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The Lost Weekend
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Film & TV (1900-1945) > May 2014 - The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder) (1945)

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message 1: by Nigeyb (last edited May 03, 2014 06:36AM) (new)

Nigeyb With Ally apparently on sabbatical I thought someone had better set up the discussion thread for The Lost Weekend.

So, here it is...



The Lost Weekend is a 1945 American drama film directed by Billy Wilder and starring Ray Milland and Jane Wyman. The film was based on Charles R. Jackson's 1944 novel of the same title about an alcoholic writer. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay).

In 2011, The Lost Weekend was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.


Here's to an interesting, insightful, courteous, and enjoyable discussion.


message 2: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb I have received my DVD of The Lost Weekend and should watch it very soon. Watch this space.


message 3: by T.A. (last edited May 06, 2014 09:38AM) (new)

T.A. Epley | 84 comments Gotta bump this up to the top of my Netflix queue.

edit:

Listed by Netflix on my queue as "very long wait".

I hope they're wrong.


message 4: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb

Despite having enjoyed every Billy Wilder film I have seen, I'd never got round to watching his film adaptation of "The Lost Weekend" by Charles Jackson. I've not read the book either however according to this article, it is a very powerful book about alcoholism:

Charles Jackson's is the best novel ever written about alcoholism. I make that judgement about "The Lost Weekend" as an alcoholic myself. I read the novel before getting sober and after, and it terrified me on either side of that momentous threshold. Before, because of the uncanny accuracy of Jackson’s depictions of the lies that the alcoholic’s drink-raddled mind tells itself. After I cleaned up, it was four curse-like words in the text which terrified me: there isn’t any cure.



So I watched the film, with little prior knowledge, except knowing that it's regarded as a classic film and that at the Academy Awards in May 1946 it won four Oscars.

The performances are great, especially Ray Milland as the alchoholic Don Birnam, and whilst the portentous score, complete with very heavy use of the theremin, now feels pretty hackneyed, the film still packs a punch, and it must have been truly groundbreaking and controversial to cinema audiences in 1945 more used to seeing drunks portrayed as clownish types like W. C. Fields.

As Don Birnam descended into the hell of his drunken bender, one question nagged away, how would the film end? I wondered if Wilder would resist a happy ending. It seemed highly unlikely that this story could possibly end well, but then again, this was a mainstream Hollywood film.

* SPOILER ALERT: stop reading now if you don't want to know what happens at the end of the film *

Needless to say, there is a redemptive ending: through the love of Helen, his girlfriend, Don resolves to stop drinking and write his novel "The Bottle", with the implication that the novel is the story we have just watched. It's all neatly wrapped up in the last 2-3 minutes.

After watching the film, I wondered if the book had the same ending. This Vanity Fair article on how Hollywood adapted Charles Jackson's 1944 best-seller "The Lost Weekend" provides the answer.

"Talk about neat, pat, cheap endings," Charles Jackson wrote to a friend, "but also talk about betrayal."

Charles Jackson immediately wrote to Brackett and Wilder, lamenting the fact "that a very distinguished movie" was now rendered—in one vulgar stroke—utterly "make believe" and ordinary.


So how does the book end?

According to Wikipedia: No sooner has Birnam begun to recover from his "Lost Weekend" than he contemplates killing Helen's maid to get the key to the liquor cabinet. He has a few drinks and crawls into bed wondering, "Why did they make such a fuss?"

No happy ending there then.

There were other changes too, including removing the strong implication that Don Birnam is a latent homosexual.

It's a powerful film but, I'm with Charles Jackson, the ending is a cop out and seriously undermines a very dark, landmark film.

Whatever happened to Charles Jackson?

Jackson made a packet from the novel and its film rights. But his life went to pieces and, drinking again, he killed himself in a Manhattan hotel.

And that's the difference between Hollywood and the real world.

3/5


message 5: by T.A. (new)

T.A. Epley | 84 comments Hey Nigyeb, I really look forward to reading your review and comparing notes, but I'm going to wait until I get to see the film and write my review, lest your opinion sways me.


message 6: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb ^ You're a wise man T.A.


I'm really looking forward to hearing what other BYTers make of this film.


message 7: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments I saw this movie in the '60s and there are parts of it that I have never forgotten.

