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Review: 4K Blu-ray Edition of 'The Lost Weekend' Impresses

by Frank J. Avella
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Nov 24, 2020
Review: 4K Blu-ray Edition of 'The Lost Weekend' Impresses

Writer-director Billy Wilder rarely gets the recognition he deserves for being one of the most eclectic, bold, and perspicacious filmmakers of his time. Beginning in the 1930s, with screenplays for "Midnight" and "Ninotchka," and into the '40s, where he co-wrote and directed "The Major and the Minor," "Five Graves to Cairo" and the noir classic "Double Indemnity," Wilder (who escaped the Nazis) forged quite a path for himself as an uncompromising journalistic storyteller/social commentator who often presented the world in a harsh, realistic light (and, other times, in a darkly comic one).

Wilder's follow up to "Indemnity" was an adaptation (with frequent early-career partner Charles Brackett) of Charles R. Jackson's novel, "The Lost Weekend," about an alcoholic on a bender. The film starred Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry and Howard Da Silva, and was quite startling for its time, depicting writer wannabe Don Birnam (Milland) and his descent into a drunken abyss of sorts while the narrative flashes back to events in his life leading up to this particularly horrific "lost" weekend.

One of the curious questions that remain unanswered in the film is why Birnam drinks. (We are more accepting of there not needing to be a reason today, since alcoholism is now regarded as a disease). In the novel there are allusions to Birnam being a repressed homosexual. Not that Wilder had a choice in 1945, but it's probably best that this idea was omitted from the film — blaming the protag's uncontrollable drinking on his being closeted versus the notion that it's caused by writer's block. Wilder does, sneakily, slip in a few character traits and moments where Birnam can be read as gay, but does not present in a way where we can blame the gayness on the boozing. In addition, Wilder has no issues with giving us a pretty obviously queer nurse, Bim (Frank Faylen), who openly flirts with Birnam. (It could be argued that Wilder was rather daring in his treatment of sexual identity in many of his films, "Some Like It Hot" being a prime example).

Jackson was, himself, a bisexual who would embark on an open same-sex relationship in the 1960s. He complained about the film when it was released (mostly because of the compromised, quasi-happy ending), but would embrace it as one of his favorites just a few years later.

This film might appear dated today, but in 1945 it was groundbreaking since most alcoholics up to that point were portrayed in a comic manner. The Wilder/Brackett wit and intelligence is obvious in the dialogue and Wilder continued to perfect his filmic directorial style.

Also, Milland's sometimes scenery chewing performance is off putting at first, but then actually complements the nightmarish milieu onscreen.

The movie received seven Oscar nominations, winning four (Picture, Director, Screenplay and Lead Actor). Five years later, Wilder would create his masterwork, "Sunset Boulevard," an instant classic that blended melodrama with satire.

"The Lost Weekend" is filmed in black and white, in a sharp, deliberately dark, shadowy manner with a haunting score, by the great Miklos Rosza, that treats the material like a horror film (and, in many respects, it is). Kino Lorber has done an impressive transfer job both visually as well as with the audio. There are a few scenes that still look a bit messy, but the sound is consistently awesome.

The Special Features here are pretty paltry. The most essential is an informative and entertaining audio commentary by film historian Joseph McBride. One fascinating tidbit offered was that the Brackett/Wilder writing team broke up because of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, which Brackett supported, and Wilder was vehemently opposed to.

A few years ago, Masters of Cinema in the UK, put out a Blu-ray as part of their amazing series which boasted some terrific Special Features, most notably a 1992 three-hour documentary made for television by Gisela Grischow and Volker Schlondorff, titled "Billy, How Did You Do It?" It's a shame Kino Lorber did not include this (although there could have been an issue with clip rights). KL released an abridge version as a stand-alone 2006 title, "Billy Wilder Speaks," (71 min plus 70 min extra footage).

This disc also includes a short Radio Adaptation and the trailer.

Billy Wilder's melodramatic masterwork,"The Lost Weekend" is given a worthy polish by Kino Lorber and is great addition to any cinephile's Blu-ray library.

"The Lost Weekend" is available on Blu-ray 24.

Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep. Frank is a recipient of a 2019 International Writers Retreat Residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy), a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and a 2015 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Award. He is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, FIG JAM, VATICAN FALLS) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute

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