Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend is one of three films to take home both the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and Best Picture at the Oscars.
The Lost Weekend deals with Don Birnam’s (Ray Milland) alcoholism. What it does not deal with–and I’ll get to this shortly–is the fact that he’s in the closet. Because the film doesn’t press this point, Brackett and Wilder’s script gives Helen St. James (Jane Wyman) a bigger presence in the film.
Birnam is very unhappy with his life and goes on a three-day binge. He’s an author and spends about every dollar on alcohol. Helen comes over with two tickets for a concert but Don suggests she go with his brother, Wick (Phillip Terry). Wick and Helen know that Don is an alcoholic so they’ve thrown out every bottle in the apartment. What they didn’t succeed in doing was hiding money. You can probably figure out what happens next. It’s a major battle with alcohol over the course of a few days, including a trip to the hospital. When all is said and done, Birnam finally sets out to write The Bottle.
It’s interesting to note how one pawnshop is closed because of Yom Kippur and another is closed in solidarity. That other pawnshop across the street? It closes on St. Patrick’s Day and the Jewish-owned pawnshop does the same. How about that?
There are only three films to do what The Lost Weekend did. The other two films were Marty and Parasite. It’s a rare feat to say the least. But this isn’t to say that the film doesn’t have its flaws because it does. It most definitely does. Part of the reason is because of the Production Code. While the film still shares much of the plot as Charles R. Jackson’s book, it takes away one of the key parts. This is because the Code wouldn’t allow any depiction of characters being gay on screen. You couldn’t get away with erasing one’s sexuality or gender identity in 2020. However, this is what went in 1945 whether we like it or not.
In addition to Best Picture, the film won four Oscars out of seven overall nominations. Billy Wilder took home Best Director while sharing Best Adapted Screenplay with Charles Brackett. Ray Milland took home Best Actor. The film wasn’t as successful in the nominations for cinematography, editing, and original score.
Because of the stark depiction of alcoholism, the film almost didn’t get released. It wasn’t sitting well with audiences during Paramount’s test screenings. Almost eighty years later, it’s hard to find a better film than The Lost Weekend when it comes to alcoholism.
DIRECTOR: Billy Wilder
SCREENWRITERS: Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder
CAST: Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry, Howard da Silva, Doris Dowling, Frank Faylen