I had my own trouble over the years with alcohol and so I try to avoid watching alcoholic movies. So I don't watch The Days of Wine and Roses either. Although both are excellent movies.


message 8: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) Probably one of the most effective moments in the film is when Birnam tries to hock his typewriter and all the pawn shops are closed for a Jewish holiday. It implies that all pawn shops are owned by people of the Jewish faith but if you can put that aside, you can feel his desperation. Ray Milland was particularly effective in this film and deserved his Oscar. I had always thought of him as a rather light weight actor but this role really gave him a chance to show his acting skill.


message 9: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb ^ Thanks Jill


You may have forgotten some of the detail of that scene. Birnam also tries to hock the typewriter at Irish-owned pawn shops too and finally establishes that both the Irish pawn shops, and the Jewish owned pawn shops, shut on Yom Kippur and on St Patrick's Day. It's an agreement they have reached to not open on each other's holidays.

Mind you, that just implies that all pawn shops were either Jewish or Irish owned which also seems a bit unlikely, however is perhaps an improvement on the assumption that every Pawn Shop in New York is Jewish owned.


message 10: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) I haven't seen the film for a while and you brought back to me the fullness of the scene regarding the holiday situation. I was so struck by Milland's desperation that I forgot the details. Sorry about that!!!


message 11: by Nigeyb (last edited May 12, 2014 11:24AM) (new)

Nigeyb Thanks Jill




I meant to also add that I agree with you that it is a very powerful and haunting scene - and brilliantly played by Milland.


message 12: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) I think he surprised me with his performance.......I always liked him but never thought he could be as effective as he was here. Films usually treated alcoholism as a humorous condition.....how many times have we seen the "funny" drunk. Many actors based their careers on that type of part. This film showed the terrible psychological and physiological effects that the disease brings.


message 13: by Nigeyb (last edited May 12, 2014 12:18PM) (new)

Nigeyb ^ I totally agree Jill. I don't know him from any other films, however....


Here's what I wrote above...

Nigeyb wrote: "The performances are great, especially Ray Milland as the alchoholic Don Birnam, and whilst the portentous score, complete with very heavy use of the theremin, now feels pretty hackneyed, the film still packs a punch, and it must have been truly groundbreaking and controversial to cinema audiences in 1945 more used to seeing drunks portrayed as clownish types like W. C. Fields."


message 14: by Jill (last edited May 12, 2014 02:36PM) (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) Probably his other best known role was as Grace Kelly's husband in Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder but it was not a demanding part.


message 15: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments I've now watched this and I think it's a masterpiece - with the New York streetscapes, John F Seitz's cinematography and the haunting music helping to create a nightmare atmosphere, on top of Ray Milland's powerful performance.

The hallucination scene with the bat and the mouse is amazing, but so also is the shot with the bottle hidden in the lampshade which is seen shadowed on the ceiling. On the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray there is a three-part Arena documentary featuring long interviews with Billy Wilder - so far I've only watched the first part, where he discusses 'The Lost Weekend' and talks about how that particular shot with the bottle is similar to some of the effects in silent films.

He also discusses the long walk through the streets to try to pawn the typewriter which you discussed above, Jill and Nigeyb - Wilder says that this is something he often had to do himself as a poor young writer living in Berlin.


message 16: by Nigeyb (last edited May 12, 2014 02:58PM) (new)

Nigeyb I really enjoyed reading your thoughts Judy. Thank you.


Wow. High praise Judy....

Judy wrote: "I think it's a masterpiece"

^ I wouldn't go that far however agree that it's very powerful. I love how you are so taken with it Judy.

Judy wrote: "The hallucination scene with the bat and the mouse is amazing"

^ Yes, that is an extremely good scene.

Judy wrote: "...a nightmare atmosphere"

^ Unquestionably.

Here's the thing though Judy, and as I mention in my review, for all its power there's one massive Achilles Heel, and that's the ending. For me, all the good work of the rest of the film was undone in the last few minutes and that ludicrous ending. I wish Wilder had gone with the book's ending and then like you, I would be more inclined to share your unbridled enthusiasm. As I say above...

Nigeyb wrote: "It's a powerful film but, I'm with Charles Jackson, the ending is a cop out and seriously undermines a very dark, landmark film."

What are your thoughts about that cliche Hollywood ending?


message 17: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments Judy wrote: "I've now watched this and I think it's a masterpiece - with the New York streetscapes, John F Seitz's cinematography and the haunting music helping to create a nightmare atmosphere, on top of Ray M..."

One of the scenes that I've always remembered was the bottle in the lampshade.

It is interesting that the Irish and Jewish pawnbrokers would have made such a deal. It was the Jews who introduced the Irish to corned beef so they could have a cheap meat that was similar to meat they were familiar with in Ireland. This was in the days when they had first come over during the time of the famine.


message 18: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments Nigeyb wrote: "I really enjoyed reading your thoughts Judy. Thank you.


