A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder, 1945)

If such a thing as conscience could be ascribed to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, it might be said that giving The Lost Weekend and director Billy Wilder the best picture and best director Oscars was an attempt to atone for its failure to honor Wilder's Double Indemnity with those awards the previous year. (The awards went to Leo McCarey and his saccharine Going My Way.) The Lost Weekend is not quite as enduring a film as Double Indemnity: It pulls its punches with a "hopeful" ending, though it should be clear to any intelligent viewer that Ray Milland's Don Birnam is not going to be so easily cured of his alcoholism as he and his girlfriend, Helen St. James (Jane Wyman), seem to think. But the film also lands quite a few of its punches, thanks to Milland's Oscar-winning performance and the intelligent (and also Oscar-winning) adaptation of Charles R. Jackson's novel by Wilder and co-writer Charles Brackett. For its day, still under the watchful eyes of the Paramount front office and the Production Code, The Lost Weekend seems almost unnervingly frank about the ravages of alcoholism, then usually treated more as a subject for comedy than for semi-realistic drama. The Code prevented the film from ascribing Birnam's drinking to an attempt to cope with his homosexuality, but in some respects this can be seen today as a good change made for the wrong reason, since the roots of addiction to alcohol are far more complicated than any simplistic explanation such as self-loathing. The Code was also powerless to prevent Wilder and Brackett from finessing the suggestion that the friendly "bar girl" Gloria (Doris Dowling) is anything but an on-call prostitute. Increasingly, post-World War II films would treat audiences like the adults the Code administration wanted to prevent them from being. Wyman's Helen is a bit too noble in her persistent support of Birnam's behavior -- she moves from ignorance to denial to enabling to self-sacrifice far too swiftly and easily. But in general, the supporting cast -- Phillip Terry as Birnam's brother, Howard Da Silva as the bartender, Frank Faylen as the seen-it-all-too-often nurse in the drunk ward -- are excellent. The fine cinematography is by John F. Seitz. The score, which is laid on a bit too heavily, especially in the use of the theremin to suggest Birnam's aching need for a drink, is by Miklós Rózsa.

No comments: