Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Lost Weekend

I've briefly mentioned The Lost Weekend a couple of times in the past, but never done a full blog post on the movie. It's airing again tonight at 8:00 PM on TCM as part of their salute to Star of the Month Ray Milland.

Milland plays writer Don Birnam. At the start of the movie, his brother Wick (Phillip Terry) is about to take him for a trip to the country. But we see that Don is thinking about a bottle that he's got tied to the windowsill outside their apartment, and we know that he's not going to go. And, we know why: Don is a raging alcoholic. Philip has been trying to cover for Don for years, including letting Don live with him, but at the same time he knows that he can't really keep Don from drinking if Don doesn't want to, so Philip eventually goes off to the country alone, while Don stays behind, as does his on again, off again girlfriend Helen (Jane Wyman).

Don quickly goes downward in a spiral of drinking, drinking, and more drinking, always looking for the next drink. As I wrote back in March 2008, my drinking is limited to a glass of wine at dinner, so I don't know quite how accurate Don's journey is. But it's certainly harrowing and not (yet) clichéd. (I can't help but wonder if this is the movie that started a lot of the alcoholic clichés.) Don gets into it with his bartender Nat (Howard Da Silva), tries to find a bottle that he hid in the ceiling light fixture, and winds up in Bellevue Hospital where he's warned about the insects and pink elephants; this last is a particularly jarring sequence.

Regardless of how accurate it is, The Lost Weekend is pretty darn good stuff. The movie does bog down with a few flashback scenes involving Don and Helen at the start of their relationship, but during all of the drunk scenes, it's more than suitably uncomfortable. The question of whether we should let the Don Birnams of the world drink themselves to death if that's what they're intent on doing is one that is still relevant today, not only regarding alcohol, but other drugs as well. Terry takes one side of that question, while Wyman takes the other. Milland's performance doesn't do much to make the answer any easier, and that's a good thing. The ending of the movie is a bit too hopeful, but that's something you have to expect from addict movies. The one exception might be Less Than Zero, and that's a movie that's got a lot of problems, to put it mildly.

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