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    The Lost Weekend
    Paramount/Universal . R4 . B&W . 97 mins . PG . PAL

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    From the prohibition on, America's favourite disease was alcoholism. It was both fashionable and amusing.

    William Powell and Myrna Loy in The Thin Man series of comic mystery movies, lurched from case to case, imbibing their dry-martinis as they went. Jimmy Stewart went pleasantly gaga over pink rabbits. In the pages of The New Yorker, James Thurber recounted endless gin-soaked 'cocktail party' afternoons which too often turned into caustic evenings full of recriminations.

    America loved its drunks. So, back in 1945, when Billy Wilder put the subject of alcoholism on the screen the way it really was, the audiences weren't at first ready for his powerful examination of this social disease. Preview audiences were so shocked the film was almost pulled by the studio. Common-sense prevailed, and the film went on to win its well-deserved four Oscars, for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Screenplay.

    Ray Milland is Don Birnam, a novelist who's become washed-up before writing his first novel. He is frustrated, scared of life, retreating into endless bottles of cheap rye.

    His life has become unecessarily complicated because he's met Helen St. James (Jane Wyman), who for some reason has fallen in love with this lurching disaster-area. He's meant to go away for a dry long-weekend with his long-suffering brother Wick (Phillip Terry). But he schemes his way out of that dry-date and settles instead into a monster long-weekend of his own devising, complete with pawn-shops, a brief stay in an hospital alcoholism ward, and little creeping monsters which invade his living-room.

    It's assuredly grim. But it's redeemed by fine acting from one of Hollywood's most underrated stars, Ray Milland, and from Jane Wyman, who manages to stop her character from degenerating into Pollyanna-land. There's a great performance too from Howard Da Silva as Don's favourite barman Nat, who grudgingly dispenses his poison and hates doing so.

    Billy Wilder directed this from a screenplay which he wrote in collaboration with Charles Brackett, whose other credits included Ninotchka and another Wilder movie, Sunset Boulevard.

    Brackett also co-wrote my very favourite Billy Wilder comedy, his 1942 American debut movie The Major and the Minor, which saw Ray Milland team up with Ginger Rogers. If there had been any justice in Hollywood, Milland would have won an Oscar for that movie, too.

    Yes, the ending of The Lost Weekend is a bit hokey, catering to Hollywood expectations. But that's just two minutes out of a film which is quite relentless in its description of the miseries and horror of alcoholism. Very un-American, in fact. Only Wilder could have done it.

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    This vintage black-and-white movie appears to have come from a good condition but unrestored print. There are some signs of image degradation -- flecking, scratches, some minor warpage - near the opening of the movie -- but things improve rapidly and it becomes a very satisfactory viewing experience. Tonal contrasts are generally good though things get abnormally murky at times.

    Overall, this is reasonable considering the age of the source-material -- though Warners does keep showing us nowadays just how fine material of this vintage can look when some effort is put into its presentation.

    Sound is two-channel mono, and is very clear with no distortion. The music is a virtual repeat of the soundtrack from Hitchcock's Spellbound from the same year, with Miklos Rozsa recycling his spooky use of the electronic musical instrument known as the Theremin. The two movies opened just one month apart; I wonder if Rozsa delivered a job-lot for the two of them.

    There are no extras of any kind.


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  •   And I quote...
    "This 1945 quadruple-Oscar winner about America's favourite disease still packs a punch."
    - Anthony Clarke
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