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The Lost Weekend

The Lost Weekend (1945) starring Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Howard Da Silva

Although I’m aware of the actor Ray Milland (Starflight One, X: the Man with the X-Ray Eyes), I’m young enough to say that I’d never seen a truly great performance by him. That was before I watched  The Lost Weekend.

In short,  The Lost Weekend is the tale of Don Birnam (played very well by Ray Milland), a chronic alcoholic who’s seemingly been “on the wagon” for over a week, and seems to be over the worst. But there’s nothing more clever than an alcoholic, who has booze hidden in multiple places in his apartment — the apartment that his loving brother Wick (Phillip TerryThe Monster and the Girl) pays for since Don can’t pay his own way — including a bottle suspended by a string from his apartment window.

Don used to be a writer with great promise, but fear of failure has driven him to the bottle — and despite the love that he developed for  Helen St. James (Jane WymanHow to Commit Marriage) when they met previously at the opera — and accidentally dropped a bottle of alcohol out of his overcoat. He is supposed to go away for a long weekend, but he “escapes” his loving brother, and proceeds to fall deeper into his alcoholism over this “lost weekend,” hence the title.

Don Birnam (Ray Milland): It shrinks my liver, doesn’t it, Nat? It pickles my kidneys, yeah. But what it does to the mind? It tosses the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar. Suddenly I’m above the ordinary. I’m competent. I’m walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. I’m one of the great ones. I’m Michelangelo, molding the beard of Moses. I’m Van Gogh painting pure sunlight. I’m Horowitz, playing the Emperor Concerto. I’m John Barrymore before movies got him by the throat. I’m Jesse James and his two brothers, all three of them. I’m W. Shakespeare. And out there it’s not Third Avenue any longer, it’s the Nile. Nat, it’s the Nile and down it moves the barge of Cleopatra.

The Lost Weekend (1945) starring Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Howard Da Silva

Special recognition goes to Howard Da Silva, who plays Nat the bartender at one of Don’s favorite hangouts. Nat is actually an interesting person, who sees the hurt that Don is causing the other people in Don’s life, and tries to get him to change.  And dislikes alcoholic Don, although he continues to root for him to overcome his addiction. Towards the end of the film, he literally saves Don’s life with a typewriter — you will need to see the movie for yourself to understand the context.

Nat (Howard Da Silva): One’s too many an’ a hundred’s not enough.

The portrayal of alcoholism is very true.  I imagine that it would be difficult for someone with an alcoholic loved one to watch, in fact. The acting is excellent throughout, although the “happy ending” seems artificial.  But I still rate it 4 stars out of 5.

Editorial review of  The Lost Weekend courtesy of Amazon.com

The Best Picture of 1945 has lost none of its bite or power in this uncompromising look at the devastating effects of alcoholism. Ironically, this brilliant Billy Wilder film was almost never released because of poor reaction by preview audiences unaccustomed to such stark realism from Hollywood, but the film has since gone on to be regarded as one of the all-time great dramas in movie history. Ray Milland’s haunting portrayal of a would-be writer’s dissatisfaction with his life leads him on a self-destructive three-day binge. Filled with riveting imagery, the multiple Academy Award-winner offers an unforgettable view of life on the edge.