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1 review, 8 user ratings

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Lost Weekend, The
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by MP Bartley

"Sobering stuff."
4 stars

I don't think we should criticise a film too much for the sins of when it was made, when its other, long-lasting qualities are self-evident. Therefore, it's OK to say that The Lost Weekend was probably a lot more shocking in 1945 than it is now, where it comes across like a particularly melodramatic PSA.

Writer Don (Ray Milland) likes to take a good drink or two. In fact, so much so that it's become a bit of a problem with him, as he keeps slumping into alcoholic fits that last for days on end. His brother (Phillip Terry) and his girlfriend (Jane Wyman) are desperate to break him out of this cycle once and for all and plan a weekend at a health farm in an effort to do so. Don however, desperate for a drink, manages to escape from them and spirals into one long weekend of despair.

The comparisons to Leaving Las Vegas are unavoidable - boozy writer drinks himself to death, but it's fair to say that Figgis' film took what was ultimately a more honest and unflinching look at the ravages of alcoholism. Wilder paints his film in more melodramatic strokes, with plenty of characters standing around wringing their hands in anguish at the state that Don has got himself into. As I say, while these are flaws that stand out (the scenes with his judgemental brother are particularly irksome) and lead to one too many scenes of Don being lectured or Don hectoring others, they are at least understandable flaws. America hadn't been that long out of the prohibition era and just feeling its way out of World War II. A little moral rectitude was probably seen as a good thing, and the battle against alcoholism a battle that most didn't know about. It still does have that cold splash of shocking reality to it - Don secreting bottles of whiskey around his apartment, the barman sick of seeing Don propping up his bar every night but not so sick of it as to stop taking his money - and it doesn't seek to apologise for Don's behaviour. He is what he is.

It is a film, though, that as it goes on, manages to wind itself up to a quite feverish climax. As it progresses, and Don leaves more and more people behind him, the film tightens in on Milland's performance and Wilder's hallucinatory direction as Don goes cold turkey and suffers through the DTs. Milland is terrific, nailing all the possible emotions that alcoholics go through - defiance, selfishness, cowardice, terror, self-pity - whilst lacing his performance with enough charm to make you at least understand, if not emphasise, with the idea that other people would care about this drunk. He doesn't simply rest on the cliche of the happy drunk, hiccuping his philosophy to anyone who'll listen, he reveals the cold, sweaty truth about the comedowns and the feeling of Death at one's shoulder.

Wilder does this, too. He brings the film to violent life when Don finally succumbs to his demons and the drunk tank is a terrifying vision of Hell on Earth. Looking like a cross between a film noir and German expressionism, the final 20 minutes of The Lost Weekend is where it earns its reputation. It may well be melodramatic with an irritating streak of worthiness, but you'll forgive it all by the end.

You'll even forgive the ending which some might see as insultingly trite. Me, I see it as a necessary evil, something that you can live with because there are bigger and better things to focus in. You suspect that Don feels the same way about the drink.

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originally posted: 09/23/11 06:20:44
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User Comments

7/13/19 Dr. Lao A movie that has aged like fine bourbon 4 stars
8/07/14 David Hollingsworth depressing, soul-bearing and too real 5 stars
9/28/11 C.M. Chan An excellent portrait of addiction. 5 stars
7/16/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess A little melodramatic at times, but very engaging and well made 4 stars
2/18/08 Pamela White great view of what a legal drug can do to a person, just think of his family 5 stars
4/19/03 R.W. Welch Shattering depiction of alcoholism. Another Wilder triumph. 5 stars
4/07/03 Jack Sommersby Superior to "Leaving Las Vegas". Milland's perf is devastating. 4 stars
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  16-Nov-1945 (NR)



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