Saturday, September 4, 2010
1945: The Lost Weekend
When people get drunk in movies, a lot of times it's comical, and the supporting character who's an alcoholic is funny, or at the very least harmless. This film is completely different. It presents alcoholism as the disease it is, with absolutely no glamour or humor. Don Birnem would probably be a very successful writer if he wasn't addicted to alcohol. This film portrays a single weekend, beginning with Don worming his way out of a trip with his brother and taking him through a major binge. He desperately struggles to find money for "just one drink," but, as one bartender puts it, "One is too many and a hundred's not enough." Don's brother and girlfriend care about him and try to help him, but he refuses their help. As he stoops to lying and stealing for his "one more drink," audiences can't help forgetting everything else Hollywood has taught them about drunks. It's a terrifying, horrific disease, and it's very hard to know how to react to it.
I find it interesting that this film was made at the end of the war. I'm sure a lot of soldiers who came home were struggling with alcoholism, so it's good that they made this film when they did. I also read on the back of the case that this film was almost not released because preview audiences didn't like it. I can see why; it's nothing like the escapist films they were used to. But that's what makes it so brilliant.
Ray Milland's performance as Don Birnem deservedly won him the Best Actor Oscar. His facial expressions alone are magnificent. The score to this film is creepy and haunting, which greatly aids the portrayal of the film's message. The camera work was superb: I especially liked the use of extreme close-ups and slightly oblique, low camera angles. This film was extremely well-made, and it had a very good and necessary, albeit disturbing, message.
Next up: The Best Years of Our Lives