The Lost Weekend (1945)

The Lost Weekendlost weekend french poster
Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett from the novel by Charles R. Jackson
Paramount Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
188 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Don Birnam: Most men lead lives of quiet desperation. I can’t take quiet desperation!

If this film did not have all the portentous theremin music, it might be perfect.

Don Birman (Ray Milland) has it all going for him.  He is young, handsome and witty, with a gift for writing and monied family.  He is also in the late stages of alcoholism.

On this particular weekend, Don has been sober for 10 days.  His faithful brother Wick has planned a long weekend at the family country house.  Beautiful, intelligent girlfriend Helen (Jane Wyman) must work and stay behind.  But a bottle of rye Don has hidden dangling outside the window keeps calling his name.  Witt once again spots Don’s excuses for lies and takes off it a huff by himself.  After drinking down the bottle, Don learns of $10 Witt left in the sugar bowl for the housecleaner, steals it, and goes on a four-day bender.

lost weekend typewriter

During Don’s lost weekend, he gets caught stealing from a woman’s purse at a club, cozies up to a girl he doesn’t love for money, pathetically attempts to hock his typewriter, and falls down some stairs, winding up in the alkie ward, all in worship of his God alcohol.  Wilder masterfully shows the obsessive devotion of the addict to his drug of choice to the exclusion of his own dignity or love for other people.  Finally, Don has had enough and is about to opt for the easy way out.  Fortunately, Helen stubbornly refuses to give up on him.  With Howard Da Silva as Don’s favorite bartender and Frank Faylen as a sarcastic truth-telling orderly.

The Lost Weekend (Left-Right) Ray Milland and Jane Wyman © Universal Studios

I don’t know why but the Oscar-nominated score really got on my nerves this time.  The theremin music gives the proceedings a campy flavor reminiscent of horror or science fiction movies.  It is also ramped up to maximum volume and drama every time Don is going to make one of his frequent slips.  I hate being manipulated by screen music.

In general, though, this is an excellent film.  Wilder certainly captured the selfishness, self-loathing, and despair of the addict perfectly.  And who was to know that the urbane, light-hearted Milland had such depths in him?  It deserved the Oscars it got and should certainly be seen.

The Lost Weekend won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Writing, Screenplay.  It was nominated for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (John F. Seitz); Best Film Editing; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Miklós Rósca)


10 thoughts on “The Lost Weekend (1945)

  1. Uff, I have a problem with addiction movies. I always feel horrible watching them and cannot figure out if I loathe or sympathisize with the afflicted. Certainly this is a very well made film and it deserves the accolades it won, but I had a terrible time watching it.

    • I actually feel the same. One of the most painful movies for me to watch of all time was Requiem for a Dream. So much so that I felt like the filmmakers wanted the audience to wallow in the characters’ misery and I ended up really disliking it.

  2. I decided to revisit THE LOST WEEKEND. The score is probably the most dated aspect of an otherwise successfully drama, especially shocking at the time of its release. Every time the theremin kicks in, all I could think of was THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Some shots in the film are unforgettable and I vividly remembered them from my youth. I recall that after I first saw the film as a teenager, I read Charles R. Jackson’s book. It was all shocking and new. Sadly, Jackson’s life did not have an optimistic ending.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *