Summary: A truly important 'social issue picture', Billy Wilder's 'The Lost Weekend' is a masterful exploration of alcoholism. And it looks sublime on Blu-ray.
It didn't take long for the Academy to right their snub of 'Double Indemnity'. The following year, in 1946, Billy Wilder won Best Screenplay and Best Director while 'The Lost Weekend' also took home Best Picture. Rounding out the major awards, Ray Milland won Best Actor for his brave, simmering and humane work as boozed up writer Don Birnam who falls off the wagon to spectacular effect.
The old story is that Paramount were offered millions to bury the release of the film so as not to harm the liquor industry. Ever witty, Billy Wilder claimed he would have accepted if the offer had been exclusively to him. Regardless, 'The Lost Weekend' - even now - is powerful enough to warrant some truth to that tale: It'd scare the alcohol companies even now.
Previous noirs romanticised alcohol, smoking, femme fatales and all the rest of it. 'The Lost Weekend' is the hangover from 'Double Indemnity'. It was a wake-up call that helped usher in more realism to a stylised medium.
Indeed, Billy Wilder throughout his career bridged style and substance with impeccable resolve. There's a nightmare sequence that wouldn't be out of place in a David Lynch film, offset to a brooding noir beat that Wilder would revisit in 'Sunset Boulevard' all the while treating the material with respect and humanity. He grants us people, not characters and moments, not scenes.
Drunks aren't zombies; they've got wit, fear and as wide a spectrum of emotions as anybody else, which is something 'The Lost Weekend' never simplifies to make a narrative smoother. Instead, Billy Wilder acts as bartender to Ray Milland who uses his underrated skill to decide whether or not this particular glass is half full or half empty.
The film speaks for itself and has continued to do so for decades as other 'classics' of the era find themselves dated. On to Eureka's Blu-ray: This Masters of Cinema release is licensed from Universal for their 100th anniversary, and the print is super. Extras-wise, it contains a booklet, the radio adaptation from 1946 and a three-hour three-part 1992 documentary entitled 'Billy, How Did You Do It?' which sees 'The Tin Drum' filmmaker Volker Schlondorff converse with Wilder in great detail and informality. (If you like that, some years later just before Wilder's death in 2002, Cameron Crowe had the same idea and wrote a book based around his revealing interviews with him, which is also strongly recommended)
All in all, 'The Lost Weekend' is a true essential, and the Blu-ray really warrants an upgrade from Universal's old bare-bones DVD.
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