The Lost Weekend (1945)
|Year Of Production||1945|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (50:18)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Billy Wilder|
Universal Pictures Home Video
Howard Da Silva
Lewis L. Russell
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||Miscellaneous|
|Subtitles||English for the Hearing Impaired||Smoking||Yes|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Cynics suggest that actors and directors often win Oscars for lesser work because they were overlooked in previous years for more deserving efforts - like Judi Dench winning for Shakespeare in Love instead of Her Majesty Mrs Brown, or Russell Crowe for Gladiator instead of The Insider, or even our Cate for The Aviator instead of Elizabeth. This is not a new trend - it may have influenced the Academy to present Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend with four awards, Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Director, just a year after the same director's far superior Double Indemnity was completely overlooked.
Not that the Oscars have ever been a guide to the best of American cinema. Few winners of Best Picture stand the test of time. The Lost Weekend stands up better than most if you take into account that it is not really the sort of A picture that normally wins such awards. The stars were not major box office names at the time, nor was the director as celebrated as he would later be. The story is mainly downbeat, with what feels like a tacked-on happy ending.
Don Birnam (Ray Milland) is an alcoholic. His brother Wick (Phillip Terry) and girlfriend Helen (Jane Wyman) are trying to get him away for a weekend to dry out, but Don manages to outwit them. He then embarks on his "lost weekend", looking for booze and money to buy booze, even begging for it. He spends some time in a bar run by Nat (Howard Da Silva), where he recounts in flashback his meeting Helen, after a performance of La Traviata that would drive anyone to drink.
Don is briefly incarcerated in the alcoholic ward of a hospital where he gets the lowdown from cynical male nurse Bim (Frank Faylen), and then has a case of the DTs.
Based on a book by Charles R. Jackson, the screenplay was by Wilder and his long-time collaborator Charles Brackett. It is very well-written, with cynical and tough dialogue and no unnecessary exposition. We immediately see from the opening shot that Don is an alcoholic even though we don't see him drink. Of course it goes through all of the clichés of the alcoholic, but as this was one of the few films of the era to deal directly with alcoholism (D. W. Griffith's underrated final film The Struggle is the only earlier one to spring to mind), these would not have seem so clichéd at the time. Perhaps the biggest gripe I have with the film is the same one I have with all the worthy social conscience films of the era: a failure to be uncompromising, as can be seen by the cop-out ending. It's been said of Gentleman's Agreement from two years later that it is an anti-racist film with nothing to offend racists, and I guess a similar argument could be made with The Lost Weekend. After spending the whole film showing that an alcoholic's belief that he can give up at any time is false, well, the ending does not support that.
English actor Ray Milland won his Oscar for this role, not the sort of role that he would have been thought capable of. A somewhat bland leading man, his change of pace in this movie was a revelation, and would lead to him being cast as less than heroic characters for the rest of his career. Jane Wyman was about to embark on a series of women's pictures that would keep her busy throughout the 1950s, and shows a little of the inner steel that became part of her screen persona. Perhaps the best performances of the other actors are Howard Da Silva as the bartender, and Frank Faylen who subtly suggests a sadistic streak under the surface of the male nurse. Da Silva would have his career derailed by blacklisting and Faylen would never get such a plum role again.
This may sound perverse, but the one thing that this film did for me was make me thirsty. I kept feeling like having that drink that Don was after. An unusual reaction to a film that is about the perils of alcohol, and I wonder whether audiences in 1945 had a similar reaction.
The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, close to the original 1.37:1.
This is a somewhat mediocre transfer in several respects. A dark and slightly dirty print has been used for the transfer of this black and white film. It is sharp and detailed, though some of the detail has been achieved through slight edge enhancement. Contrast seems a little heavy, as dark portions of the image are very dark and amorphous.
Some mild aliasing is present at times. Apart from the edge enhancement and some slight telecine wobble seen in the opening credits, there are no significant film to video artefacts.
The print material used for the transfer was not in the best of condition. There is a lot of dirt in some sequences, occasional white flecks and pale scratches. More annoying is the apparent deterioration of the film in some later sequences, for example at 81:21, though it is visible as early as 21:50. Here in the darker scenes there are flickering pale areas of the image, the sort of artefact that I would associate with the beginnings of nitrate decomposition. There is noticeable grain throughout, a bit more than I would have thought appropriate.
Optional subtitles are provided in English only. These are in a relatively large white font and seem to translate all of the dialogue, often extending to three lines.
This is an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change placed at 50:18 in the middle of a scene in the bar. It is somewhat strangely placed and obviously disruptive.
The sole audio track is English Dolby Digital 2.0 and monaural.
The audio fares a little better than the video. Dialogue is clear throughout, though tones are a little thin. The sound generally lacks dynamic range, being slightly flat and lacking in immediacy. There is no audible hiss nor any distortion that I could detect, and audio sync is exemplary.
The films boasts an effective music score by Miklos Rozsa. There are no distinctive melodies, but it uses a Theremin to tremendous effect to suggest the attraction of the demon drink.
|Surround Channel Use|
Universal will win no awards for having no extras for this award-winning film.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
This film was released several years ago in the US. The Region 1 equivalent differs by having the following extras:
The Region 1 wins by a nose.
An interesting film about an unusual subject, at least in 1945 it was unusual to see this on film.
The video is sharp but otherwise disappointing.
The audio is satisfactory.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-S733A, using Component output|
|Display||Sony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Speakers||Main: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175|