The Lost Weekend (1945)

98-101 mins | Drama | 16 November 1945

Director:

Billy Wilder

Producer:

Charles Brackett

Cinematographer:

John F. Seitz

Editor:

Doane Harrison

Production Designers:

Hans Dreier, Earl Hedrick

Production Company:

Paramount Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

The film ends with "Don Birnam" composing the story of his weekend aloud: "...the way I stood in there packing my suitcase, only my mind wasn't on the suitcase, and it wasn't on the weekend, nor was it on the shirts I was putting in the suitcase either. My mind was hanging outside the window. It was suspended, just about eighteen inches below. And out there in that great big concrete jungle, I wonder how many others there are like poor bedeviled guys on fire with thirst, such colorful figures to the rest of the world as they stagger blindly towards another binge, another bender, another spree...." Portions of the following songs are heard in the film: "Louise," music by Richard A. Whiting, lyrics by Leo Robin, and "It's a Hap-Hap-Happy Day," music by Sammy Timberg and Winston Sharples, lyrics by Al J. Neiburg.
       The film was partially shot on location in New York City. Information in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library notes the following specific locations: St. Agnes Church on 43rd St.; 3rd Avenue pawnshops including Kelly's Pawn Shop and Bloom's Pawn Shop; the entrance to the Bellevue Hospital psychiatric ward; the intersection of 55th and 3rd Avenues; the exterior of the Metropolitan Opera; and the interior of the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA. According to interviews with Billy Wilder and contemporary news items, the scene in which "Don Birnam" walks down 3rd Avenue was shot on a Sunday to minimize public interference. Wilder and the cameramen hid in a bakery truck, which followed Ray Milland as he walked along the street in character. Additional information in the Paramount Collection reveals the following ... More Less

