I dig into a new movie book today, Ten Bad Dates with De Niro, which have a number of different chapters and submissions. There’s going to be a lot of interesting films in this one.
The first section is titles Losing it at the Movies – Pure Emotional Responses to Cinema. I found myself coming across a title Under the heading of It’s Only A Movie, Ten Films (Non-Horror) that Traumatised Me When I Was Younger that I hadn’t written up for the blog yet, the Oscar winning (Best Picture, Best Actor – Ray Milland, Best Director – Billy Wilder, and Best Screenplay – Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder) The Lost Weekend.
It’s not an easy watch.
Don Birnam (Milland) has been on the wagon for ten days, but his need for the drink is about to overpower him, driving him into the bottle for a four day bender that is not going to end well for anyone. Through flashbacks we see events in his life played out that show how his addiction has ruined any of his potential for a happy life.
When he dodges his brother, Wick (Phillip Terry), and a trip home, Milland as Don gives a bold performance of a man who will seemingly sink to any depth to get his next drink, stealing, cheating, lying and evading.
He descends deeper and deeper on his bender, even hallucinating at one point, and all of it is frightening. He seems intent on driving away his one potential for joy and love, in the form of his hurt but devoted girlfriend, Helen (Jane Wyman).
Wilder’s direction (his use of camera angles to show how alcohol looms and dominates Don is fantastic) is as bold as Milland’s performance as he never lets the camera look away from what is happening to Don and what Don is doing to himself. And while it can be argued that the film may end a little too hopefully, I would argue it ends with the potential for hope, the rest is spot on and is a strong, unflinching look at the demons of alcoholism. The film doesn’t quite hint at the fact that it is a mental health issue, but does show how horrible the addiction is.
Films like this are difficult to watch, and they aren’t about escapism, as not all films have to be, but that doesn’t detract from their importance. There’s a reason this film affected people then, and still does today, it can hit home with its familiarity, it can be troubling in its look at the dark side of humanity, but it’s still a masterful piece of film making.
The Lost Weekend is a classic Wilder film, and one I hadn’t seen before. I’m glad I saw it, but I’m also glad I waited so that I could appreciate it. I wonder what Ten Bad Dates With De Niro has for me next.