The Lost Weekend (film)

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The Lost Weekend
The Lost Weekend poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Billy Wilder
Produced by Charles Brackett
Screenplay by Charles Brackett
Billy Wilder
Based on The Lost Weekend 
by Charles R. Jackson
Starring Ray Milland
Jane Wyman
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography John F. Seitz
Edited by Doane Harrison
Distributed by Paramount Pictures (Original)
Universal Studios (Current)
Release date(s)
  • November 16, 1945 (1945-11-16)
Running time 99 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.25 million
Box office $11,000,000[2]

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 Charles R. Jackson's 1944 novel of the same title about an alcoholic writer. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay).

In 2011, The Lost Weekend was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.


The film recounts the life of an alcoholic New York writer, Don Birnam, over the last half of a six-year period, and in particular on a weekend alcoholic binge.

A shot of the Manhattan skyline to an apartment, with a whiskey bottle hung outside a window by a thin rope. Don and his brother Wick are packing for a weekend vacation. Wick believes that Don, a recovering alcoholic, has been on the wagon for ten days. After Don's girlfriend Helen St. James arrives to wish them bon voyage, she lets it slip that she has two tickets to a Barbirolli concert, but is going alone. Don urges his brother to go with her and says they'll take a later train for their weekend trip. Wick, having disposed of his brother's hidden supply of drink, becomes suspicious of why he is being hustled out. Don angrily demands time to gather his thoughts alone. Wick reluctantly agrees to go and reassures Helen he has found Don's hidden supply of alcohol and points out Don is broke. After they leave, Don frantically tries to find alcohol he has hidden. The cleaning lady arrives for work, but Don sends her away and then steals the wages left for her by his brother.

Don takes the stolen money to Nat's Bar on Third Avenue, based on the legendary P. J. Clarke's, and gets drunk, missing the train he is meant to catch. Wick, effectively rejecting his brother, intends to leave without him, though Helen is wary of leaving Don alone for four days. She is very busy with her work at Time magazine. As Wick is leaving the building, he urges Helen to give herself a chance by dropping Don. Helen waits. Don sneaks into his apartment to avoid her so he can drink. He quickly hides the cheap whiskey he has bought in addition to the many drinks at the bar. The following morning he finds a message from Helen pinned to his front door, urging him to call her.

Later at the bar, owner Nat voices his distaste for how Don treats Helen and another girl who hangs out at the bar. Don recounts to Nat how he met Helen three years earlier at the Metropolitan Opera after a matinee performance of La Traviata. As he is checking his coat, he slides a pint of rye in his raincoat pocket. During the performance, he becomes agitated during "Libiamo ne' lieti calici", the "drinking song" in the first act. He cannot think of anything but the alcohol in the hands of the players and the bottle of rye in his pocket. He abruptly leaves the performance, and upon collecting his coat is presented with a woman's leopard-skin coat. He becomes irritated that he can't get his own coat and is forced to wait until the only person remaining in the area, is the woman with his hat and coat. He is incredibly rude to her, but he makes a quick recovery with his manners and she invites him to a party. He declines, but as shifts his coat off his arm, the flask falls out of his pocket and smashes on the sidewalk. He tells a lie that it's for a friend, and asks if he can still go along to the cocktail party. He tells the bartender he chose not to drink that night... for her.

Their relationship becomes serious. One day he is due to meet Helen's parents, visiting from Toledo, Ohio, whom he overhears discussing his character flaws in the hotel lobby. Overpowered by anxiety, he escapes into the phone booth as Helen arrives and, while clandestinely observing her, calls and asks her to go ahead with lunch without him. This incident caused his return to drinking. Later, after Wick attempts to cover for Don's absence by telling Helen that Don is in Philadelphia, Don emerges from hiding and confesses his alcohol problem to Helen. He recognizes himself as two people: 'Don the writer' and 'Don the drunk', who is dependent on his brother. Don explains that he dropped out of college, identified earlier as Cornell, because he was convinced he was already a Hemingway, a "great writer." As he began to doubt his writing talent, he found solace in drink. Don says he can only develop writing ideas while drunk, but he forgets them when sober. Don suggests Helen drop him, but his words only strengthen Helen's resolve to help Don.