Wow. High praise Judy....

Judy wrote: "I think it's a masterpiece"

^ I wouldn't go that far however agree that it's very powerful. I l..."


Without the "Hollywood" ending the movie probably wouldn't have been released. The question is would it have been able to pass the Hayes office which censored movies.


message 19: by Nigeyb (last edited May 13, 2014 12:04AM) (new)

Nigeyb ^ I'd never even heard of the Hayes office before.


I found this post elsewhere about the Hayes office and the film. It all rings true given what Jan states..

I have been reading "The Lost Weekend" by Charles Jackson (published by Farrar & Rinehart in 1944). In this classic novel, the protagonist, Don Birnam, descends into alcoholism, as he can no longer cope with his repressed homosexuality. When Paramount Pictures released their version of the story in 1945, all references to the character's confused sexuality were dropped to placate the Hayes Office Production Code in effect in Hollywood at that time. Suddenly, the main character was battling the bottle because he was grappling with a serious case of writer's block. Although the Paramount version of "The Lost Weekend" deserved the Oscar for "Best Picture" (and Ray Milland was justifiably acclaimed for his lead performance), the movie diluted the potency of the original narrative, which presented a powerful statement about the dangers that can accompany nonconformity. As the novel became a major bestseller, I'm curious what audiences of the day thought of the film adaptation. For those who had read the book before seeing the movie, the thematic shift had to have been somewhat jarring (to say the least) though perhaps by that time, theatre patrons were accustomed to viewing radically different film translations of their favorite books and plays.

http://forums.tcm.com/index.php?/topi...

I can understand the need to remove homosexuality but I am still curious about the ending change.

Wouldn't the Hayes office prefer to show a dark ending as it would reinforce the film's message about the evils of drink?

As it is, the film suggests that an alcoholic can just stop at will - which for some is true, but far from universal. Many people need a lot of help and support to stay drink-free. Certainly in Don Birnam's case the idea of stopping when his girl and his typewriter show up is completely at odds with the rest of the film.

Here's my query re the Hayes office - were they there to censor sexual content, especially homosexuality ands perhaps anything perceived to be anti-American? Or did their remit also include sanitising every film so that every film had to be happy and/or redemptive? Would they have taken issue with an ending where Birnam remains mired in drink?

I suspect the ending was a studio decision. As I state above, regarding the reaction of the book's author, Charles Jackson immediately wrote to Brackett and Wilder, lamenting the fact "that a very distinguished movie" was now rendered—in one vulgar stroke—utterly "make believe" and ordinary.

This contains the code's dos and don'ts...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_P...

I can't see anything in there to suggest the ending would break the code.


message 20: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments It started out sexual. Check out pre-Code movies from the early '30s. It changed in either 1933 or 1934 with Will Hayes in charge of the office. This included moral endings to movies. They had to show redemption. That is why Ray has to "reform". It also put a real damper on gangster movies. There had to be either be redemption or death (another form of redemption). And almost no mention at all of homosexuality.


message 21: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb ^ Very interesting. Thanks.


I'm still wondering if the book's ending wouldn't also equate to "a moral ending". The message being drink will destroy you.

If anything the changed, redemptive ending - whereby the alcoholic just gives up after a weekend binge - sends the message that stopping is easy so no harm in enjoying the odd binge.


message 22: by T.A. (new)

T.A. Epley | 84 comments There may also have been a general feeling at the major studios not to release material that was bleak from beginning to end, particularly in the euphoria surrounding "Victory in Europe".

I'm actually amazed that the film was released at all.


message 23: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments Stopping "can" be easy. It was for me, I just stopped. Of course, I may not have been an alcoholic.


message 24: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb ^


As alcoholics, we have learned the hard way that willpower alone, however strong in other respects, was not enough to keep us sober.

We understand now, that once a person has crossed the invisible line from heavy drinking to compulsive alcoholic drinking, they will always remain alcoholic. So far as we know, there can never be any turning back to "normal" social drinking. "Once an alcoholic - always an alcoholic" is a simple fact we have to live with.

We have also learned that there are few alternatives for the alcoholic. If they continue to drink, their problem will become progressively worse. They seems assuredly on the path to the gutter, to hospitals, to jails or other institutions, or to an early grave. The only alternative is to stop drinking completely and to abstain from even the smallest quantity of alcohol in any form. If they are willing to follow this course, and to take advantage of the help available to them, a whole new life can open up for the alcoholic.


http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.u...


message 25: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments I know that they don't believe in will power. They want to suck everyone into their 12-step program. If they were so good, my grandmother should not have had to join them multiple times. Although she may have been the one at fault.

