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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

The Lost Weekend (review)

Land of the Lost

American cinema took a sudden, gritty turn with director Billy Wilder’s terrifying The Lost Weekend. Whereas earlier films kept some distance from their subjects, Weekend zooms in and puts one man’s obsession under a microscope.

Don Birnam (Ray Milland) is a failed writer living off his brother Wick’s (Philip Terry) charity. An alcoholic who’s been clean for a while, he nevertheless still hears the siren call of booze, and when Wick goes away for a weekend trip, leaving Don to his own devices, Don goes on a bender.

Don’s wrenching desperation is painful — he justifies his drinking by explaining that booze makes him feel like he’s soaring, yet agonizes over the awfulness of waking up at dawn to realize the bars don’t open for hours. As the weekend passes, he spirals deeper and deeper into anguish, tearing Wick’s apartment apart in search of a hidden bottle, wandering the streets of New York in search of an open pawn shop, looking to hock his typewriter for money for booze.

Don’s world can’t even offer him any hope of recovery: a nurse in a hospital drunk ward sadistically describes the DTs for Don; his brother has given up on him; and even his girlfriend, Helen (Jane Wyman), seems awfully naïve for someone who wants to help: “You drink too much and that’s not fatal,” she tells him.

The viewer is offered no reassurances, either. As horrifying in its own way as Trainspotting (though less graphic), The Lost Weekend turns a searing gaze on one man’s nightmare and won’t let him — or us — wake up.

Oscars Best Motion Picture 1945
unforgettable movie moment:
Nighttime in a hospital drunk ward, when the DTs take over, and the terrified screams of an alcoholic in withdrawal echo through the cavernous room.

previous Best Picture:
1944: Going My Way
next Best Picture:
1946: The Best Years of Our Lives

go> the complete list of Oscar-winning Best Pictures

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The Lost Weekend (1945) | directed by Billy Wilder
US/Can release: Nov 29 1945

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated PG (contains alcoholism and mild horror)

viewed at home on a small screen

IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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