The film ends with "Don Birnam" composing the story of his weekend aloud: "...the way I stood in there packing my suitcase, only my mind wasn't on the suitcase, and it wasn't on the weekend, nor was it on the shirts I was putting in the suitcase either. My mind was hanging outside the window. It was suspended, just about eighteen inches below. And out there in that great big concrete jungle, I wonder how many others there are like poor bedeviled guys on fire with thirst, such colorful figures to the rest of the world as they stagger blindly towards another binge, another bender, another spree...." Portions of the following songs are heard in the film: "Louise," music by Richard A. Whiting, lyrics by Leo Robin, and "It's a Hap-Hap-Happy Day," music by Sammy Timberg and Winston Sharples, lyrics by Al J. Neiburg.
       The film was partially shot on location in New York City. Information in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library notes the following specific locations: St. Agnes Church on 43rd St.; 3rd Avenue pawnshops including Kelly's Pawn Shop and Bloom's Pawn Shop; the entrance to the Bellevue Hospital psychiatric ward; the intersection of 55th and 3rd Avenues; the exterior of the Metropolitan Opera; and the interior of the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA. According to interviews with Billy Wilder and contemporary news items, the scene in which "Don Birnam" walks down 3rd Avenue was shot on a Sunday to minimize public interference. Wilder and the cameramen hid in a bakery truck, which followed Ray Milland as he walked along the street in character. Additional information in the Paramount Collection reveals the following about the production: Actor Clarence Muse was initially cast as the washroom attendant in a bar, but was replaced by Fred Toones. Paramount received permission from the Metropolitan Opera Association to restage their version of "The Drinking Song" scene from the opera La traviata . Due to copyright laws, Paramount used a selection from another opera for foreign release. These scenes were shot at the Shrine Auditorium, and were performed by the San Francisco Opera Company, directed by Armando Agnini. According to a HR news item, Cary Grant was sought for the role of "Don Birnam" and Lee Tracy was considered for the role of "Bim." An article in LAT noted that José Ferrer was also considered for the lead role.
       According to information in the MPAA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library, the PCA rejected Paramount's first script for The Lost Weekend in Sep 1944 because they found the story of a man who spends an entire weekend drunk unacceptable; however, by Oct 1944, production began with an incomplete script. Paramount continued to send portions of the script to the PCA as it was completed. In Oct and Nov 1944, letters from the PCA expressed their opposition to "the characterization of Gloria as a prostitute type....It will be absolutely essential to give her some legitimate occupation....Perhaps defining her as a buyer who entertains out of town visitors...would solve this problem."
       A letter from Allied Liquor Industries, "a public relations organization for the liquor industry," included in the MPAA/PCA files, reveals the liquor industry's fear that with the release of The Lost Weekend , "the professional prohibitionists will not have the slightest hesitancy in pointing to the leading character...as typical of anyone who sips a mild and occasional cocktail." The letter continued that the industry hoped Paramount would "use a forceful and plainly stated preamble to the film which will eliminate all our fears." A contemporary news item noted that "whisky interests protested the filming on the grounds that any depiction of a five day binge would prejudice audiences against their product. At the same time, prohibition groups protested on the grounds that it would incite drinking." After the film was released, Seagram-Distiller's Corporation published an advertisement lauding Paramount for producing a "masterpiece of suspense-filled entertainment" and for "succeed[ing] in burning into the hearts and minds of all who see this vivid screen story our own long held and oft published belief that... some men should not drink! "
       Although Wilder finished shooting the film in Dec 1944, it was not released until Nov 1945. Information in the Paramount Collection indicates that added scenes were shot on 10 Apr--11 Apr in 1945. According to modern sources, after a disastrous public preview in Santa Barbara, Paramount studio heads withheld the film from release, but reconsidered in Sep 1945 after favorable press screenings.
       The Lost Weekend was hailed by critics as one of the best films of the decade. Critics noted that although the novel was originally considered to be inappropriate subject matter for the screen, " The Lost Weekend is a miracle of inspired film craftsmanship" ( NY Telegram ) and was "the most daring film that ever came out of Hollywood" ( NYDN ) due to its unprecedented depiction of alcoholism. The film was voted Best Picture of 1945 by the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Board of Review and Redbook magazine, and won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor (Ray Milland), Best Screenplay (Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder), and Best Direction (Billy Wilder). The film was also nominated for Cinematography (John F. Seitz), Film Editing (Doane Harrison), and Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Miklos Rosza, who won for the Selznick-UA film Spellbound ). In 1946, at the first Cannes Film Festival, The Lost Weekend was a joint winner of the Best Film Award (along with the British-made David Lean picture Brief Encounter ) and Ray Milland was named Best Actor. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
18 Aug 1945.
---
Daily Variety
14 Aug 45
p. 3.
Film Daily
14 Aug 45
p. 11.
Harrison's Reports
18 Aug 1945.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jun 44
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Oct 44
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Oct 44
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Oct 44
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Nov 44
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Nov 44
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Dec 44
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Aug 45
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Oct 45
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Dec 45
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Feb 1946.
---
Los Angeles Daily News
26 Oct 1944.
---
Los Angeles Times
3 Dec 1944.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
23 Dec 44
p. 2242.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
18 Aug 45
p. 2597.
New York Times
3 Dec 45
p. 17.
New York Times
30 Dec 45
p. 1.
New York Times
2 Jan 46
p. 21.
New York Times
8 Mar 46
p. 23.
Time
28 Jan 1946.
---
Variety
15 Aug 45
p. 14.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir, 2d unit dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Gaffer
Transparency grip
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Ed supv
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost
MUSIC
Mus score
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff asst
Process photog asst
Process photog asst
DANCE
Dance supv
Dance dir
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Coordinator
Prod mgr
Asst prod mgr
Opera tech adv
Research dir
Research asst
Asst to prod
Casting
Casting
Scr clerk
Stage eng
Grip
Mike grip
Transparency grip
Elec
STAND INS
Stand-in for Ray Milland
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Lost Weekend by Charles R. Jackson (New York, 1944).
SONGS
"The Drinking Song" and other selections from the opera La traviata , music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
"It Was So Beautiful," music by Harry Barris, lyrics by Arthur Freed.
DETAILS
Release Date:
16 November 1945
Production Date:
began 1 October 1944 at New York loc
23 October--22 December 1944 at studio
addl scenes and retakes 10 April--11 April 1945
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
10 August 1945
Copyright Number:
LP13636
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
98-101
Length(in feet):
9,028
Length(in reels):
11
Country:
United States
PCA No:
10517
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

In New York City, aspiring writer and alcoholic Don Birnam packs for a weekend in the country with his brother Wick, secretly hoping to bring along a bottle of rye whiskey. His brother finds the bottle hanging by a rope out the window of Don's apartment, however, and pours the whiskey down the drain. Desperate, Don suggests that Wick go with Don's girl friend, Helen St. James, to the symphony, ostensibly so that he can get some rest. As soon as they leave, Don steals money Wick left for the maid, buys two bottles of whiskey and goes for a drink at Nat's Bar on 3rd Avenue. Don starts with what he calls "one little jigger of dreams," but drinks past the time he was supposed to meet Wick. When he returns home, obviously drunk, he sees Wick and Helen leave and hides while she waits outside for him. Don hides one of his bottles in the chandelier and drinks the other. The next day, he goes to Nat's at lunchtime, where Gloria, a call girl, gives up a business date to get ready for a date with Don. Nat upbraids Don for leading Gloria on and for mistreating Helen, and Don tells him he plans to write a novel called The Bottle , about an alcoholic and his girl. It all began three years ago, Don tells Nat, when Don met Helen at the Metropolitan Opera: In the opening aria of La traviata, Don sees the actors drinking, imagines a row of trenchcoats instead of the dresses of the chorus and leaves his seat to retrieve his coat, in which ... +