The story returns to the present. Don cannot find a hidden bottle of whiskey, but discovers the name of a bar he has not visited before on a pack of matches. In order to pay his bill at Harry & Joe's, he steals a woman's handbag, takes it into the men's room, and manages to extract enough money to pay his bill. The woman, though, has recognized the theft, and he is identified as the culprit. He admits he has taken her money. The woman takes pity on him in his drunken state and does not press charges. He is told not to return and thrown out. After he returns to his apartment, he ransacks the place looking for the bottle he had hidden during the previous night's drinking session. Unable to find it, he collapses exhausted in a chair and looks up to see the bottle stashed in the ceiling light fixture. Laughing bitterly at himself, he retrieves the bottle and proceeds to drink himself unconscious.

Don Birnam (Ray Milland) stumbling down Third Avenue, seeking to pawn his typewriter.

The next day, Saturday, an extremely hungover and weakened Don is awoken by the phone ringing incessantly. Don supposes it is Helen, but ignores it. Later, he tries and fails to pawn his typewriter, since all the Third Avenue pawnshops are closed because of Yom Kippur. He returns, exhausted, to Nat's bar, but Nat refuses to serve him. Don visits Gloria, another habitué of Nat's Bar, whom he had half-seriously propositioned at the bar and who has admitted being attracted to him. She is now angry over the dates he has broken with her, but after he kisses her in desperation, she yields and hands over a little money. He then falls down the stairs and is knocked unconscious. Coming around in the alcoholics' ward of a hospital on Sunday, he is confronted by 'Bim' Nolan who mockingly recounts the histories of other patients at "Hangover Plaza." Bim allows that admissions to the ward were more numerous during prohibition and offers Don a solution to counteract the effects of the DTs, which Don refuses. During the night, on his second attempt and wearing a stolen coat over his pajamas, Don succeeds in escaping from the ward while the staff are occupied with a more disturbed and violent patient.

Meanwhile, Helen sleeps on the stairs outside his apartment. Don always ignores his milk and newspaper deliveries. When the milkman arrives, he is careful not to wake her. However, Helen is awoken by Don's landlady. She assumes Don is on one of his benders and tells Helen she would be better off if he were dead. Elsewhere, as a liquor store is opening for the day, Don snatches a cheap bottle of whiskey from an assistant clerk. He returns home and ignores the ringing phone. Later, while inebriated, he hallucinates a mouse appearing out of a crack in the wall and a bat flying around his living room. The bat attacks the mouse. Bim had explained earlier that alcoholics usually imagine seeing small animals rather than "pink elephants." Helen returns, alerted by a call from Don's landlady who can hear his screams. Finding him in a delirious state, she vows to look after him and spends the night for reasons of propriety on Don's couch.

In the morning, Tuesday, Don leaves his apartment in a hurry. Helen learns that Don has pawned her coat—the one that brought them together—for a gun. Once more, Helen returns to Don's apartment. He is eager to get rid of her, though she asks him to lend her his raincoat. Don claims their relationship is at an end. Helen, via a reflection in a mirror, spots the gun concealed in the bathroom wash basin and offers him drink as a distraction. Quickly, she is able to retrieve the gun, but Don wrenches it away from her. She reiterates her love for him.

As Helen tries to persuade Don to quit drinking, the door buzzer sounds. Don answers, and Nat enters to return the typewriter Don lost at Gloria's home the night he fell. After Helen persuades him that "Don the writer" and "Don the drunk" are the same person, Don finally commits to writing his novel The Bottle, dedicated to Helen, which will recount the events of the weekend. He drops a cigarette into a glass of whiskey rather than drink it. He recalls that while packing for his lost weekend his mind was on a bottle suspended just outside his window, he ponders, over a reversal of the opening shot, how many other people in New York City are in the same position as he is.


Production and notable features[edit]

Wilder was originally drawn to this material after having worked with Raymond Chandler on the screenplay for Double Indemnity. Chandler was a recovering alcoholic at the time, and the stress and tumultuous relationship with Wilder during the collaboration caused him to go back to drinking. Wilder made the film, in part, to try to explain Chandler to himself.[3]

The film's musical score was among the first to feature the theremin, which was used to create the pathos of alcoholism.[4]

The film also made famous the "character walking toward the camera as neon signs pass by" camera effect.[citation needed]

Rights to the film are currently held by Universal Studios, which owns the pre-1950 Paramount sound feature film library via EMKA, Ltd.[citation needed]


Box office performance[edit]

The film was a commercial success. Produced on a budget of $1.25 million, it grossed $11,000,000 at the box office,[2] earning $4.3 million in US theatrical rentals.[5]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 2011, The Lost Weekend was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.[6] The Registry said the film was "an uncompromising look at the devastating effects of alcoholism" and that it "melded an expressionistic film-noir style with documentary realism to immerse viewers in the harrowing experiences of an aspiring New York writer willing to do almost anything for a drink."[6]

Academy Awards[edit]

At the 18th Academy Awards in May 1946, The Lost Weekend received seven nominations and won in four categories.

