Watched: December 19 2016

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry, Howard Da Silva, Doris Dowling

Year: 1945

Runtime: 1h 37min

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The Lost Weekend is a classic tale of an alcoholic writer who is struggling to create his masterpiece while keeping the severity of his habit from his girl and his brother.

Don Birnam (Milland) is packing for a weekend away with his brother Wick (Terry) and is desperately trying to find an opportunity to smuggle some whiskey into his luggage, as his brother is not exactly impressed by his alcohol consumption.

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His bartender isn’t particularly impressed either

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After failing to bring with him his hidden whiskey, Birnam decides to stay in the city and get drunk rather than join his brother for a sober weekend in the country. Like a true addict, he’ll do anything to get a fix, and while he’s funny in his quest for a drink, it is also incredibly sad to watch a talented and generally good man go down this road of self destruction.

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It’s almost as if someone is trying to say that his life is ruled by drink

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The four day weekend (such luxury!) includes, but is not limited to, him hurting his long suffering girlfriend Helen (Wyman), flirting with (and also hurting) fellow barfly Gloria (Dowling, who’s incredibly hip with the lingo!), trying to pawn his precious type writer, ending up in the alcoholic ward of a hospital, ditching church to rob a liquor store instead (it’s a choice), and finally succumbing to delirium and depression.

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Like Mina, he is also attacked by bats, but that’s a whole other story

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The Lost Weekend is based on a (fairly autobiographical) novel by Charles Jackson, which we have not read, but definitely should. It is a powerful and realistic story which does not shy too far away from the horrifying truth of substance abuse. When younger, we may have seen the character of the young alcoholic writer as romantic, but we are far older and wiser than we once were (but not, you know, too old. Just charmingly so. And very wise.) and we now see the tragedy of it all. In the end, the talented but dried-up (in some sense of the phrase, at least) artist is saved by love and purpose, although how long it will last we will never know. Unless we dig into the life of Charles Jackson, we suppose.

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In a way he is also, somewhat ironically, saved by his bartender.

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Milland won a well-deserved Oscar for his portrayal of Birnam, and the film was also awarded Best Picture, Best Director and Best Writing in 1946. If that’s not enough incentive for you to watch this classic, there’s really nothing more we can say.

What we learned: alcohol may help creativity but it will stop you actually realising your ideas.

Next time: The Thin Man (1934) – new addition to the list

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3 thoughts on “#71 The Lost Weekend

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