The Lost Weekend (film)

The Lost Weekend is a 1945 American film directed by Billy Wilder starring Ray Milland and Jane Wyman. It was based on Charles R. Jackson's 1944 novel of the same name about an alcoholic writer. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It also shared the Grand Prix at the first Cannes Film Festival, making it one of only two films (the other being Marty) to win both the Academy Award for Best Picture and the highest award at Cannes.

The Lost Weekend
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBilly Wilder
Produced byCharles Brackett
Screenplay byCharles Brackett
Billy Wilder
Based onThe Lost Weekend
by Charles R. Jackson
StarringRay Milland
Jane Wyman
Music byMiklós Rózsa
CinematographyJohn F. Seitz
Edited byDoane Harrison
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • November 29, 1945 (1945-11-29)
Running time
99 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.25 million
Box office$11,000,000[2] or $4.3 million (US rentals)[3]

In 2011, The Lost Weekend was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 100% based on 33 reviews, with an average rating of 8.32/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Director Billy Wilder's unflinchingly honest look at the effects of alcoholism may have had some of its impact blunted by time, but it remains a powerful and remarkably prescient film."[4]


On Thursday, alcoholic New York writer Don Birnam, is packing for a weekend vacation with his brother Wick. When Don's girlfriend Helen drops by, and mentions that she has two tickets for a concert that day, Don suggests that Wick attend with Helen. Knowing they had disposed of all the liquor Don had hidden in the apartment, and that he has no money for more, they go to the concert.

Don heads for Nat's Bar, using money stolen from Wick. Don intends to be back home in time to meet Wick and catch their train, but he loses track of time due to his drinking. When he arrives home he sees Wick leaving and Helen saying she will stay and wait for Don, worried about him being left alone. Don avoids Helen and sneaks back into the flat to drink some cheap whisky he bought.

On Friday, back at Nat's Bar, Nat criticizes Don for treating Helen so badly. Don recalls how he first met Helen at the opera-house, where the cloakroom mixed up their coats. He and Helen soon struck up a romance, and he remained sober during this time. When he goes to meet her parents, he overhears them talking about him being unemployed, wondering if he is good enough for their daughter. He loses his nerve and sneaks off. She goes to his flat, where Wick tries to cover for him, but Don confesses that he is two people: "Don the writer", whose fear of failure causes him to drink, and "Don the drunk" who always has to be bailed out by Wick. Helen devotes herself to helping him.

Don has moved on to another bar, where he is thrown out when he is caught stealing money from a woman's purse. Back in his flat, he finds a bottle he had hidden and drinks himself into a stupor.

On Saturday, Don is broke; despite telling Nat the day before that he was finally going to write a novel about his alcoholism, he decides to pawn his typewriter so he can buy more alcohol, but the pawnshops are closed for Yom Kippur. Desperate for money, he visits a girl who has had a long-held crush on him. She gives him some money, but he falls down her stairs and is knocked unconscious.

On Sunday, Don wakes up in an alcoholics' ward where male nurse Bim Nolan mocks him and other guests at "Hangover Plaza". Bim offers to help cure his delirium tremens, but Don refuses help and then manages to escape while the staff are occupied with a raving, violent patient.

On Monday, Don steals a bottle of whisky from a store and spends the day drinking. Suffering from an episode of delirium tremens, he hallucinates a nightmarish scene in which a bat flies in his window and kills a mouse, spilling its blood. Helen returns, alerted Don's landlady, who can hear his screams. Finding him collapsed and in a delirious state, she stays overnight on his couch.

On Tuesday morning, Don slips out and pawns Helen's coat, the one that had brought them together. She trails him to the pawn shop, thinking that he sold her coat to buy alcohol, but learns from the pawnbroker that he traded the coat for his gun for which he has the bullets at home. She races to Don's apartment and interrupts him just before he is about to shoot himself. She grabs the weapon, but he pries it out of her hand. As she pleads with him, reminding him of her love, Nat arrives to return Don's typewriter, which the bartender says he found "floating around in the Nile". After Nat leaves, Helen is finally able to convince him that "Don the writer" and "Don the drunk" are the same person. He finally commits to writing his novel The Bottle, dedicated to her, which will recount the events of the weekend. He drops a cigarette into a glass of whiskey to make it undrinkable, as evidence of his resolve.


