The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder, 1945)
The film recounts the life of an alcoholic New York writer, Don Birnam (Ray Milland), over the last half of a six-year period, and in particular on a weekend alcoholic binge.
Preparing for a weekend away, Don and his brother Wick (Philip Terry), Don can’t get his head out of drinking even missing the vacation to try to continue drinking secretly. He even hides it from his loving girlfriend Helen (Jane Wyman). But Don must get to the end of the barrel before he can pass to other things and we will follow his descent into alcoholism. The Lost Weekend is one of the best films picturing the addiction of alcoholism and how it can destroy a man’s life and his pride. It is not surprising that Ray Milland won the Oscar for best leading performance. His drunk Don is not funny but sad and pathetic. It is a very difficult part to play for an actor when it can easily be overplayed. It is more often to have comedy with drunk characters than the sensibility that Milland shows. He captures exactly Don’s alcoholism and his distress.
After having worked with Raymond Chandler on Double Indemnity, Billy Wilder wanted to understand Chandler who was a recurring alcoholic before working with Wilder and fell again for the bottle due to the stress of working with Wilder. It might be the best film about addiction and this problem that touches millions of people. It sensibilities to the difference of enjoying a bit of alcohol and having a problem like Don. Alcoholism can destroy everything a man has like his family, his ambitions, and like Don his talent. He has ideas when drunk but when he is sober he completely forgets them.
Having not suffered from an addiction myself I could easily understand Don’s trouble. I bet the film would have a greater impact on someone who had to face alcoholism in his/her life. However, around us there are many people suffering at different degrees from this problem. One of my closest friends has lost his father to alcoholism a couple of years ago and I’m sure that this movie would have meant a lot to my friend if he would have watched this with me. Put into Wilder’s filmography, The Lost Weekend is pretty serious and despite the fact that I love his comedies, this drama reminds us how great he was as a storyteller handing heavier subject with the right tone. Definitely a very good movie with a great performance from its leading man Ray Milland.