Monday, July 15, 2013

#1,064. The Lost Weekend (1945)

Directed By: Billy Wilder

Starring: Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry

Tag line: "The screen dares to open the strange and savage pages of a shocking bestseller!"

Trivia: This movie marked the first time a film crew was given permission to shoot inside Bellevue Hospital

After working as a screenwriter in both Germany and the U.S., Billy Wilder stepped behind the camera for the first time in 1942 with The Major and the Minor, and in so doing launched one of the most prolific directorial careers in Hollywood history. A quick glance at Wilder’s filmography reveals some of the finest motion pictures ever made: Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd., Stalag 17, Sabrina, Witness for the Prosecution. Between 1940 and 1967, he received a whopping 20 Academy Award nominations (12 as a writer, 8 as a director), four of which he won, including Best Director for 1945's The Lost Weekend, a searing drama about alcoholics and the shattered lives they lead.

Author Don Birnam (Ray Milland) is an alcoholic. His brother, Wick (Phillip Terry), thinks its best that Don get away from New York for a while, and plans a trip with him to the countryside. But instead, Don disappears into the city and goes on a drunken binge that lasts for days, threatening to ruin his relationship with girlfriend Helen St. James (Jane Wyman), who, despite being verbally abused whenever Don hits the bottle, has stood by his side for years, waiting for the day he'll finally sober up for good.

Ray Milland is brilliant as the out-of-control Don, a character we simultaneously pity and despise. Several times throughout the movie, Don resorts to stealing to pay for his "habit", and the scenes in which he berates Helen, the person who provided emotional support when he needed it the most, are positively brutal. Winner of the Academy Award as the year’s Best Actor for his work in this film, Milland is unflinchingly honest in his portrayal, playing a man teetering on the brink of disaster whose journey into the abyss is difficult to watch.

In later years, Wilder would direct a number of comedies, such as 1966’s The Fortune Cookie, the first movie to team Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau (who played brothers-in-law) and the underrated One, Two, Three, in which James Cagney is an executive for Coca Cola in war-torn Berlin. These pictures were a sharp contrast to the dramas he turned out in the ‘40s, many of which, The Lost Weekend included, spent more time lurking in the darkness than the light.

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