The Lost Weekend (1945)
Think back to the last film of real controversy that came out. For me it would have to be either "Blue is the Warmest Color" or "Zero Dark Thirty"...nothing else really compares with the backlash those two films (both great films, mind you) faced. Now place yourself in the 40s, when censorship was bearing down on filmmakers and studios and then observe the potent power of "The Lost Weekend" which is nothing short of a horror movie. It takes a tender subject: alcoholism, and transforms it into an Academy Award winning tour de force in which everything is inverted and Ray Milland gives a brave performance.
The movie unashamedly classifies our hero, Don Birnam (Milland) as an alcoholic within the first few seconds of the film. He stands in his bedroom, packing his suitcase under the careful eye of his brother while a bottle of liquor hangs outside his window. It's all he can think about.
His brother Wick (Phillip Terry) knows about Don's struggle with booze and he's planned a long weekend away from the city to clear Don's mind. It's a forced rehabilitation of sorts...yeah, he's pretty oblivious to the liquor hanging just outside the window. Eventually, Wick finds the bottle and Don's nonchalant acting caves in on him: he has a problem but it's his problem and he doesn't want any help from anybody.
But his girlfriend Helen St. James (Jane Wyman) is one of the biggest reasons that Don hasn't drunk himself into a stupor quite yet. Her unconditional love is almost too good to be true, which of course makes Don even more depressed since he's the one who is holding Helen back from "greater things".
Stereotypically, Don is a writer who is haunted by the ghost of his next work. Having wrestled with alcoholism for several years, he wants to write a novel called The Bottle in which he recounts the various instances that sink under the skin of an alcoholic that the average passerby might not realize.
There is this deadly gossip to "The Lost Weekend", one of the reasons that Don is so hesitant to stick his face into public and an even larger reason as to why he starts drinking as soon as he does.
After much protesting and evading, Don manages to slip away from Helen and Wick and he goes to the bar with some money that he steals from his brother. At the bar he downs shot after shot while continuously telling the bar tender that he could quit at any time, it's just the knowledge that he could have booze in case he needed it that makes him comforted. The bar tender is not so sure about Don's hypothesis and tells the man that he doubts he'll ever quit or he'll ever write his book.
There are a few side stories to "The Lost Weekend" that don't really serve but to draw out the length of the movie. At less than two hours, the movie has probably twenty minutes that could easily be shed from its running time.
Essentially, "The Lost Weekend" boils down to vignettes of Don drinking and the various unspeakable horrors that the liquor does to his mind and his friends.
By the end of the movie, we are convinced that Don has a serious problem and the solution of the movie is far too campy and preachy to really do anyone any good. But keep in mind that this was long before the time of movies that actually inspired challenging ideals about controversial issues. Even "Citizen Kane" with its "naturalistic detachment" fails to make anything so spectacularly poignant as a moral lesson.
"The Lost Weekend" tries to do this and for that, it is commendable; and it is a remarkable piece of film. Its look has barely aged even though its story might have. The glamour of the silver screen is evident in every scene, even if the source material is more than a little sappy.
You might be blindsided by the power of this piece or the sentiments it contains; but "The Lost Weekend" proves its status even on the first watch.
Posted by Micah Jones