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The Lost Weekend

In light of certain events Saturday, Iím sure some people could use a stiff drink. In honor of alcohol, we turn to a movie about a guy who canít get enough of the sweet nectar, 1945ís best picture The Lost Weekend.

Ray Milland plays Don, a writer with a bit of a drinking problem. His brother wants to take him out of town to help him dry out, but he slinks off to the bar. He plans to get back home before itís time to catch the train, but he gets caught up at the bar, where even the bartender doesnít approve of his drinking. When he doesnít get home in time, his brother decides to leave without him. He spends the next couple days bouncing from bar to bar. When the bars are closed he enjoys a couple bottles he has hidden away in his apartment. Rye is the drink of choice. Eventually he breaks a date with a call girl to head out on another bender, then goes crawling back to her when he needs more money to buy some booze. On the way out of there he falls down the stairs and is taken to Bellevue to dry out. Late at night when the nurses are distracted by a guy going through the DTís he slips out. Eventually his girlfriend Helen tracks him down and tries to help him out. He steals her coat to pawn in exchange for a gun, but she talks him out of suicide and sits him down at his typewriter, sober for once, to expand his suicide note into a novel.

The movie is based on a 1944 novel by Charles R. Jackson, a writer from New Jersey who spent much of his life struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction, and was one of the first AA members to openly talk about dependence on barbiturates. The novel is based on a five day bender Jackson had in the early 30ís and the effects of alcoholism are well depicted. In the end, Jackson lost his battle. He killed himself in 1968.

What the film doesnít touch on, and what likely would not have been thought of at the time, is that Don shows signs not of alcoholism, but of social anxiety disorder. In a flashback to an earlier point in his relationship with Helen, Don is about to meet her parents who are visiting from Ohio. They are sitting behind him in the hotel lobby, both he and they are waiting for Helen, and he overhears them talk disapprovingly of his status as an unemployed writer. He figures thereís nothing he can do but slip out, call Helen to say he is unable to make it, then slip home to do some drinking. Several other times he avoids confrontation or simply does not want to make a scene. It has since been established that many who suffer from social anxiety also battle substance abuse.

This was quite a controversial movie at the time. The booze industry lobbied Paramount to shelve the picture because they feared it would be too negative a portrayal of alcohol. The temperance movement lobbied Paramount to shelve it because they thought it would be too positive a portrayal of alcohol. Many actors begged off the role, not wanting anything to do with such delicate subject matter.

Before this Wilder has only directed five movies, and the only one that was any good was Double Indemnity. You can tell heís a bit green in the directorís chair, as he fails to get the best performances out of his actors, and some of the pacing could be quite a bit better. A lot of the time the actors are just hamming it up, which can be quite distracting, and lends the proceedings quite a movie of the week feel.

And itís not just the hammy acting, itís the subject matter. This isnít the first movie to depict alcoholism (Rick Blaine in Casablanca describes his nationality as "drunkard") but it is the first to openly refer to alcoholism as a disease. Since then of course weíve had many movies dealing with a main character battling demons, and they seem to get an Oscar push every year. But this was the first.

Itís not perfect, but it is pretty good, and it didnít have much competition. Of the other movies released in 1945, only Hitchcockís Spellbound and Back to Bataan staring John Wayne have had much lasting reputation. The only other notable movie was The Story of G. I. Joe, which was Burgess Meredithís last major role before that little shit Nixon tried to destroy him. Meredith did enjoy a comeback, after Nixonís career was irrevocably dead. Back to Bataan is a very good movie, but I would imagine that just a few months after World War II had ended, the Academy would have wanted to look to a subject other than warfare, even if the movie was pretty good. Despite the drawbacks of The Lost Weekend, it was quite well written and the subject matter was very ahead of its time.


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