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Don Birnam, long-time alcoholic, has been "on the wagon" for ten days and seems to be over the worst; but his craving has just become more insidious. Evading a country weekend planned by his brother Wick and girlfriend Helen, he begins a four-day bender. In flashbacks we see past events, all gone wrong because of the bottle. But this bout looks like being his last...one way or the other. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Lost Weekend for 1945 was a pretty grim and realistic look at the problem of alcoholism. We've seen some pretty good films since like I'll Cry Tomorrow right up to Barfly, but The Lost Weekend still has the power to hold the audiences attention 61 years after it came out.
It was a breakthrough film for its star Ray Milland. Previously someone who had done light leading man roles, Milland plumbed some real hidden demons in the role of Don Birnam. A guy much like the characters Ray Milland played on screen, Birnam is a charming fellow and would be writer who can't leave the alcohol alone.
Billy Wilder was going to originally cast an unknown character actor in the lead role. However Paramount producer Buddy DeSylva said that in this part you wanted a likable leading man so the audiences had a rooting interest. Wilder who usually did not suffer interference from the front office with any grace, took DeSylva's advice and got Ray Milland with whom he'd worked with in The Major and the Minor.
Milland prepared for this part by spending a couple of nights in an alcoholic ward. Certainly showed in his performance. You will not forget Milland and his reaction to seeing the bat and the mouse while in delirium tremors.
Jane Wyman was Wilder's third choice after not getting Katharine Hepburn or Jean Arthur. She came over to Paramount from Warner Brothers on a loan out and got her first really good notices for a serious acting role as Milland's long suffering girl friend.
A recent biography of Billy Wilder said that The Lost Weekend was timed perfectly for an audience that swelled up with returning servicemen some of whom developed alcoholic problems after being through the horror of a World War. After being panned in previews with a little editing it opened to rave reviews on release.
It did good at the box office too and it won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor for Milland, Best Screenplay for Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett and Best Director for Wilder. After this triumph Wilder and Brackett both had their pick of good film properties.
I'm surprised that someone like Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman or Al Pacino has never tried to remake this one. Seems like just the kind of film for them.
Milland's character is a writer and a key sequence is when he attempts to pawn his typewriter for a bottle of booze. Can you imagine doing that today with a laptop computer which is not only the tool he uses, but also has a memory of all the attempts the protagonist has made to write.
Might even be more powerful today.
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