But it led me not to believe in them.


message 26: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb T.A. wrote: "I'm actually amazed that the film was released at all."


It was certainly a very dark film for a mainstream Hollywood film released in 1944, then again there were other challenging films made around that time.

I'm thinking of....

The Third Man
Double Indemnity
Rebecca
Rope
Spellbound


message 27: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments The Third Man wasn't released until 1949.

It wasn't really until after the war was over that the darker movies came out.


message 28: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Jan C wrote: "They want to suck everyone into their 12-step program. If they were so good, my grandmother should not have had to join them multiple times. Although she may have been the one at fault. "

They definitely have their own process that they believe is the best way. From what I've read about alcoholism it does seem to be one of the more successful techniques. It's not guaranteed but, as I understand it, if the alchoholic is committed to it then it will work. As with all these things it has to rely on the determination of the individual, otherwise relapse is almost inevitable.

A good friend of mine is currently undergoing a medically supervised detoxification followed by four weeks of rehab having lost custody of her kids due to her alcoholism. She's not going with AA and I fear she will relapse. I hope not.

Anyway all of this discussion just reminds me how disappointed I was by the ending of "The Lost Weekend". It was far too pat and just doesn't ring true - though I understand a mainstream Hollywood studio would have been unlikely to go with the book's ending in the mid-1940s.


message 29: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments Everyone believes their own way is the best way. I believe there are more effective ways out and about now. At least other accepted ways.


message 30: by T.A. (new)

T.A. Epley | 84 comments Still waiting to see the film, I'll wager it wasn't until "Ace in The Hole" that Hollywood got an unremittingly cynical look at the world through the lens of a camera.

Once again, this would be thanks to Billy Wilder, without whom films such as "A Face in The Crowd" could hardly be imagined.


message 31: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments While I understand that the book's ending was tougher, I must say I didn't find the film's ending all that pat or upbeat, since everything is left open. Yes, this particular binge is over, and Don is full of hope, but we've been there before. Indeed, we were there at the start of the film, when he had been off the booze for 10 days and his brother and girlfriend were starting to hope. We also know that Don has started writing books many times before.

The fact that the film ends by recalling the beginning, with a glimpse of that bottle hanging out of the window, suggests to me that it might all too easily go full circle again, just as Bim says it will in the great scene at the alcoholic ward. I was impressed by how relatively downbeat all this is compared to many Hollywood endings, while at the same time allowing hope.


message 32: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb ^ Interesting interpretation Judy, Thanks.


I read the ending as far less ambiguous. Indeed I concluded that the film we had just watched was the story that Birnam was poised to write "The Bottle", I think we're also meant to conclude that the moment he drops the cigarette into the whiskey that Helen has just offered him, is the moment when he has stopped for good. That said, it is open to your alternative interpretation.


message 33: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments Jill wrote: "Probably his other best known role was as Grace Kelly's husband in Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder but it was not a demanding part."

Oh yes, thanks, Jill, I'd forgotten he was in that part - I think he's very good there too. I've just seen him in 'The Ministry of Fear', a Fritz Lang film made from the Graham Greene book we've just been reading in the group - I was disappointed with that film overall, but it does have some powerful moments where Milland looks forward to his role in 'The Lost Weekend'. He's also really good in 'Beau Geste' with Gary Cooper, and 'Arise My Love', a wartime romantic comedy with Claudette Colbert where Wilder wrote the script.

I don't think I've seen many others with him, but looking at the imdb he had more than 170 acting credits on film and TV, so an amazing career!


message 34: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments Another big one of Milland's is The Big Clock wherein he discovers that his boss is framing him for murder. Oh, what to do, what to do! Charles Laughton plays the boss.


message 35: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments Jan C wrote: "Another big one of Milland's is The Big Clock wherein he discovers that his boss is framing him for murder. Oh, what to do, what to do! Charles Laughton plays the boss."

Oh, Jan, how could I forget that one? I thought it was a fantastic noir - the actors are great, and so is the building! The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing is also a great hard-boiled book, I thought - sadly he didn't write many more, as he was another writer with a drink problem.


message 36: by Judy (last edited May 13, 2014 02:35PM) (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments On the trek through the streets of New York with the typewriter, I meant to say that Wilder talks about that scene in the Arena interview - and says the filming was interrupted when a young girl went up to Milland and asked for his autograph!


message 37: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) Jan C wrote: "Another big one of Milland's is The Big Clock wherein he discovers that his boss is framing him for murder. Oh, what to do, what to do! Charles Laughton plays the boss."

