Directed by: Billy Wilder (won)
Screenplay by: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder (won)
Starring: Ray Milland (won), Jane Wyman, Howard da Silva, Phillip Terry, Doris Dowling
My rating: 7/10
IMDb rating: 8/10
The Bells of St. Mary’s
Synopsis: Instead of going on a wholesome weekend in the country with his brother Wick (Phillip Terry), alcoholic Don Birnam (Ray Milland) goes on a bender, getting closer and closer to rock bottom.
It’s inevitable that over a few decades, elements in even the most classic of movies will feel a little dated. The Lost Weekend, as good as it is, is no different.
This film is at its best when Don Birnam is his charming, ruffled self, dispensing drunken wisdom to a sceptical bar owner. The movie falters, though, when he tries to show the desperation for a fix. He stumbles down the unforgiving streets of the city, trying to hock his typewriter, his face growing more and more distorted with distress. This sequence goes to show that when it comes to emoting, less is more.
I didn’t enjoy this film as much as I’d hoped, but perhaps it’s because I was so blown away by Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity that I had higher hopes for this than I should have.
I did appreciate that his brother and girlfriend promised to help him, and asserted that his problem was a disease, rather than treating him like a failure. As an aspiring writer, I also appreciated his motive for drinking… but I digress.
As one can expect from Billy Wilder, the shots are well composed, and the use of shadows and angles add to the mood. Also as expected from Billy Wilder, there’s snappy dialogue (though not as snappy as Double Indemnity) and recurring quirks that sprinkle just a little spice on the story, such as Don’s much-shorter girlfriend, Helen (Jane Wyman), telling him to bend down when she wants a kiss, Don’s almost sinister “come here” motion, the escort Gloria (Doris Dowling) who shortens words for no reason (“Don’t be ridick”) and the fact that Don almost always puts a cigarette to his lips the wrong way around.
The characters, especially the females, seem a bit flat. Don is charming enough and his brother Wick is fine, but the most enjoyable and relatable character is, as is often the case, the long-suffering barman, Nat (Howard da Silva).
Also, be prepared for things to get very dark. It starts off as a light drama, but transforms into something very weird and unsettling once Don gets a taste of the DTs.
The bottom line: A good film by a great director, but not his best. Still, definitely worth a watch.