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Greatest Written Films - The Lost Weekend

A homage to the written word in Film.

The Lost Weekend (1945)

A character study and an issue based film, The Lost Weekend was years ahead of its time upon its release in 1945. It tells the story of Don Birnam (Ray Milland), a thirty something alcoholic. It covers the period of four days, over a long weekend, which sees his relapse from a brief dry period. It seems his long suffering girlfriend and brother have made many efforts to keep him straight and hope that this latest dry spell continues. But only one person can save someone from themselves and in the case of addiction, not even they. This doesn’t pull any punches and was quite bold in its day. Such was the controversy, that the alcohol industry protested against the making of the film, but star director, Billy Wilder (The Seven Year Itch, Double Indemnity), persevered. Nothing like a bit of free publicity.

Wilder wrote the screenplay with Charles Bracket but it was based on the novel by 41 year old Charles R. Jackson that had been published the previous year. The novel was a hit, due to the authenticity and tragedy of the story. Jackson himself was an alcoholic. Despite a writing career that followed all the hoopla of The Lost Weekend, his demons never left him. He also struggled with his sexuality, hinted at in the book but not in the film. Sadly, he remained an alcoholic until his suicide in 1968.

It's hard to imagine any other actor than Ray Milland playing the lead, but initially he wasn't interested. He was a star at the time and not a fan of the booze but his wife convinced him that it would be a career defining role. She was right. He won the Oscar. (His acceptance speech consisted famously of a mere bow).

Powerfully sad, to the point of farce at times, The Lost Weekend demonstrates the tragic desolation that grips the drinker and its effect on those closest to them. Leaving Las Vegas (1995) is another strong film with very similar themes, but Wilder got there first. A wonderfully written character, great dialogue (often performed by Milland in single scenes to himself) and a true classic.

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  1. I like that you bring out these little known gems, Anthony. Too bad Leaving Las Vegas got so much hype decades later and overshadowed this one.

  2. Thanks Robyn. I'm sure this was well known at the time. I liked Leaving Las Vegas too. Made me want to drink more.


  3. Ah, a new post! I haven't seen this movie. My taste seems to be more towards current mainstream, I go more for action than the longer storytelling classics. I don't drink, so it would be difficult for me to relate to this film, other than realizing that addiction means getting into something that you can't get out of. I did enjoy reading what you wrote about it, although I like when you share snippets of your original work more, they often make me envision action movies in my head. :-P

    Btw thanks so much for your feedback about my blog. Visually/grammatically speaking you are totally correct about adding pictures and moving the sources to the end, but there are other reasons behind why I have the posts displayed the way they are right now, mostly to do with indexing of the pages. I hope you still find the time and patience to read/comment on my newer posts and write your own. Btw I know you're busy so do you ever try scheduling your posts? I write a few posts together sometimes and schedule them to publish over a range of time, it is especially helpful when you want to post episodes of something as long as it is not time-sensitive.

  4. One of my all time favorite movies. Ray Milland was awesome in it. I read the book also, but for some reason, I relate the story to the movie rather than to it.
    Good post!

  5. I also liked that movie, since it is based on the script of Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, as well as was adapted for the movie novel by Charles R. Jackson. It is about a serious, painful treatment of alcoholism.


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