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The Lost Weekend

October 26, 2010

179. The Lost Weekend
Directed by Billy Wilder
USA, 1945
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Rachel
First viewing


Don Birnam (Ray Milland) has been an alcoholic for over six years. But with help from his long suffering brother Wick, Don has been sober for 10 days. Wick plans to take him on a relaxing weekend but makes the mistake of leaving Don alone before they leave. Don manages to evade his brother and plunges into an agonizing four-day drinking binge.

Essential Scene:

Nurse: You know that stuff about pink elephants? That’s the bunk. It’s the little animals — tiny little turkeys in straw hats, midget monkeys coming through the keyholes. See that guy over there? With him, it’s beetles. Come the night, he sees beetles crawling all over him. Has to be dark, though. It’s like the doctor was just telling me. “Delirium is a disease of the night.” [chuckles] Goodnight.

Having escaped from a sanatorium, a paranoid Don sits alone in his apartment. A male nurse had told him the horrors of late-night delirium tremens, and Don is about to experience them for himself.

He starts to hallucinate as he sees a mouse appear through a hole in the wall. Don smiles weakly, amused by the little creature. Suddenly, a bat appears at the window. Don ducks and dives as the bat flies through the room. The bat eventually flies at the mouse, and drags it out of the hole. The mouse squeaks in pain. Don begins to scream. Blood drips down the wall from the mauled mouse, and Don covers his face, screaming hysterically.


Don Birnam: Let me have one, Nat. I’m dying. Just one.

Alcoholism often seemed to be Hollywood’s worst kept secret. The studio publicity system went to work and an alcoholic actor was protected from the majority of bad publicity. They weren’t in a sanatorium, they were on holiday.

In films, alcoholics were often comically portrayed as jolly people with little hiccups and malapropisms, or as burly, violent wife beaters with an inbuilt love of the drink. The Lost Weekend told it like it is. Anyone, even an intelligent writer, can fall into the depths of chronic alcoholism. His family and friends go with him. It’s believable, too. Ray Milland doesn’t walk around slurring his words and falling over things. He stirs in the “quiet desperation” he loathes and shows the illogical thought processes of a man in the throes of addiction.

Excellent film. And if I wasn’t already a tee-totaller, I’d become one after watching this…
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