The Lost Weekend (1945)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Addiction Drama, Social Problem Film  |   Run Time - 101 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Mark Deming

Charles Bukowski, the poet and novelist well known for his alcoholic excesses, once said admiringly of The Lost Weekend, "It was Ray Milland's only bit of acting, but it was aces." While Bukowski's praise of Milland's work may have been tongue-in-cheek, it was also based in truth: Milland never gave a stronger performance than in this film, in which he captured the alcoholic personality with uncanny accuracy. Years before addiction became common currency in the movies (or in American life), Milland etched an indelible portrait of an alcoholic in denial, willing to lie to friends and family, steal from strangers, and give up his livelihood for a drink; Milland's pained and weary desperation as he searches for a pawnshop or the abject terror of his bout with DTs still ring horribly true. The Lost Weekend also manages the clever (and wholly appropriate) feat of making Milland's Don Birnam sympathetic without asking the audience to feel sorry for him or to ignore the deadly foolishness of his actions. Director Billy Wilder (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Charles M. Brackett) makes clear that Don is intelligent and not without talent; he's also weak-willed and a willing slave to the bottle, and while he knows what drink is doing to him, he's unable to stop himself until a final collapse grinds him to a halt. The Lost Weekend is also punctuated by bitter humor (Frank Faylen as the Bellevue alcoholic ward attendant is as funny as he is devoid of compassion) and a superb supporting cast, especially Howard Da Silva as Nat the bartender and Doris Dowling as the bar girl with a softer heart than we'd imagine; and Wilder seems to relish the unstated irony that the drug that's destroying Don Birnam is openly available and used readily by others all around him.