Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Lost Weekend

Go To
"I've never done anything. I'm not doing anything. I never will do anything. Zero, zero, zero!"

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation. I can't take quiet desperation!"
Don Birnam

A 1944 novel by Charles R. Jackson, The Lost Weekend entered into Pop-Cultural Osmosis once the film version was released the following year. Directed and co-written by Billy Wilder and starring Ray Milland, the film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Miklos Rozsa provided the film's musical score, notable for its prominent use of Theremin.

An alcoholic writer, Don Birnam (Milland), leads a tough existence in New York City. His girlfriend, Helen (Jane Wyman), is one of the few people out there who can hopefully lead him on the straight and narrow. However, Don's personal life has been at a crossroads due to his insecurities. After ditching a planned weekend trip to the country with Helen and his brother Wick (Phillip Terry), Don begins a long drinking binge, the titular "lost weekend". Of course, the more he drinks, the closer it may be to his last one...

Besides Best Picture, The Lost Weekend won Oscars for Best Director (Wilder), Best Actor (Milland), and Best Adapted Screeplay (Wilder and Charles Brackett). The film also took the Grand Prix at Cannes (forerunner to the Palme d'Or) and is on the National Film Registry.

This work features examples of:

  • Adaptational Sexuality: The film differs significantly from the novel by leaving out the latter's strong implication that Don Birnam is a closeted homosexual (the book's author, Charles Jackson, was bisexual and closeted for most of his life).
  • The Alcoholic: Possibly the first Hollywood film to treat alcoholism in anything resembling a realistic way.
  • Ambiguously Gay: "Bim", the male nurse at the Bellevue alcoholic ward.
  • At the Opera Tonight: In flashback, where Don meets Helen.
  • Battleaxe Nurse: Bim is a rare male example. He's openly contemptuous of Don and the other patients, and takes a sadistic delight in describing what Don has to look forward to from the DTs.
  • Bathroom Stall of Overheard Insults: Don overhears Helen's father talk unfavorably of him in the hotel lobby. Cue I Need a Freaking Drink.
  • Book Ends: The film opens with a shot of the Manhattan skyline and then pans over to Don's apartment window. The last scene is an exact reversal of that sequence.
  • Bowdlerize: The novel pointed to a homosexual affair as the root of Birnam's troubles; the film version replaced it with writer's block.
  • Cold Turkeys Are Everywhere: Don has gone to the opera. Unfortunately for him, the opera has a party scene in which everyone is drinking and singing about drinking, and bottles of champagne are everywhere.note  He has to leave.
  • Drunken Montage: This film features the Ur-Example of the drunkard wandering through the city-streets, while neon-signs float eerily around him. Yeah, that effect that has been endlessly imitated, it started here.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The title isn't random; the whole movie, minus the flashback sequence, takes place as Don goes on a bender over a long weekend, starting Thursday afternoon.
  • Eye Open: Closeup on Don's eye after he wakes up after drinking until passing out.
  • Flashback Effects: There is a blur-over effect used for Don's flashbacks.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Gloria, the girl at Nat's Bar who likes Don, is strongly implied to be a prostitute, which is forbidden under Section II of the Hays Code. She keeps meeting total strangers at Nat's for dates, and she tells Don that she broke "a business date" to see him.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: It's pouring out when Don, hitting bottom, steals Helen's coat, which he pawns. For a gun. To use on himself.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Gloria, who lends money to Don. Love Makes You Dumb may be the more appropriate description though.
  • I'll Tell You When I've Had Enough!: Says Don to the bartender who suggests he take it easy.
  • Infraction Distraction: The reason why Don bought two bottles of whiskey for the weekend trip. He wants his brother to find the first one so he would give up searching for the second one.
  • Irishman and a Jew: Don's attempt to pawn his typewriter is stymied because all the city's pawnshops — even the Catholic-owned ones — are closed for Yom Kippur. A character explains that the Jewish pawnbrokers return the favor by staying closed on St. Patrick's Day.
  • ISO-Standard Urban Groceries: Played with. Don gets two bottles of rye with ten dollars he stole from his brother. But he doesn't want people in the neighborhood to think that he's going out buying liquor in the morning, so he buys a few pieces of fruit to put in the top of the bag to make it look like he just went out for groceries.
  • Local Hangout: Nat's Bar.
  • Meat-O-Vision: A variant comes when Birnam attends the opera and hallucinates that the chorus is a row of empty, swaying trenchcoats, each with a bottle of rye in its pocket.
  • Meet Cute: Don and Helen, when their coat-check tickets get mixed up at the opera.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Don is a frustrated author with writers' block. Whether the inability to write has exacerbated his drinking or his drinking has robbed him of the ability to write is unclear, although the book's homosexual incident is the definite cause of this.
  • Off the Wagon: The flashback reveals that Don had stayed sober for six weeks after meeting Helen. Then, nervous because her parents have come to meet him, he goes on a spree.
  • Pink Elephants:
    • Particularly terrifying example, as Don hallucinates a bat swooping in and eating a mouse in the wall. Unlike many films, which have people seeing their Pink Elephants during their drunken binges, this one gets it right, and has Don seeing his mice and bat after his spree, when he's going through withdrawal.
    • Lampshaded by "Bim", the jerkass orderly at the Bellevue drunk ward:
      Bim: You know that stuff about pink elephants? That's the bunk. It's little animals! Little tiny turkeys in straw hats. Midget monkeys coming through the keyholes. See that guy over there? With him it's beetles. Come the night, he sees beetles crawling all over him.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: Though not explicitly an educational film, it depicts the protagonist's descent into alcoholism very much this way.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Don has a habit of quoting the Bard when getting hammered. His first quote, "Purple the sails, and so perfumed... " is from Antony and Cleopatra, and his second, "Yea, all which it shall inherit...", is from The Tempest.
  • Staircase Tumble: Don loses his ballance on the stairs to Gloria's apartment and tumbles all the way down.
  • Theremin: The first film featuring a theremin on the soundtrack. Miklos Rozsa used it in composing the score for the nightmare sequences.
  • Tropaholics Anonymous: Averted. AA had been around for a decade when this film came out, but the widely accepted idea that 12-step programs are necessary to conquer substance abuse had not really caught on. The film ends with Don determined, with Helen's support, to quit drinking cold turkey and write his book.
  • Waking Up Elsewhere: Don awakes at the alcoholic ward after his Staircase Tumble, wondering where exactly he is. The first thing he sees is the unfamiliar ceiling.