The Lost Weekend (1945) 4.65/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 74.8
Genre: Drama
Duration: 101 mins
Director: Billy Wilder
Stars: Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry

Billy Wilder takes us on a rather perceptive journey into the soul of alcoholism with the help of Charles R. Jackson’s semi-autobiographical account of a three day rockbottom-bound bender. Ray Milland takes the lead as Don Birnham, a struggling alcoholic writer living with his moidered brother (Phillip Terry) who together with Birnham’s patient and dedicated girl (Jane Wynham) strives to keep him away from the drink by cutting off his credit and blacklisting him with the local bars and liqueur stores.

In addition to setting up the characters and relationships, the first part of the film amounts to an expose of the strategies and general cunning which a man in Birnham’s shoes has learned in order to secure and (if worse comes to worse) scrounge one last drink. There’s not much humour here but Milland’s charm is what we invest in as he plays the loveable rogue card as far as it’ll take him. Of course, that was never going to last and it’s not long before Miklos Rozsa’s strange warbling score (the type of which normally accompanies a flying saucer sighting in a b-movie) begins ringing in our protagonist’s ear, an aural manifestation of his urge for his forbidden fruit. This ushers in the darker half of the film which charts his spiral into desperate delirium and petty thievery.

As Wilder was to later do again in Sunset Blvd (only with a touch more delicacy), he spins a visual and auditory web of despair full of nightmarish images and sounds which give rich texture to Birnham’s descent. Unflinchingly and deliberately, he shows no temptation to ease off and let the audience reset their resolve. The result is an uneasy final act that one must persist through rather than savour. But it’s all very real. From the self-justifications of the articulate drunk to the arm’s length concern of onlookers when it doesn’t affect them and their crashing impatience when it does, it’s all deeply perceptive and astute. But where Wilder, Jackson, and Milland really nail it is in Birnham’s deep down fear and self-loathing. But this perceptiveness is not born of judgemental disdain. Quite the contrary. The finger pointing may be unflinching but in their interest in getting it right and calling it what it is, there lies some compassion. And it’s that genuine sentiment which allows all concerned to ultimately shift the tone towards resolution and make The Lost Weekend a peculiarly rewarding experience.

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