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In New York City, aspiring writer and alcoholic Don Birnam packs for a weekend in the country with his brother Wick, secretly hoping to bring along a bottle of rye whiskey. His brother finds the bottle hanging by a rope out the window of Don's apartment, however, and pours the whiskey down the drain. Desperate, Don suggests that Wick go with Don's girl friend, Helen St. James, to the symphony, ostensibly so that he can get some rest. As soon as they leave, Don steals money Wick left for the maid, buys two bottles of whiskey and goes for a drink at Nat's Bar on 3rd Avenue. Don starts with what he calls "one little jigger of dreams," but drinks past the time he was supposed to meet Wick. When he returns home, obviously drunk, he sees Wick and Helen leave and hides while she waits outside for him. Don hides one of his bottles in the chandelier and drinks the other. The next day, he goes to Nat's at lunchtime, where Gloria, a call girl, gives up a business date to get ready for a date with Don. Nat upbraids Don for leading Gloria on and for mistreating Helen, and Don tells him he plans to write a novel called The Bottle , about an alcoholic and his girl. It all began three years ago, Don tells Nat, when Don met Helen at the Metropolitan Opera: In the opening aria of La traviata, Don sees the actors drinking, imagines a row of trenchcoats instead of the dresses of the chorus and leaves his seat to retrieve his coat, in which he has hidden a bottle of whiskey. His claim check has been switched with that of the owner of a leopard coat, and he must wait through the entire opera until the coat's owner comes to claim it. The owner is Helen, to whom he is initially rude, but then invites to see another opera, and she invites him to a cocktail party that evening. After he mistakenly drops his bottle on the pavement, he accepts her invitation but does not get drunk because he falls in love with her. When Helen's parents visit from Ohio expressly to meet her new boyfriend, he overhears Mr. St. James questioning Don's lack of a job. Too nervous to meet Helen's parents, Don cancels and gets drunk. Later, when a worried Helen arrives at Don's apartment, Wick covers for him, but Don emerges drunk and confesses that he is an alcoholic. Although he was a successful writer in college, he quit school to come to New York, and has not sold a piece since. He tells Helen that there are two Don Birnams: the writer and the nagging voice of doubt. Instead of walking out, Helen kisses him. After his story concludes, Nat gives Don the ending to his novel--suicide. Suddenly determined to write his story, Don leaves the bar and returns home, but after typing the cover page, he is riddled with self-doubt and goes to a bar, where he steals a woman's purse to pay for his liquor. He confesses to the crime and is thrown out of the bar. As he lays on his bed staring at the ceiling, Don sees the shadow of a bottle hidden in the chandelier and drinks it to the last drop. He then pulls his first page out of the typewriter and decides to pawn it. Desperately walking up and down 3rd Avenue, Don learns that it is Yom Kippur and all the pawnshops are closed. Back at Nat's, Don begs him for one drink, and is shaking so badly he cannot lift the shotglass. Nat kicks him out of the bar, and Don goes to Gloria's place to beg for money. Although she is furious that he missed their date, he kisses her, and she agrees to give him money. A little girl passes him on the stairs on the way out, and he falls, hitting his head, and lands in the alcoholic ward of a hospital, where patients are kept against their will. Despite Don's protests, Bim, the male nurse, assures him that he is an alcoholic and warns him of the delirium tremens, a "disease of the night," when he will imagine he sees little animals. In the night, one of the patients screams in terror during a fit, and while he is dragged from the ward, Don steals a doctor's coat and escapes in the hospital's bedclothes. At dawn, as a liquor store opens, Don maniacally demands that the owner give him a bottle. Helen, meanwhile, has waited the entire night on Don's apartment stairs and finally goes home when the landlady wakes her. Don goes home and drinks the bottle, and awakens with delirium tremens. He imagines a mouse emerging from a hole in the wall and being eaten by a bat. As the mouse's blood streams down the wall, Don screams, and the landlady calls Helen. In terror, Don crawls to the door to chain the lock, but Helen gets in and picks him up, then assures him that there was no mouse and no bat. Remembering Bim's prophecy about small animals, Don is determined to enact Nat's suggested ending. In the morning, Don steals Helen's leopard coat and pawns it for a gun he placed in hock after considering suicide on his thirtieth birthday. She follows and accuses him of being a "ruthless sponge," after which he goes home and writes a suicide note to Wick. Helen, still determined to save him, arrives asking for a raincoat, and he gives her the coat he was wearing the night they met. She spots the gun and grabs it, but he struggles with her and gets it back. Although he bitterly announces that Don Birnam is already dead, she reminds him that there are two Don Birnams, and that he must not sacrifice one for the other. As Helen asks for a miracle, Nat arrives at the door to restore Don's typewriter to him. Helen encourages Don to write his story as a means to a catharsis, and he resists his last glass of whiskey. Helen assures him that now that he has the ending to his novel, he can write it. Don then begins to compose the story of his weekend.