The Lost Weekend

  • Title:  The Lost Weekend
  • Director:  Billy Wilder
  • Date:  1945
  • Studio:  Paramount Pictures
  • Genre:  Drama, Film Noir
  • Cast:  Ray Milland, Jane Wyman
  • Format:  Standard, Black & White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’m trying, I’m trying…”  — Don
“I know you’re trying, Don, we’re both trying.  You’re trying not to drink and I’m trying not to love you.”  — Helen

“Ever lie in your bed looking out the window?  A little daylight’s coming through and you start to wonder — is it getting lighter or getting darker?  Is it dawn or dusk?”  — Don

The words “film noir” usually conjure up images of PIs in fedoras walking down dark misty streets; femme fatales, and intricate plots about the darker side of  life.  But film noir also had another side, that of  films like The Lost Weekend – which is a realistic portrayal of an alcoholic on a bender.  The only other film about alcoholism that I can possibly think of is Sandra Bollock’s 28 Days — and that focused on recovery.  The Lost Weekend focuses on Don, an alcoholic, and his slide from taking one drink to a hopeless bender on a weekend.

When the film opens, Don and his brother Wick are in Don’s apt, packing for a weekend in the country.  Helen, Don’s girl arrives, and they quietly discuss how much Don needs the time away from everything, “after everything he’s been through”.  What Don has been through isn’t specified — the characters know but the audience doesn’t.  Don jumps through some hoops to get Wick and Helen out of his apartment. He’s hidden a bottle of  booze, and wants to sneak a drink.  But Wick finds the bottle and dumps it in the sink.

His brother and his girl leave, and Don is left alone.  The land lady arrives, saying that Wick should have left the rent for her ($10.00 !!!!!).  Don tells her he didn’t, then takes the money and goes out and buys two bottles of rye.  He then goes to his neighborhood bar, and starts drinking with the change.  He asks the bartender to tell him when it’s a quarter to six, so he can meet his brother for the train to the country. Needless to say, he misses the train.

Don continues to drink his way through the weekend, alternating between his apartment, Nat’s Bar (his neighborhood bar) and other establishments.  We discover that Don has always wanted to be a writer, and he even published an article when he was still in college, before dropping out.  He met Helen at the opera when their coats were mixed up by the coat check clerk.  Don has an issue with his self-confidence, his fears prevent him from even trying to be a writer.

As his weekend gets more and more hazy, and he becomes more and more desperate, Don decides to pawn his typewriter to get more money for booze — but all the pawnshops are closed because it’s Yom Kipper, and the non-Jewish pawnshops are closed out of courtesy.  Don goes to see Gloria, a woman who frequents Nat’s Bar and asks her for money.  She tries to throw him out, but at the last minute takes pity on him and gives him some money.  But as he’s leaving, he trips over an eight-year old coming up the stairs and falls.  He’s taken to the hospital, unconscious, and wakes up in the alcoholic wing.  After a harrowing experience, he goes home, exhausted and spent. (but he also steals a quart of rye on his way home).

By this time, his girl, Helen has gotten quite worried about him — she’d left a note for him on his door, tried Nat’s bar, and he even finds her in front of his apartment door asleep.  She tries to discourage him, but won’t leave.  Eventually, he takes Helen’s leopard coat, the one she was wearing when they met.  She thinks he’s going to pawn it for money, and blows up at him.  But then she finds out he took the coat to swap it for a gun.

Helen rushes to his apartment.  She tries to talk to him. Don keeps trying to throw her out of  the apartment, telling her goodbye.  Then there’s a knock on the door, it’s Nat, returning Don’s typewriter, which was left at Gloria’s.  Don finally calms down.  Helen tells him he needs to finish his novel, “The Bottle”, and the movie ends on an artificially happy note.

Overall, The Lost Weekend is a dark and depressing film.  But  the ending feels very tacked on, and very artificial.  I somehow think the censorship boards forced the “happy” ending.  Anyway, Billy Wilder’s direction is marvelous, and the story moves along at a good clip.  The dialog feels more real than other films of the period as well.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Lord of  the Rings:  The Fellowship of the Ring (2 disc Theatrical ed.)
Note on Lord of  the Rings — I have the 2 disc and the 4 disc versions of  all three films.  I will watch the two discs first of all three films in order, then the four discs of all three films.