1. I think this may be my new favorite post from this blog. You offer an extremely compelling look at the subterranean themes and motifs of a classic which I’ve actually yet to see. But based on your descriptions, and the quotes you selected, I’m now itching to see it, much as Ray Milland apparently itches for that one more drink…

  2. To be perfectly honest I always considered this film (despite it’s awards and wide-acclaim) as a minor Wilder, a film that badly-dated (it was admittedly the first film to take on alcoholism) and showcased a character that was extremely unpleasant from the very beginning of the film. I found it hard to warm up to him, but I’ll still admit that (as Tony notes here) that this is well-made picture technically, and it has solid acting all-around and impressive location shooting on NYC streets. In a very week year in Hollywood, as the war ended, this film somehow edged ahead of Hitchcock’s SPELLBOUND, and Cutiz’ MILDRED PIERCE (as well as the GOING MY WAY “sequel”) to capture the Best picture Oscar and some critics’ prizes. I do remember that Pauline Kael dismissed it by saying it “lacked fluidity” and that the slowly paced scenes were “overcalclated” and “lacked imagination.”

    But there’s no denying that several contributions still make the viewing of the film irresistible, including the central performance by Ray Milland, which tony rightly celebrates. I guess we could say that Milland’s acting is so effective that we loathe the character he play so intensely.

    Here’s what Tony says about that central performance with acute observation: “Milland’s performance is masterful and he carries the picture. Cast against type, his tranformation from a clean-shaven everyman to a dishevelled drunk hallucinating in a darkened room, where his eyes betray the depth of his obsessed decline, is fully dramatic in it’s intensity.”

    That’s quite a description there, and it does prove at least on that count that there is no dating when it comes to that kind of brilliance, much in the same way that Charles Laughton’s great performance transcended the time trappings of his THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII. Similarly, I don’t think another viewing of THE LOST WEEKEND would diminish Jane Wyman’s effective subservience, nor the supporting turns of Howard da Silva or Doris Dowling.

    I caught the excitement in this piece about the noir style being evident in the hospital scene, and much appreciated that ‘sexual frankness’ discourse in describing its underpinnings.

    I must say that I couldn’t agree with Mr. D’Ambra any more than I do about the great composer Miklos Rosza, who rarely contributed a weak score. Mr. D’Ambra notes the “sinister motif for Don’s affliction” and in a larger sense a “persistant and dramatic score.” He’s right. It’s not Rosza’s best work (BEN-HUR and SPELLBOUND represent his top-level among others), but it renders THE LOST WEEKEND the right accompaniment.

    I will come down again on Tony’s side as to the ending. Brackett and Wilder were wise to avoid contrivances or a maudlin conclusion to what was a most serious film at the time of its release. Now, with all the attention to social issues and addictions, this ‘tame’ film can almost be seen as an after thought.

    Perhaps the most superbly rendered passage in this review (which must surely rank in length and perceptiveness as one of Mr. D’Ambra’s best ever) is the discussion of John F. Sietz’s extraordinary cinematography:

    “To complete the potent formula you have the cinematography of the great John F. Sietz, art direction by the brilliant Hans Dreier, and a deeply evocative score from Miklós Rózsa. Sietz’ fluid and lengthy takes, and moodily lit interior shots add depth to the ‘caged’ mise-en-scene of Don’s apartment: evoking a sense of desperation when Don ransacks the place searching for a bottle of Rye; and then terror at night when the DT’s take hold. On the streets of Manhattan, Sietz’ camera is in deep focus on harsh sun-lit streets of empty desperation where a staggering Don searches for an open pawn shop on Yom Kippur. Drieir elegantly furnishes Don’s tenement apartment with bookcases, sofas, lamps, and wall-hangings that disguise the places where he hides his booze.”

    All I can say to that paragraph is WOW! That really brings the film back into focus, even if it’s been years!

    At the end of the day (and the exerpts from Brackett’s screenplay there were fascinating to look at again!) we can look to Mr. D’Ambra himself to offer the defining placement of this film in the pantheon of film noir, even if on another level it’s about an alcoholic. Here’s what Mr. D’Ambra says to qualify it: “To my mind Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend is unequivocally a film noir. The film has a definite noir sensibility and explores the dark themes of existential angst and entrapment.”

    And again, therein lie the most vital elements, folks.

  3. Movie Man, I just got the validation I was looking for: This IS Tony D’Ambra’s greatest review ever!!!

    I was drawn into this and couldn’t stop reading (or writing) even though this was never one of my favorites despite my great affinity for Wilder.

  4. Thanks Alexander, Movie Man, and Sam. I am particularly appreciative of your support, as each of you is among those film writers on the web whom I most admire.

    I am the first to acknowledge my reviews tend to be short, and this time, the richness of this film inspired me to be more ambitious. Sam, you have been inspired too in your lengthy response!

    Sam, I agree that in the opening scenes Don is a real jerk and it is unsettling, but this is a legitimate scenario. Frustration is often manifested in anger and intolerance. The uncertain nature of Don’s ‘cure’ has to be established, and it is fair to say that making him unsympathetic is perhaps very canny. Just before the dialog I quote in the review, Don, in a flashback, is recovering from a heavy drinking session, when his girl, Helen, who does not know he has a habit, rings the apartment door bell. Don hides in his bedroom after asking his brother, Wick, to deal with her. Don listens while Wick concocts a story that Don is not home and that an empty bottle of Rye that roles out from under the sofa is Wick’s. We fully expect Helen to leave the apartment blissfully ignorant, but as she is about to leave, Don bursts out of his room and confesses – leading into the aforementioned dialog. This scene has a greater impact than if we had a more sympathetic view of Don initially.

  5. Sam, glad I could validate (any time). I would offer one corrective to your comment, though – I can think of at least one earlier film dealing with alcoholism; D.W. Griffith’s severely underrated “The Struggle,” his last film and a startlingly realistic picture both for the time and for the director. You can read my (very impressed) review of it here:


    – and it’s available on Netflix on the same disc as Abraham Lincoln.

  6. Movie Man, just got to this now but I will be thrilled to read your review on it. Thanks so much for that. I have the earlier release of the ABRAHAM LINCOLN, but I will at least make a copy of this njew double-feature!

  7. DeeDee

    Hi! Tony,
    My friend Megan said, this about your review of director Billy Wilder’s 1945 film The Lost WeekendMegan said,”Well done, Tony, and thank you Dee for bringing this to us!”
    …Tony,I also want to thank-you, for letting me feature your review on my blog yesterday.
    I have to second Megan’s notion…Well done!
    Take care!

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