Ray Milland delivers his finest performance in this 1945 drama. Even over 60 years later, it remains believable, tense and hard-hitting. A must for all Jane Wyman fans, too.
This should be in everyone's list of the greatest films ever made. It profiles the slow descent of an alcoholic into an internal hell- it doesn't show the final moments of such a descent but lets us and him see where the story might end. It offers some hope but not much. Its wonderful particularly because of its insight into the psychology of its characters. The main character, Don, knows he is an alcoholic, understands it is a problem but can't get away from the thrill of it, he wants to but can't break out of it. His mornings and Sundays are consumed by guilt, the rest of the time he cadges, steals and begs money for drinks from others. His brother and girlfriend, his barman and a local whore stand by watching his descent into torture, trying to persuade him that there is something worth saving there. You can see especially in his brother and girlfriend's eyes the expression of mingled incomprehension and love that close friends feel for those going through these experiences- incomprehension that somebody like Don with so much to live for could think they have nothing and love for Don. In a strange way by the end of the film, we who begin the film understanding his point of view- the endless quest for a drink- understand theirs too and Wilder takes us to a place that no other film about addiction has ever taken me where we sympathise with the addicted victim and yet still more with those he damages by his addiction. This is a great film- if you haven't seen it watch it now.
on 21 June 2012
'The Lost Weekend' is a film by Billy Wilder, released in 1945, and covers a 4-day period in the life of Don Birnham (played by Ray Milland in a career-best performance). Birnham is an alcoholic, and the film shows how he continues to sink to new lows in ever more desperate attempts to get his hands of a bottle of alcohol. If the film were released today, its subject matter would likely draw no attention. But in 1945, alcoholism (or dipsomania as it was known medically) was considered a disease, not the social condition it is now understood to be. So 'The Lost Weekend' gave cinema audiences their first real sympathetic glimpse at the underlying condition. Much of the film is shocking, and the famous hallucination scene is both masterly directed and acted. Other characters aside from Birnham are made three-dimensional, from his long-suffering girlfriend, Helen, to Bim, the cynical, worldly-wise nurse who deals with alcoholics every day. This is rightly considered one of the finest American films on the 1940s, and it really does deserve all the praise it's received, and continues to receive.
The Blu-ray itself is another product of the Masters of Cinema series' partnership with Universal, and once again this is a fantastic release. The 1080p black-and-white image is very strong, with lots of detail visible in close ups of jackets etc., and there is a fine, though not intrusive, level of film grain noticeable throughout. Damage, apart from some noticeable dirt in the very first scene, is minimal, and overall this is a very strong transfer, with no signs of edge-enhancement or DNR. The mono DTS-HD Master Audio is also clear, and free from any hiss or noise that I could detect. The film is locked to Region B, and there are optional English subtitles on the film.
Finally, the extras are very comprehensive. Firstly, there is a 6-minute video introduction by director Alex Cox. Though I'd certainly recommend watching this after the film, Cox has an infectious enthusiasm for the film, and I love how he frames his comments with... you guessed it... empty bottles. There's also a 1946 Screen Guild Theater radio adaption of the book 'The Lost Weekend', featuring the same cast as the film, notably Ray Milliand himself. The original trailer is a typical 40's American trailer, with large words blasting across the screen, but by far the best feature here, and one worth the price of this release alone, is the three-part 1992 'Billy, How Did You Do It?' TV programme by Gisela Grischow and Volker Schlondorff, in conversation with Wilder himself. This three-hour series is full of insights by Wilder, and though much of the speaking is is German (with English subtitles), this really is an invaluable addition which anyone with an interest in Wilder really should see. Finally, there's a typically strong 36-page booklet with further information about the film and the book it was adapted from.
It's harder to imagine a better release of 'The Lost Weekend' than this, and it's also available in a Limited steelbook - though I'm not normally a fan of steelbooks I have to admit this one looks absolutely fantastic. Finally, this is a Limited edition Blu-ray as well, so I would suggest adding this to your collection as soon as possible - it's sure to become very difficult (and expensive) to get in the future.
on 12 August 2014
I've seen only the first half of the movie. The film is great, but was too painful for me to watch till the end. As one of my friends died because of alcohol addiction before he turned 35, what is depicted it this drama is just too close to that experience.
One of the very powerful scenes in this movie is when the main character, already being an addict, sits in the theatre and watches La Traviata. He consults libretto and looks very decent and seems engaged in the performance, until the actors during the famous "Libiamo Ne'lieti Calici" aria all start to drink. They do it so joyfully, cheerfully, raising and touching their champagne coupes, and the butler makes sure that their glasses stay full. Immediately the mind of the guy becomes anxious, excited, one pointed - that is, he needs a drink himself! His lips starts to tremble and he can't help rushing out of the seat in the middle of the performance to get a drink. This scene was so powerful for me because that's exactly how it really happens with such who already felt down for booze, and stimulates heavily the others who still might have a chance. It is really very sad to realise that alcohol is everywhere: at home, in the movies, in the normal groceries (in Russia at least), even in theatres! I remember as a young kid of 5 I was told that one drop of alcohol can kill a horse, yet my parents and their guests always had alcohol on all occasions, and clearly more than one drop of course. When, after my friend's passing, I realised how much hypocricy is there about alcohol and that everyone who drinks do contribute, by example and support of this "tradition", to the new crowds of addicts, I ostentatiously quit drinking all liquor completely. I hope this movie will help many more people to do the same.
The movie, the acting and the script are great, highly recommended!