I really liked that film, Jan, and forgot about it in our discussion. The film had some other great performances, especially Charles Laughton and also Harry Morgan who never said a word and was really menacing.


message 38: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments Judy wrote: "Jan C wrote: "Another big one of Milland's is The Big Clock wherein he discovers that his boss is framing him for murder. Oh, what to do, what to do! Charles Laughton plays the boss."

Oh, Jan, how..."


Another one of his that I like is The Uninvited. I've also read the book, The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle. I had to read the book on public transportation. I was too afraid to read it at home. Ruth Hussey and Donald Crisp. Milland and sister Hussey get a house cheap - it is haunted.


message 39: by T.A. (last edited May 14, 2014 08:26AM) (new)

T.A. Epley | 84 comments Personally, I got a little tight last night. It's the first time since Saint Paddy's day, and now that I'm suffering through the attendant hang-over, I have to wonder why anyone would want to perpetuate this state of being or revisit it too often. I know I won't be leaving Las Vegas anytime soon.


message 40: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb ^ The hardcore drinker despatches the hangover with the world's most effective cure....


...the hair of the dog.

Cheers (hic).


message 41: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments The hard core drinker is rarely completely sober. Hair of the dog gets the serious drinker (possibly one without a job) going once again. Works best if followed up by more drinks. It's a vicious circle. Thank goodness I was never that serious.


message 42: by Nigeyb (last edited May 14, 2014 08:25AM) (new)

Nigeyb I very recently read a terrific memoir by Martin Newell, the greatest living Englishman, called This Little Ziggy.

Martin's a man who has had more than his fair share of alcohol, and drugs generally, and I was very struck by this passage..

"The amount of drug-taking that I was doing was bound to have a payback sometime. Given that most pharmaceuticals are like an overdraft on one's own health and happiness - an overdraft paid back at a high rate of interest - I was bound to come a cropper."

..which applies just as much to sustained bouts of heavy drinking, as it does to other forms of substance abuse.

Review here:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Just say no kids.


message 43: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments Jan C wrote: "Another one of his that I like is The Uninvited... Ruth Hussey and Donald Crisp. Milland and sister Hussey get a house cheap - it is haunted. "
..."


This sounds like another good film, thanks, Jan. My list of things to watch is getting ever longer! I'll also bear in mind what you say about the scariness of the book...


message 44: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments Judy wrote: "Jan C wrote: "Another one of his that I like is The Uninvited... Ruth Hussey and Donald Crisp. Milland and sister Hussey get a house cheap - it is haunted. "
..."

This sounds like another good fil..."


I should add - I scare easy.


message 45: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) I just realized that Milland also was the star of Ministry of Fear which is the May fiction read!!!!


message 46: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments Jill wrote: "I just realized that Milland also was the star of Ministry of Fear which is the May fiction read!!!!"

Hi Jill, I commented on this film above - I didn't think it was very good overall, and not a patch on the book, but it does have some powerful scenes, especially the fete near the start. I would be interested to hear your take if you see the film!


message 47: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) Judy wrote: "Jill wrote: "I just realized that Milland also was the star of Ministry of Fear which is the May fiction read!!!!"

Hi Jill, I commented on this film above - I didn't think it was very good overall..."


I read your post and promptly forgot that you mentioned the film!!!!!......a bit of a brain lapse. :>)
I saw the film several years ago and it was so-so; not good, not bad. It doesn't stay with you as some films do. And I agree that the book is much better.


message 48: by T.A. (new)

T.A. Epley | 84 comments Netflix finally mailed my dvd. Hopefully it won't be all scratched up and I can post my thoughts on the film very soon.


message 49: by T.A. (new)

T.A. Epley | 84 comments So far I'm having a little trouble sympathizing with the characters. Ten minutes in I was ready to write this guy off. Either stop drinking and associate with me or don't do either. Good luck with the bottle, don't bother to write. The brother and the girlfriend are the ones with the real problem. Their addicted to trying to reform an addict.


message 50: by T.A. (new)

T.A. Epley | 84 comments Getting back to the earlier discussion about the typewriter being pawned...

I just wanted to mention how much Fritz Freling mined the films themes for humor in the Looney Tunes shorts of the forties. I always think of the Sylvester cartoon where he tries to kick his bird habit and the scene in the Bugs Bunny short "Slick Hair" where Ray Milland is in a restaurant and pays for his drink with a typewriter, only to be given his change in several tiny typewriters.


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