Billy Wilder's searing portrait of an alcoholic features an Oscar-winning performance by Ray Milland as Don Birnam, a writer whose lust for booze consumes his career, his life, and his loves. The story begins as Don and his brother Wick (Philip Terry) are packing their bags in their New York apartment, preparing for a weekend in the country. Philip, aware of his brother's drinking problem, is keeping an eye of him, making sure he doesn't sneak a drink before the departure of their train. Arriving at the apartment is Don's girlfriend, Helen St. James (Jane Wyman), who has tickets to a Carnegie Hall concert that night. Don persuades Wick and Helen to go to the concert without him, hoping to find one of his well-hidden bottles of booze. But when Wick and Helen go to the concert, Don discovers that Wick has gotten rid of the liquor. Don has no money, so he can't visit the neighborhood bar -- that is, until the cleaning lady arrives to reveal money hidden in a sugar-bowl. Don grabs the cash and hits the street, heading off to Nat's Bar. Nat (Howard Da Silva), a bartender who has seen it all, is surprised to see Don. But when Don shows he can pay for his drinks, Nat reluctantly serves him, telling Don, "One's too many and a thousand's not enough." Soon Don plunges in an alcoholic haze, his boozing landing him in a harrowing drunk tank, presided over by the cynical attendant Bim (Frank Faylen).
by Paul Brenner synopsis