Ray Milland and Jane Wyman star in this first recommendation from Great Movies – 100 Years of Film following my viewing of On The Waterfront.
And wow… $10 went a long way back in 1945!
This one took Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Milland too Best Actor at the Oscars that year, and watching it, it doesn’t surprise. Milland is Don Birnam, is a struggling writer, living off the generosity of his brother Wick (Phillip Terry), and the love of the good-heart of his girlfriend Helen (Wyman). He’s also a chronic alcoholic.
Under Wilder’s direction, the script, which he wrote with Charles Brackett, based on the novel by Charles R. Jackson, the film follows Birnam over the course of a weekend, and the flashbacks of his tale that show us his addiction and illness, and how all-consuming it is.
He struggles to tell his tale on paper, one he has told to his put-upon bartender, Nat (Howard Da Silva), but without the crutch of his bottle, he’s unable to even begin.
He stumbles, aware that he’s ruining his life, and those around him, but he can’t seem to break his addiction.
The film’s hospital sequence is very unnerving, because if you didn’t realize it before, this one shows incredibly well, through yells, and shadows that this really is an illness, not just an addiction. But Birnam it seems doesn’t really want to get better – even when he starts to go through the DTs at home!
Helen refuses to leave his side, and when his typewriter, almost hocked, returns to him at just the right moment, she shows an incredible amount of courage as she stands by him, supports him, and watches in fear as temptation holds sway over him for a moment.
He turns a corner that weekend, finds his rock bottom, and then, slowly begins his climb out at the end of the film.
And while others may not be able to begin their climb so quickly, I’m sure a number of viewers may recognize familiar moments either for themselves or loved ones. Wilder and Milland don’t pull any punches in this production, and it’s gritty, and real, the camera almost working in a documentary style as opposed to a narrative one to a engender a stronger sense of realism to the tale.
The film also doesn’t flinch from showing the darkness that alcoholism is, and Milland’s portrayal is incredibly brave, putting himself out there like that, in a role that very easily could have descended into melodrama in the wrong hands.
As a side note, apparently the alcohol industry approached Paramount Pictures and offered them a ridiculous amount of money to not release the film!
If you haven’t seen this one, I can’t recommend it enough, it doesn’t coddle the viewer, it plunges them into the horror and pain that alcoholism can cause.
Check it out.