Don Birnham is not a drinker, he is in fact a drunk, he is left alone for the weekend by those who love him under the proviso that he gets stuck into his writing, thus the hope is that he stays away from the booze that is killing his life and the loving foundation that his life is built on.
Billy Wilder directs this with brilliant hands, he pulls his first masterstroke by casting Ray Milland in the lead role of Don Birnham, at the time Milland was better known for light and airy roles, so for audiences of the time it was quite something to see someone so normally affable descend into a real dark shadow of their perceived persona. It was a formula that Blake Edwards would repeat some 17 years later with Days Of Wine And Roses, there, comedy great Jack Lemmon would wow the viewers with his own descent into alcoholic hell.
It's no different here in 1945, Milland (and Wilder) drag us into an airy, almost jaunty first reel, and the foundation is set here for us to firmly stand by Don as he spirals thru a series of nightmares that is acted with genuine brilliance from the leading man. The journey has us rapidly trying to hock a typewriter if only we could just find a pawnbrokers open, we will beg in touchingly heart breaking fashion for a drink from the trusted barkeep, we will find ourselves in a dry out ward where the night terrors take over, we will be terrified by the delirium as sobriety threatens to unhinge this vile addiction....
We will be part of this film for it's simply magnetic in how it draws you in, it's not just Milland's quite stunning show, Wilder the crafty sod uses deep focus to emphasise anything that will steer us to the demon drink, be it escalating water rings as each shot of Rye is consumed, or shots thru the bottles themselves, Wilder doesn't let up with knowing reminders of the core subject. The score is just terrific, Miklos Roza scores it to perfection because the music leads you into a swirling nightmare as Don's functional mind gives way to the haven of numbness, in short, the work on the film is incredible.
The back story to this now revered masterpiece is somewhat hilarious, Paramount didn't want to release the film after temperance groups protested the film championed drinking (lol). One strong arm group even offered 5 Million Dollars to have the films negative destroyed, Wilder stood by his guns and thankfully the movie watching world still has a dark and poignant classic to view with resonance in any decade. 10/10
on 2 April 2012
Anyone expecting a classic black and white film to while away a pleasant Sunday afternoon should steer well clear of this film. It is astonishing given when the film was made that the studio and censor allowed it be released. Do not expect a Hollywood gloss on the painful and harrowing subject of addiction - in this instance to alcohol. If you want that, try watching instead When a Man Loves a Woman with Meg Ryan made in 1994, which covers the same topic. The treatment here is far grittier and at times the film is difficult to watch and makes for uncomfortable viewing. This is all the more surprising given that the director is Billy Wilder, who of course directed one of the all time classic comedies Some Like It Hot. In particular the scenes when the central character (played by Ray Milland) is going through withdrawal and the scenes in the hospital where he ends up for treatment. The film is clever in showing the extremes to which an addict will go to in order to hide their addiction and try to appear "normal". The scene where he buys oranges to cover the bottles of booze in his bag is an example, or hanging a bottle out of window on a piece of string. The screen play is also true to life in showing how an alcoholic cannot have just one drink, or even a couple of drinks, but "must" drink themselves into oblivion. Yes, the film is not perfect and at times it is highly stylized. The music score is also somewhat over the top at times. But, as a cinematic depiction of addiction it is almost without match.
on 24 August 2010
Ray Milland is one of my favourite actors and he gives a marvellous performance in this film as a man tortured by the private demons within his character. He is a man of learning, sensitivity and culture who has ambition, has been a success in his home-town, but finds when he comes to the "big city" that he is obviously out of his depth; an aspect of his character which might be illustrated by the fact that never can he remember which end of his cigarette to light!
At a performance of "La Traviata" he is seized by a longing for the bottle contained in his raincoat; a sequence beautifully handled by director Billy Wilder. In the ensuing scenes we learn how he got into his present plight, and how he is helped by his brother and girl-friend. The viewer also comes to understand an alcoholic`s situation: the grip liquor has over you; how you must have a drink to "get going" and how you cannot wait for the bars to open. The film also contains an illustration of how Don Birnam - as with other alcoholics - forgets where he hid the bottles the night before and is frantic with terror until he can remember. Perhaps the most chilling parts of the movie are hospital sequence and when Don sees the mouse and the bat during a fit of the "D.T`s"
Along with this, the film also has some "Wilder" touches of humour: his dispute with a cloak-room attendant and when he (Birnam) is in the midst of "D.T.`s his landlady, hearing his screams, telephones: "Yes, he`s here; I`ve just heard him!" Despite the fact that the whole aspect of alcoholism is touched upon during one weekend,this remains a film every adult student of the cinema should see.
on 7 June 2009
If you want an movie insight in to the condition of alcoholism,then they don't come much better than this. May seem a little dated, but the message is still strong.
Other recommendations from me would be 'days of wine and roses' & 'leaving las vegas'
on 11 January 2013
The Lost Weekend is one of the most powerful films ever made, tackling a subject that was, and to a great degree still is, taboo, namely alcoholism. The lead character is clearly intelligent, urbane and witty, but is brought to his knees by the effects of his illness. The interaction with those around him, who love him, cover for him, despair for him and try to help him, is heartbreaking.
Bearing in mind this was made in 1944, the gritty realism of the descent into madness - the terrifying DTs - and the frenzied, unquenchable thirst for booze that makes a thief, liar and sadist out if a man, surely brings home the full horror of the illness.
Superbly acted, directed and restored, this is a must-buy.
on 21 April 2010
A superb portrayal of alcoholism, I would suggest anyone with a drinking problem, or who knows someone with a drinking problem, watches this, it clearly shows that alcoholism in not about self will, that there is a craving which drives people to want and have to have more despite the awful consequences.