Category Nominee Result
Academy Award for Best Picture Won - Charles Brackett Producer
Academy Award for Best Director Billy Wilder Won
Academy Award for Best Actor Ray Milland Won
Academy Award for Best Screenplay Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett Won
Academy Award for Cinematography - Black and White John F. Seitz Lost to Harry Stradling for The Picture of Dorian Gray
Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture Miklós Rózsa Lost to Miklós Rózsa for Spellbound
Academy Award for Best Film Editing Doane Harrison Lost to Robert J. Kern for National Velvet

Cannes Film Festival[edit]

This film also shared the 1946 Grand Prix du Festival International du Film at the first Cannes Film Festival and Milland was awarded Best Actor. To date, The Lost Weekend and Marty (1955) are the only films ever to win both the Academy Award for Best Picture and the highest award at the Cannes Film Festival. (Marty received the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm), which, beginning at the 1955 festival, replaced the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film as the highest award.)

American Film Institute[edit]

The Lost Weekend was nominated for the following AFI's 100 Years... lists:


The Lost Weekend was adapted as a radio play on the January 7, 1946 broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater, starring Milland, Wyman, and Faylen in their original film roles.

On March 10, 1946, three days after winning the Academy Award, Milland appeared as a guest on a radio broadcast of The Jack Benny Show. In a spoof of The Lost Weekend, Ray and Jack Benny played alcoholic twin brothers. Phil Harris, who normally played Jack Benny's hard-drinking bandleader on the show, played the brother who tried to convince Ray and Jack to give up liquor. ("Ladies and gentlemen," said an announcer, "the opinions expressed by Mr. Harris are written in the script and are not necessarily his own.") In the alcoholic ward scene, smart-aleck Frank Nelson played the ward attendant who promised Ray and Jack that they would soon start seeing DT visions of strange animals. When the DT visions appeared (with Mel Blanc providing pig squeals, monkey chatters, and other animal sound effects), Ray chased them off. "Ray, they're gone!" Benny shouted. "What did you do?" Milland replied, "I threw my Oscar at them!"

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the 1947 Bugs Bunny cartoon Slick Hare, a caricatured Ray Milland is shown sitting at a bar and paying for his drink with a typewriter. He gets small typewriters as his change.
  • In Tex Avery's 1947 cartoon King-Size Canary, a mouse character is shown reading a book called "The Lost Squeak-end".
  • In Stephen Fry's novel The Liar, the main character, Adrian, quotes The Lost Weekend talking about alcohol when he is expressing his love for a fellow boy at his public school to a friend.
  • Elements of the film were incorporated into Steve Martin's parody of film noir, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid.
  • Is referenced in various Stephen King novels and novellas, including The Shining and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.
  • John Lennon used to refer to the 18-month period during which he was separated from Yoko Ono as The Lost Weekend.[7]
  • In the Larry Brown short story "Facing the Music", the narrator describes trying to watch the film while his wife makes unwelcome sexual advances toward him.


  1. ^ "THE LOST WEEKEND - DIARY OF A DIPSOMANIAC (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. 1945-08-23. Retrieved 2013-01-27. 
  2. ^ a b Box Office Information for The Lost Weekend. The Numbers. Retrieved March 8, 2014.
  3. ^ "Shadows of Suspense". Double Indemnity Universal Legacy Series DVD (Universal Studios). 2006. 
  4. ^ "MIKLÓS RÓZSA". International Film Music Critics Association. Retrieved 3 November 2012. 
  5. ^ "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 pg 69.
  6. ^ a b "2011 National Film Registry More Than a Box of Chocolates". Library of Congress. December 28, 2011. Retrieved December 28, 2011. 
  7. ^

External links[edit]