave without him. Don hides until both Helen and Wick leave, hides one of his bottles in the chandelier and drinks the other. The next day Don wakes up and goes to drink at Nat's, where he convinces a call girl, Gloria, to ditch her business date and go on a date with him, though he doesn't intend to actually meet her later. Nat, played by Howard Da Silva, lectures Don for lying to Gloria and treating Helen so badly. Don tells Nat he plans to write a novel called The Bottle about an alcoholic meeting a girl, before flashing back to how he met Helen.
|Don's brother Wick played by Phillip Terry|
|Don and Helen|
Back at the bar, Nat tells Don his story will end in suicide. Determined to write again, Don goes home to his typewriter, but after writing only the title page, he suffers from writers' block and insists he needs another drink. He can't remember where he has hidden his whiskey, so he goes to a bar though he cannot pay for a drink and attempts to steal money from a woman's purse. After he is caught and thrown out of the bar, Don goes home and finds the hidden whiskey bottle. After drinking the bottle, he decides to pawn his typewriter for another drink. But as he wanders the streets, desperate for a drink, he discovers all the pawnshops are closed because of Yom Kippur. He goes back to Nat's, begging for a drink, shaking so badly he cannot even lift the shot glass. Nat throws him out, forcing Don to go beg Gloria for money. Although she is furious, he kisses her and she gives him money. But as Don goes to go back down the stairs, he falls, hits his head, and ends up in the alcoholic ward of Bellevue Hospital.
|Don begs Gloria for money.|
|Don is thrown out of a bar.|
|Don starts to hallucinate.|
|Don always needs another drink.|
|Just one drink.|
Billy Wilder is one of the most famous directors of the Golden Hollywood age. Wilder was born to a Jewish family in what is now considered Poland. He began his career in Berlin before Hitler rose to power and he moved to the United States. He would go on to write, direct, and produce over 60 film, including Some Like It Hot, Sabrina, The Seven Year Itch, The Apartment, and Double Indemnity. He is one of only five people to have won an Academy Award for Best Producer, Director, and Writer for the same film (The Apartment).
|Billy Wilder on set.|
|Don, Gloria, and Nat at Nat's Bar|
|Filming The Lost Weekend|
|Don and his whiskey.|
|Joan Crawford, "sick" with her Oscar|
"Best Actor" winner Ray Milland had the night of his life. Though he managed only to stammer his thanks when collecting his award, on the way home he stopped the chauffeur and got out at Sunset Boulevard, overlooking Hollywood. His agent had brought him there upon arriving in Hollywood in 1930, and told him that at the moment "it all belongs to Ramon Navarro. He is the reigning romantic star at the moment, so tonight it belongs to him." As Milland stood there with his Oscar, he exclaimed, "Mr. Novarro, tonight they belong to me!"
|Ray Milland wins an Academy Award for "Best Actor"|
There is something about this film that is completely unexpected. I keep waiting for the moralizing to start. I wanted the sun to come out, for the bright optimism of the 1930s and 40s to emerge in this film. But The Lost Weekend manages to veer away from the melodramatic and the trite. It is also alarmingly simple. It is the story of a man who is an alcoholic.
|Don's self-loathing contributes to his drinking.|
Nowadays we are trained to expect a cavalcade of medical and moral problems in an addiction movie. Requiem for a Dream, The Basketball Diaries, and Blow are just a few examples of recent popular movies concerning addiction. All of them center around drugs. Alcohol is, by modern standards, incredibly boring. So it is jarring for a modern viewer to watch this movie, see the wreck the main character has become, and realize that it is due only to a bottle of whiskey (or perhaps several). I kept catching myself thinking, "Okay, that's fine--but when is he going to prostitute himself and shoot up heroin?"
|Don's scary face.|
Much of this has to do with the times; drugs were not as prevalent or as easily accessible in the 1940s. Nor were they the stuff of major motion pictures. (See Reefer Madness) But once I got used to it, I thought the film's singular focus was strangely compelling. Milland managed to portray all the classic signs of an addict, without going too far into parody. He is conniving and manipulative to find his next drink and yet he still has moments of barely hidden self-loathing. His portrayal is frightening in its severity, and yet suprisingly subtle at times.
|Publicity photo of Don and Helen.|
|Don, ravaged by drink.|
This is a new kind of film, dark and filled with complexities. But more importantly, this is the first film since All Quiet on the Western Front that is negative without much hope of redemption. Both films are post-war, and in this case I believe that The Lost Weekend starts a trend of much more pessimistic films. It remains to be seen, but I think the style of the 1940s, such an optimistic decade before the war, is about to become much deeper, more though-provoking. And certainly much less uplifting. We'll see what's up next....