The Lost Weekend

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The Lost Weekend (1945)

Directed by Billy Wilder

Starring: Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry

In 1946 The Lost Weekend was awarded four Oscars. They included Best Director (Wilder), Best Actor (Milland), Best Writing (Wilder and Charles Brackett), and Best Picture. The competition was stiff that year with films like Anchors Aweigh and The Bells of St. Mary’s in the running. The movie has some big names in it with Ray Milland and Jane Wyman heading up the cast.

It’s time for Don (Milland), a struggling author, to clean up his life. As an alcoholic he’s tried everything to overcome his addiction, but he continues to chase the bottle. Now his brother Wick (Terry) and he have plans to leave for the weekend to help him get a clean start. He’ll be leaving behind his supportive girlfriend Helen (Wyman) who hopes for the best as she says goodbye. When Don ducks his brother before their train leaves he finds himself on a four-day bender marked by hallucinations and desperation. The four days bring Don full circle in his battle with addiction and provide him one last chance to survive the demons in his life.

Thanks to a powerful performance, Milland won his Best Actor Oscar over stars like Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, and Gregory Peck. He was asked to play a whole range of emotions and did so wonderfully. He would continue to prove himself with roles in movie like Dial M for Murder Wyman is also good in her role as the supportive woman in Don’s life. Terry also does a good job in his limited role as the more responsible and stable brother.

Billy Wilder had an amazing career with films like The Apartment and Sunset Boulevard on his resume. As with The Apartment he managed to take home Best Director, Best Writing, and Best Picture awards for his work on this movie. This film, however, is a totally different experience than most of the others I’ve seen. He took on some dark material and didn’t try to mix in humor like he had with The Apartment. He also managed to create a story out of a four-day binge that would win an Oscar. The movie does make some strong statements that come through loud and clear in the end.

Visually, the movie does some great things. The composition of each shot is wonderful. The film also focuses in on some subtle things in the film, like the shot of the water rings on the bar top. This little touch is just one example of the little details used in the film. Wilder also managed to create a sequence never-before-seen in movies. Milland is shown walking down the street as neon signs move towards him. This was the first time it had been done and it has since been used countless numbers of times.

This movie is a hard one for me since I can’t say it’s my favorite amongst the movies nominated that year. This isn’t to say that it didn’t deserve to win, only that I would have voted differently. The movie has some rough moments and is filled with sequences that are intentionally hard to follow and used to imitate the effects of an alcoholic haze.

If you haven’t seen this movie it’s worth seeing. There is some value to the movie and it’s aged better than some films from the same period. I suppose I would consider this to be the Requiem For A Dream of it’s generation. I wouldn’t recommend this one for younger audiences simply because the subject matter is rough and might be a bit over their heads anyhow. I give this movie 3.7 out of 5 stars.

Rating: PG

Running Time: 101 minutes


  1. Good film, but like you said, some rough moments. Of the three straight “social conscious” Best Picture winners from 1945-1947 – The Lost Weekend, The Best Years of Our Lives, Gentleman’s Agreement – The Best Years of Our Lives has held up the best.


  2. I love this film, but for different reasons. Watched in a different era, it comes across more as a black comedy. Ray Milland is great, but Jane Wyman I find very stiff and wooden – but this *isn’t a problem*, as I think it only serves to illustrate the type of well-meaning ‘just say no’ types that surround alcoholics in our culture that have no idea of the extent of the problem with which they’re dealing.

    The surreal and bizarre touches, like the hallucinations, are wonderful, and almost encourage one to want to go on a bender.

    The only bugbear I have is that this was based on a novel where the main character was actually struggling with his sexuality, which was a huge factor in his alcoholism. Of course, Hollywood being what it was at the time, this was completely erased in the screenplay and turned into writer’s block.

    But still one of my favourite films of all time.


    1. Like a lot of Hollywood films we get to see social evolution through the content of the story. If this movie was made today it might be more about sexuality than anything, being that it seems to be a hotter topic.


      1. There have been many “addiction” films made – it’s a classic human story. But all the elements of this come together in a very special way for me. As a filmmaker, I find it really inspiring and I watch it often. Love the theremin music too. :-)


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