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The Lost Weekend

The Lost Weekend(1945)

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The film ends with "Don Birnam" composing the story of his weekend aloud: "...the way I stood in there packing my suitcase, only my mind wasn't on the suitcase, and it wasn't on the weekend, nor was it on the shirts I was putting in the suitcase either. My mind was hanging outside the window. It was suspended, just about eighteen inches below. And out there in that great big concrete jungle, I wonder how many others there are like poor bedeviled guys on fire with thirst, such colorful figures to the rest of the world as they stagger blindly towards another binge, another bender, another spree...." Portions of the following songs are heard in the film: "Louise," music by Richard A. Whiting, lyrics by Leo Robin, and "It's a Hap-Hap-Happy Day," music by Sammy Timberg and Winston Sharples, lyrics by Al J. Neiburg.
       The film was partially shot on location in New York City. Information in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library notes the following specific locations: St. Agnes Church on 43rd St.; 3rd Avenue pawnshops including Kelly's Pawn Shop and Bloom's Pawn Shop; the entrance to the Bellevue Hospital psychiatric ward; the intersection of 55th and 3rd Avenues; the exterior of the Metropolitan Opera; and the interior of the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA. According to interviews with Billy Wilder and contemporary news items, the scene in which "Don Birnam" walks down 3rd Avenue was shot on a Sunday to minimize public interference. Wilder and the cameramen hid in a bakery truck, which followed Ray Milland as he walked along the street in character. Additional information in the Paramount Collection reveals the following about the production: Actor Clarence Muse was initially cast as the washroom attendant in a bar, but was replaced by Fred Toones. Paramount received permission from the Metropolitan Opera Association to restage their version of "The Drinking Song" scene from the opera La traviata. Due to copyright laws, Paramount used a selection from another opera for foreign release. These scenes were shot at the Shrine Auditorium, and were performed by the San Francisco Opera Company, directed by Armando Agnini. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Cary Grant was sought for the role of "Don Birnam" and Lee Tracy was considered for the role of "Bim." An article in Los Angeles Times noted that Jos Ferrer was also considered for the lead role.
       According to information in the MPAA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library, the PCA rejected Paramount's first script for The Lost Weekend in September 1944 because they found the story of a man who spends an entire weekend drunk unacceptable; however, by October 1944, production began with an incomplete script. Paramount continued to send portions of the script to the PCA as it was completed. In October and November 1944, letters from the PCA expressed their opposition to "the characterization of Gloria as a prostitute type....It will be absolutely essential to give her some legitimate occupation....Perhaps defining her as a buyer who entertains out of town visitors...would solve this problem."
       A letter from Allied Liquor Industries, "a public relations organization for the liquor industry," included in the MPAA/PCA files, reveals the liquor industry's fear that with the release of The Lost Weekend, "the professional prohibitionists will not have the slightest hesitancy in pointing to the leading character...as typical of anyone who sips a mild and occasional cocktail." The letter continued that the industry hoped Paramount would "use a forceful and plainly stated preamble to the film which will eliminate all our fears." A contemporary news item noted that "whisky interests protested the filming on the grounds that any depiction of a five day binge would prejudice audiences against their product. At the same time, prohibition groups protested on the grounds that it would incite drinking." After the film was released, Seagram-Distiller's Corporation published an advertisement lauding Paramount for producing a "masterpiece of suspense-filled entertainment" and for "succeed[ing] in burning into the hearts and minds of all who see this vivid screen story our own long held and oft published belief that...some men should not drink!"
       Although Wilder finished shooting the film in December 1944, it was not released until November 1945. Information in the Paramount Collection indicates that added scenes were shot on 10 April-11 April in 1945. According to modern sources, after a disastrous public preview in Santa Barbara, Paramount studio heads withheld the film from release, but reconsidered in September 1945 after favorable press screenings.
       The Lost Weekend was hailed by critics as one of the best films of the decade. Critics noted that although the novel was originally considered to be inappropriate subject matter for the screen, "The Lost Weekend is a miracle of inspired film craftsmanship" (NY Telegram) and was "the most daring film that ever came out of Hollywood" (New York Daily News) due to its unprecedented depiction of alcoholism. The film was voted Best Picture of 1945 by the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Board of Review and Redbook magazine, and won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor (Ray Milland), Best Screenplay (Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder), and Best Direction (Billy Wilder). The film was also nominated for Cinematography (John F. Seitz), Film Editing (Doane Harrison), and Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Miklos Rosza, who won for the Selznick-UA film Spellbound). In 1946, at the first Cannes Film Festival, The Lost Weekend was a joint winner of the Best Film Award (along with the British-made David Lean picture Brief Encounter) and Ray Milland was named Best Actor.