The Lost Weekend
Sunday February, 21 2016 at 10:00 AM
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Don Birnam (Ray Milland) is a struggling writer. Every day he bangs away at his typewriter, trying to compose something he can sell to meet the rent, and to keep his creativity alive. But instead of completing pages of manuscript, Don is only adept at finishing off bottles of liquor. Burdened with a severe case of writer's block, he turns to alcohol for inspiration and emotional support. Wick (Phillip Terry), Don's brother, tries to bring his sibling back from the abyss of alcoholic despair. Even the protestations of Don's girlfriend, Helen (Jane Wyman), are not enough to stop the writer's descent into a black hole from which he may never return.
The mark of The Lost Weekend (1945) on American cinema was a lasting one, due in no small part to its controversial content and subject matter. But they say timing is everything, and when a movie that grapples with the subject of alcoholism shows up at the nation's theaters just as World War II is wrapping up, the cliche proves to be true. Americans fighting in Europe and the Pacific saw and experienced unprecedented inhumanity and violence. Thousands of returning soldiers suffered nightmares, trouble in their relationships, and difficulty in adjusting to civilian life. The premise that a talented man, such as Don Birnam, could seek comfort and confirmation for his own shaky self-confidence in the bottom of a liquor bottle was not too far-fetched for returning G.I.s. Thousands of them sought hard drink to drown out the din of combat and the loss of former comrades who did not return from the front. Many industry insiders were afraid that the relatively young director Billy Wilder (The Lost Weekend was his fourth directorial effort) and his movie would cross over the line of acceptable subject matter for movie audiences. Wilder and company did cross the line, only to prove that difficult or challenging content could be artfully and entertainingly created for a mass audience.
The liquor industry, at first hostile to the picture, decided to praise The Lost Weekend, once it became clear the picture was a unanimous critical and popular success. A House of Seagrams ad went to bat for the picture during its Oscar campaign, when it said, "Paramount has succeeded 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!, which might well have been the name of this great picture instead of The Lost Weekend."
At the Academy Awards ceremony in 1945, The Lost Weekend swept the major categories with Ray Milland winning the Best Actor award while the film also received Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. In addition, it garnered nominations for Best Score, Best Editing, and Cinematography.
Producer: Charles Brackett
Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, based on the novel by Charles R. Jackson
Cinematography: John F. Seitz
Film Editing: Doane Harrison
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, A. Earl Hedrick
Music: Miklos Rozsa
Principal Cast: Ray Milland (Don Birnam), Jane Wyman (Helen St. James), Phillip Terry (Wick Birnam), Howard Da Silva (Nat), Doris Dowling (Gloria), Frank Faylen ("Bim" Nolan), Mary Young (Mrs. Deveridge).
BW-101m. Closed Captioning.
by Scott McGee