In New York City, aspiring writer and alcoholic Don Birnam packs for a weekend in the country with his brother Wick, secretly hoping to bring along a bottle of rye whiskey. His brother finds the bottle hanging by a rope out the window of Don's apartment, however, and pours the whiskey down the drain. Desperate, Don suggests that Wick go with Don's girl friend, Helen St. James, to the symphony, ostensibly so that he can get some rest. As soon as they leave, Don steals money Wick left for the maid, buys two bottles of whiskey and goes for a drink at Nat's Bar on 3rd Avenue. Don starts with what he calls "one little jigger of dreams," but drinks past the time he was supposed to meet Wick. When he returns home, obviously drunk, he sees Wick and Helen leave and hides while she waits outside for him. Don hides one of his bottles in the chandelier and drinks the other. The next day, he goes to Nat's at lunchtime, where Gloria, a call girl, gives up a business date to get ready for a date with Don. Nat upbraids Don for leading Gloria on and for mistreating Helen, and Don tells him he plans to write a novel called The Bottle , about an alcoholic and his girl. It all began three years ago, Don tells Nat, when Don met Helen at the Metropolitan Opera: In the opening aria of La traviata, Don sees the actors drinking, imagines a row of trenchcoats instead of the dresses of the chorus and leaves his seat to retrieve his coat, in which he has hidden a bottle of whiskey. His claim check has been switched with that of the owner of a leopard coat, and he must wait through the entire opera until the coat's owner comes to claim it. The owner is Helen, to whom he is initially rude, but then invites to see another opera, and she invites him to a cocktail party that evening. After he mistakenly drops his bottle on the pavement, he accepts her invitation but does not get drunk because he falls in love with her. When Helen's parents visit from Ohio expressly to meet her new boyfriend, he overhears Mr. St. James questioning Don's lack of a job. Too nervous to meet Helen's parents, Don cancels and gets drunk. Later, when a worried Helen arrives at Don's apartment, Wick covers for him, but Don emerges drunk and confesses that he is an alcoholic. Although he was a successful writer in college, he quit school to come to New York, and has not sold a piece since. He tells Helen that there are two Don Birnams: the writer and the nagging voice of doubt. Instead of walking out, Helen kisses him. After his story concludes, Nat gives Don the ending to his novel--suicide. Suddenly determined to write his story, Don leaves the bar and returns home, but after typing the cover page, he is riddled with self-doubt and goes to a bar, where he steals a woman's purse to pay for his liquor. He confesses to the crime and is thrown out of the bar. As he lays on his bed staring at the ceiling, Don sees the shadow of a bottle hidden in the chandelier and drinks it to the last drop. He then pulls his first page out of the typewriter and decides to pawn it. Desperately walking up and down 3rd Avenue, Don learns that it is Yom Kippur and all the pawnshops are closed. Back at Nat's, Don begs him for one drink, and is shaking so badly he cannot lift the shotglass. Nat kicks him out of the bar, and Don goes to Gloria's place to beg for money. Although she is furious that he missed their date, he kisses her, and she agrees to give him money. A little girl passes him on the stairs on the way out, and he falls, hitting his head, and lands in the alcoholic ward of a hospital, where patients are kept against their will. Despite Don's protests, Bim, the male nurse, assures him that he is an alcoholic and warns him of the delirium tremens, a "disease of the night," when he will imagine he sees little animals. In the night, one of the patients screams in terror during a fit, and while he is dragged from the ward, Don steals a doctor's coat and escapes in the hospital's bedclothes. At dawn, as a liquor store opens, Don maniacally demands that the owner give him a bottle. Helen, meanwhile, has waited the entire night on Don's apartment stairs and finally goes home when the landlady wakes her. Don goes home and drinks the bottle, and awakens with delirium tremens. He imagines a mouse emerging from a hole in the wall and being eaten by a bat. As the mouse's blood streams down the wall, Don screams, and the landlady calls Helen. In terror, Don crawls to the door to chain the lock, but Helen gets in and picks him up, then assures him that there was no mouse and no bat. Remembering Bim's prophecy about small animals, Don is determined to enact Nat's suggested ending. In the morning, Don steals Helen's leopard coat and pawns it for a gun he placed in hock after considering suicide on his thirtieth birthday. She follows and accuses him of being a "ruthless sponge," after which he goes home and writes a suicide note to Wick. Helen, still determined to save him, arrives asking for a raincoat, and he gives her the coat he was wearing the night they met. She spots the gun and grabs it, but he struggles with her and gets it back. Although he bitterly announces that Don Birnam is already dead, she reminds him that there are two Don Birnams, and that he must not sacrifice one for the other. As Helen asks for a miracle, Nat arrives at the door to restore Don's typewriter to him. Helen encourages Don to write his story as a means to a catharsis, and he resists his last glass of whiskey. Helen assures him that now that he has the ending to his novel, he can write it. Don then begins to compose the story of his weekend. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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