Friday, December 28, 2007

Hi, My Name Is Don, and I'm An Alcoholic

I think I'm pretty familiar with Billy Wilder's impressive oeuvre, and so I feel justified in saying that The Lost Weekend (1945) is one of his rare misses, or non-masterpieces. I haven't been in classic Hollywood in awhile, so it actually took me a little bit of adjustment. Odd, really. The film is about Don Birnam, played in an Oscar-winning performance by Ray Milland. He always wanted to be a writer, but instead he's a pitiful, drunk failure. He's supported by his brother and his girlfriend Helen, played by Jane Wyman. As you can probably guess, the film takes place over the course of a weekend. And guess what? It's not a good one. Gasp.

Actually, to be fair, there are some flashbacks, so the time is not restricted to solely that weekend. I don't mean to be so trite - I'm just not too impressed with the film. But when Billy Wilder makes a mediocre film, that means something. He's usually outstanding. For another director, this might be a great film. The subject matter was quite shocking for the time. It deals very explicitly and frankly with alcoholism, which was a real problem for men returning from the war. His alcoholism isn't war-related, but still. And Milland really is fantastic. Apparently, he ate much less during filming to get more immersed in the mindset of an alcoholic, and he also spent a night in Bellevue (this was the only film allowed to shoot there). That's pretty impressive. He's downright devastating in some scenes. His dedication paid off. Jane Wyman is also really good. I just love her.

It's a good film, but it didn't have a big impact on me. For Billy Wilder, it's just okay. It's certainly not bad like Love in the Afternoon. It won Oscars for Milland, screenplay (Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder), director, and best picture. I don't think it quite deserved all that, but okay, whatever.

There is a really great line in there, though. I don't know if it was in the original material or if Brackett and Wilder wrote it. It sounds like Wilder to me. Don passionately and frantically asserts, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." There's so much truth in that. And I admit there is some personal relevancy, especially now, just graduating and aspiring to be a great film writer. I don't want to live a life of quiet desperation. It's a really scary thought.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

No comments: