THE LOST WEEKEND. (1945) DIRECTED BY BILLY WILDER. BASED ON THE BOOK OF THE SAME NAME BY CHARLES R. JACKSON. STARRING RAY MILLAND, JANE WYMAN, PHILIP TERRY, HOWARD DA SILVA, DORIS DOWLING, MARY YOUNG AND FRANK FAYLEN.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
That a film of this calibre was made as early in cinematic history as 1945 is a fact that constantly staggers me. This is a powerhouse of a screenplay, but don’t just take my word for it. Ask the Academy, the Academy that bestowed upon it the Award for Best Screenplay in the year of its release.
The writing translates itself easily into a fantastically tight film about the grim subject of alcoholism that I’ve watched several times now without once getting bored. Let’s take a look at the film and see if I can’t infect you guys with a little of the enthusiasm I feel for it myself. Don’t worry, it’s a nice infection, not the kind that leaves you with rheumy eyes and a shiny red hooter to rival Rudolph’s…!
Ray Milland, an actor who’s also co-starred with the divine Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER and the screen adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s THE PREMATURE BURIAL, is utterly superb as the alcoholic would-be writer, Don Birnam.
I say ‘would-be writer’ instead of actual ‘writer’ because he hasn’t written a word since University, when his Hemingway-esque short stories were the pride of the college rag.
Now, some twenty-odd years later, he’s a full-blown alkie, unemployed (and unemployable?), living on his brother Wick’s charity and wallowing in self-pity, self-loathing and self-disgust every day until the pubs open. Then you’ve lost him. Till he’s chucked out at closing-time, that is…
Even his barman and confidante Nat, of Nat’s Bar, knows that Don Birnam’s an alkie. Nat’s not without human feelings, though, and he can’t help his revulsion when Don bails out of a cleansing weekend away in the country with his brother Wick on account of the booze. As in, Don is hoping to get in some serious boozing while the cat’s away.
Desperate for a drink, Don’ll do anything to get one. He’ll beg, borrow, steal, wheedle and cajole until he’s got one. But you can’t stop at just one, of course. Or ‘natch,’ as Gloria would say. You’ve got to have another one, and another one, and so on until you eventually wake up on your own couch without any memory of how you got there. Given all the things that could have happened to Don, he’s lucky it was only the couch…!
Don isn’t so lucky the time over this particular ‘lost weekend’ that he wakes up in the alkie ward of a hospital. You’ll be back, matey, the rather smug orderly tells him. It’s got you in its grip and it won’t quit. I’m paraphrasing here but you get the gist.
Don breaks out of this terrible place, convinced he’ll never get the DTs as the orderly Bim has foretold for him. Another guy in the drunk-tank of the hospital had those. Surely nothing like that can ever happen to him, he’s not a lowlife scumbag loser like those lads at the hospital. But the dreaded DTs follow Don home. After meeting them in person, Don begins to feel like there’s only one way out for a washed-up failure like him…
A word about the ladies in the film. Helen St. James, Don’s girlfriend, is passionately played by Jane Wyman, who later went on to portray the fearsome, ball-breaking business tycoon Angela Channing in glamorous television soap opera FALCON CREST.
Helen adores Don, despite his affliction or maybe even because of it. Maybe she’s the kind of dame who finds herself a mess of a guy and tries fervently to fix him. She devotes herself to Don, probably to the detriment of her own work at TIME magazine. She worries about him incessantly and vows to stay with him regardless of his alcoholism, but she’s deluded. Don is the only one who can fix Don, but Don isn’t ready to man up yet and just quit.
What Don does to Gloria, the feisty but lonely prostitute who frequents and meets clients at Nat’s Bar, Don’s favourite spot, is not nice. Even Nat thinks it’s despicable for Don to make the needy girl think he’s going to take her out on a date when all he’ll ever want from her is a few bucks to buy his next fix of booze. Taking Gloria for a fool is not Don Birnam’s finest hour.
I sympathise with Don up to a point. Not the alcoholic bit, I hasten to add! But I was the bright shining star of the school and college magazines also, who then got all caught up in the business of ruining relationships and having kids and who subsequently never wrote another word for nearly twenty years. I allowed myself to be distracted by the nuts-and-bolts of life instead of just sitting down and damn well writing about it.
Every time I had a spare minute, which luckily wasn’t very often, I hated myself with a passion for not writing. Now I write every day, thank God. But this is why I totally feel Don’s pain. No-one self-loathes like a writer who’s not writing. Trust me, I know. Do make sure you watch this magnificent tour de force of a movie. Your life will be the richer for it.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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