Production and notable features

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 start drinking again. Wilder made the film, in part, to try to explain Chandler to himself.[5]

Billy Wilder originally wanted Jose Ferrer for the role of Don, but he turned it down. Charles Brackett's first choice for playing Helen was Olivia de Havilland, but she was involved with a lawsuit that prevented her from being in any film at that time. It has been said that Katharine Hepburn and Jean Arthur were also considered for the role.[6]

The majority of the film was shot at Paramount studios in Hollywood. Wilder, however, insisted they shoot part of the film on location in New York City to create a distinct sense of realism. On October 1, 1944, Wilder and his small crew began filming in New York, mostly along Third Avenue on the Upper East Side. To further create a realistic atmosphere, Wilder and his crew implemented hidden cameras, placing them behind boxes or in the back of trucks, and capturing Milland as he walked up 3rd Avenue among actual pedestrians who were unaware a film was being made. The production also had the unprecedented permission to film inside Bellevue Hospital in the alcoholic ward, a request that would be denied to future films. After completing filming in New York, the cast and crew returned to California to resume principal photography, where they recreated several New York locations, including a replica of P.J. Clarke's, a tavern often frequented by author Charles Jackson.[7]

The film also made famous the "character walking toward the camera in a daze as time passes" camera effect.

Once The Lost Weekend was completed, it was shown to a preview audience, who laughed at what they considered Milland's overwrought performance, and the studio actually considered shelving the film. Part of the problem was that the print shown at the preview didn't have Miklós Rózsa's original musical soundtrack, but instead had a temporary track containing upbeat jazz music. However, once the Rózsa score was in place, along with a re-shoot of the last scene, audiences and critics reacted favorably. The film's musical score was among the first to feature the theremin, which was used to create the pathos of alcoholism.[8][7]

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

The film differs significantly from the book by leaving out the novel's noted homosexual overtones, namely the strong implication that Don Birnam (as was the book's author, Charles Jackson) is a closeted homosexual.[9]

The liquor industry launched a campaign to undermine the film even before its release. Allied Liquor Industries, a national trade organization, wrote an open letter to Paramount warning that anti-drinking groups would use the film to reinstate prohibition. Liquor interests allegedly enlisted gangster Frank Costello to offer Paramount $5 million to buy the film's negative in order to burn it.[10] Wilder quipped that if they’d offered him $5 million, “I would have [burned the negative].”[11]


Box office performance

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.[12]

Awards and honors

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.[13] 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."[13]

Academy Awards

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

Category Nominee Result Lost To
Best Picture Charles Brackett Won N/A
Best Director Billy Wilder Won N/A
Best Actor Ray Milland Won N/A
Best Adapted Screenplay Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett Won N/A
Best Cinematography John F. Seitz Nominated Lost to Harry Stradling for The Picture of Dorian Gray
Best Original Score Miklós Rózsa Nominated Lost to Miklós Rózsa for Spellbound
Best Film Editing Doane Harrison Nominated Lost to Robert J. Kern for National Velvet

Cannes Film Festival

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.)[14][15][16]


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, Milland 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!"


  1. "THE LOST WEEKEND - DIARY OF A DIPSOMANIAC (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. 1945-08-23. Retrieved 2013-01-27.
  2. Box Office Information for The Lost Weekend. The Numbers. Retrieved March 8, 2014.
  3. "60 Top Grossers of 1946", Variety 8 January 1947 p8
  4. "The Lost Weekend (1945)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  5. "Shadows of Suspense". Double Indemnity Universal Legacy Series DVD. Universal Studios. 2006.
  6. Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies
  7. Phillips, Gene (2010). Some Like It Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 76–78. ISBN 0813173671. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
  8. "MIKLÓS RÓZSA". International Film Music Critics Association. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
  9. "'Farther and Wilder' by Blake Bailey". Retrieved May 13, 2016.
  10. Phillips, Gene (2010). Some Like It Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder. University Press of Kentucky. p. 83. ISBN 9780813173672. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
  11. Terrall, Ben. "The Lost Weekend" (PDF). Retrieved 16 January 2019.
  12. "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 pg 69.
  13. "2011 National Film Registry More Than a Box of Chocolates". Library of Congress. December 28, 2011. Retrieved December 28, 2011.
  14. "The Lost Weekend Awards". Imdb.
  15. "Marty Awards". Imdb.
  16. "A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PALME D'OR". Festival de Cannes Official Website. Festival De Cannes.
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