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 a novel of the same title by Charles R. Jackson about a writer who drinks heavily out of frustration over the accusation that he had an affair with one of his buddies while in college. The reference to the homosexual affair is removed in the film, and the main character's descent into an alcoholic binge is blamed on personal frustration and more general doubts about his identity.
The film's musical score was among the first to use the theremin, which was used to create the pathos of the disease of alcoholism. This movie also made famous the "character walking toward the camera as neon signs pass by" camera effect. Rights to the film are currently held by Universal Studios as they own the pre-1950 Paramount sound feature film library.
The film recounts the life of an alcoholic New York writer, Don Birnam (Milland), over the last half of a six year period, and in particular on a weekend alcoholic binge.
Moving from a shot of the Manhattan skyline to an apartment, with a whiskey bottle hung outside a window, Don and Wick are packing for a weekend vacation. Don, a supposed recovering alcoholic, has been on the wagon for ten days Wick believes. After Don's girlfriend Helen St. James (Wyman) arrives, Don urges his brother to agree to taking a later train, and urges him to go to a Barbirolli concert with Helen, while he collects his thoughts at home. Wick (Phillip Terry), having disposed of his brother's hidden supply of drink, reluctantly agrees, despite seeing Helen as his brother's 'girl'. Helen, slightly mockingly, claims to be trying not to love Don while he is trying not to drink. On their way out of the building, Wick reassures Helen he has found Don's hidden supply of alcohol, and points out Don is broke. A few minutes later, the cleaning lady arrives for work, but Don cons her out of her wages, and sends her away.
Don misses the later train he is meant to catch by overstaying at his favorite watering hole — Nat's Bar on Third Avenue, based on the legendary P. J. Clarke's. Now effectively rejecting his brother, Wick intends to leave without him, though Helen is wary of leaving Don alone for four days; she is currently very busy with her work at Time magazine. While Wick is leaving the building, he urges Helen to give herself a chance by dropping Don, but Helen waits; Don sneaks into his apartment to drink and hide the cheap whiskey he has bought. The following morning he finds a message from Helen pinned to his front door, urging him to call her.
While drinking back at Nat's Bar, Don recounts his history to Nat (Howard Da Silva), who is reluctant to fuel Don's habit, though he easily gives way. Don met Helen three years earlier at the Metropolitan Opera after a matinee performance of La Traviata thanks to mislabeled coats. In his mind, during "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" ("the drinking song") in the first act, the singers on the stage are converted into a row of raincoats identical to Don's; his contains a bottle of rye whiskey. He leaves the performance early, and on collecting his coat is presented with a woman's leopardskin coat. After the performance ends, he waits until everyone has claimed their coat until he is able to exchange coats with Helen; they had sat in neighboring seats, but evidently did not speak. She finds him rude, but they quickly develop a rapport, especially after the bottle falls out of his coat pocket (allegedly intended for a friend), and he accepts her invitation to a cocktail party. In the event, he drinks tomato juice and avoids alcohol for weeks.
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