Wednesday 2 October 2013

The Lost Weekend [1945]

Substance abuse, in its various tragic forms, have been covered over the years in movies, but rarely did alcoholism receive the kind of attention as it did in Wilder’s harrowing and unflinching drama The Lost Weekend. Based on a novel that he chanced upon during a train journey, it focused on one rather dark and depressing weekend in the life of an alcoholic writer. A terrific medium-take takes us right into the story as the camera slowly panned from the Manhattan skyline to a non-descript building with a bottle hanging outside the window. The story’s self-destructive protagonist is Don Birnam (Ray Milland), a failed New York writer, whose insatiable craving for liquor has cost him his penchant for writing, money, and self-respect. His brother Wick (Phillip Terry), after somehow having put his urges under control through strict surveillance, is planning to take him on a vacation. But when Don somehow manages to get Wick and his doting girlfriend (Jane Wyman) leave him alone, and fortuitously stumbles upon some cash, he hops to the nearest bar and starts drinking, and thus begins a grim and distressing look into the life and mind of a man taking the short-cut to hell. The film comprised of a host of deftly executed sequences – the scene where he keeps having one drink after another while revealing his literary bent to the uninterested bartender was deeply poignant, while the later scenes where he gets forcefully admitted in a sanitarium and escapes to his home only to have bizarre alcohol-induced hallucinations, were intensely disconcerting. Milland gave the performance of his lifetime as the doomed hero and the expressionistic visuals brilliantly accentuated the tale’s bleak social message.

Director: Billy Wilder
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Social Drama
Language: English
Country: US


Sam Juliano said...

Yes the visuals are expressionistic and yes, the film is harrowing and unflinching--as powerful today as it was way back in 1945 when it was released. Milland of course delivers a towering performance, and the film remains a favorite Wilder for many.

Excellent review!

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Sam. I'd personally place this behind Sunset Blvd, Double Indemnity, Ace in the Hole & Some Like It Hot, at par with The Apartment, and above Stalag 17 & Witness for the Prosecution.