Guest Post: The Lost Weekend 1945

That’s a problem isn’t it? That nice young man who drinks and the high-class lady. And how did she ever get mixed up with him? Or why does he drink? Or why doesn’t he stop?

A novel by Charles R. Jackson turned into a darned brilliant film and winner of four Oscars [Best Actor, Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay] and nominated for three more [Best B&W Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Dramatic Score] – that’s what The Lost Weekend is. And brilliant is no understatement, because, in case you didn’t know, there are few reasons that a movie gets nominated for 7 Oscars and wins 4, brilliance in all areas being one of the few.

It’s a touchy subject, this, as Ray Milland put it, “a problem that people treated with uneasy laughter and usually pushed under the rug, alcoholism.” But it seems to me Billy Wilder and the rest did rather well treating how it ought to be treated. Bluntly. Whereas it seems there is a lot of entertainment that treats it like a big joke.

The plot of the movie follows Don Birnam (Ray Milland) an alcoholic, want-to-be author during one weekend, the title’s Lost Weekend. Mostly looking at his craving for the substance that is killing him morally, mentally, and physically – and the extents he’ll go to get his hands on it. He being one of the ones for whom “one [drink] is too many, but one hundred is not enough”, stuck in his addiction not because he wants to be, but because he just is. Then there’s his faithful girlfriend, Helen St. James (Jane Wyman) who wants him drunk rather than dead, but preferably standing on his own two feet again. So, we have Don “the nice young man who drinks” and Helen “the high-class lady” and while Don’s stealing and lying and going through his first DTs, Helen’s looking for him and crying for him – until she convinces him that miracles can happen.

Ray Milland [whom I will never stop calling the most underrated actor ever] put one of  the most brilliant performances ever into this movie. One that deserved it’s Oscar win so much that it’s hard for me to think they ever considered giving the Oscar to someone else. He portrays oh-so-brilliantly, oh-so-believably the patheticness and the desperation of someone like Don Birnam – there’s one line that, if you watch the movie and hear Ray say it, will exemplify this greatness I’m talking about. The line comes after a day of longing for a drink but not being able to get one, and Don walks into his usual bar and begs “Let me have one, Nat, I’m dying. Just one… Give me one. I’ll pay you when I can, only please don’t let me die here.” Milland really gives all and plays it so sincerely that sometimes I start feeling bad for poor, alcoholic Ray Milland – then I remember that in real-life Ray was the kind of person for whom two drinks a month was overdoing, which just makes his performance seem all the better, because it was pure talent.

Jane Wyman is an [absolutely gorgeous] actress whom I’m not altogether too familiar with. Only one or two movies I’ve seen of hers. Although, She’s a fantastic actress, really, and would win her own Oscar later on in 1948. The heartfelt performance she gives leaves me wondering whom I ought to feel sorrier for the nice young man who drinks or the girl who loves him?
The rest of the cast is more than competent – darned fantastic is more like it – my favorite “other” characters being Gloria a girl who hangs around the bar where Don soaks up most of his alcohol. Doris Dowling, who plays Gloria is gorgeous too and is such a good actress. I feel so sorry for her character, because she seems to be slightly head-over-heels about Don, but he’s a jerk to her more or less.
My other favorite “other” is Nat the bartender at Nat’s Bar played by Howard de Silva.

Movies like this, no matter how well-known or highly-regarded they are, can never be appreciated enough, as far as I’m concerned. It really is an amazing movie [on so many levels]. It’s absorbing and exciting, only exciting isn’t the right word, I thinkenthralling is a better word. It’s a favorite movie of mine, to be honest. And I love the end when Don says:

     My mind was hanging outside the window, it was suspended just about 18 inches below. And out there in that great, big concrete jungle I wonder how many others there are like me. Poor, bedeviled guys on fire with thirst – such colorful figures to the rest of the world as they stagger blindly towards another binge, another bender, another spree.

Guest Post by:
Natalie from
In the Mood.


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