THE LOST WEEKEND (1945) is Billy Wilder's classic film about one man's struggle with alcoholism. Ray Milland plays Don Birnam, a failed writer whose entire life consists of attempts to get more booze. Even with the love and support of his brother and girlfriend (Jane Wyman), Birnam is unable to stop drinking. The main story follows Birnam during a long weekend of bingeing, as his life slowly spirals into more and more desperate situations. Flashback sequences help fill in the gaps and explain Birnam's past and how he came to his current condition.
The performances in this film are all wonderful (especially by lead Ray Milland). The camera work is also inventive and the script is very well-written. However, time has not been kind to THE LOST WEEKEND. In the 56 years since this film premiered, we've seen countless portrayals of alcoholism on film and television -- including many that are more realistic and nuanced than the situations presented here. While many of these programs were undoubtedly influenced by THE LOST WEEKEND, the cumulative effect is to unfortunately dilute the impact of the film. Seen through modern eyes, the main character seems exaggerated and overblown, making it difficult to become emotionally involved in the film.
THE LOST WEEKEND is presented in the original full-frame aspect ratio. The picture quality is not terrible, but is less than we've come to expect from an exceptional DVD transfer. In fact, my suspicion is that this is the same transfer that was created for the LaserDisc nearly 10 years ago. The film is slightly soft, not nearly as crisp as I'd expect. There are also some scratches and other damage to the source print. I also noticed some occasional compression artifacts, mostly in complicated backgrounds like the curtains in Milland's apartment.
The transfer is certainly not terrible -- it's very watchable and enjoyable. The flaws described above are not pervasive and do not really distract from the viewing experience. However, it certainly doesn't appear that Universal has taken any steps to remaster the film or perform any digital cleanup to take advantage of the increased resolution of DVD. With the amazing quality of some classic films released on DVD recently, I expected more from this Universal Best Picture winner.
The English 2.0 mono soundtrack is very good, with only a slight hiss and occasional distortion. This soundtrack is typical of older films and the minor flaws are mostly a result of the age of the film. Again, like the video, the audio isn't as crisp as it possibly could be -- but it is clear, understandable, and unlikely to disappoint.
The "bonus materials" on this DVD are very disappointing. Universal has given this entry in their Award Winners series nothing more than the theatrical trailer and the usual production notes/biographical information. A trailer and film notes are becoming so standard and trivial that it's difficult to even consider them extras any more. Why not include a commentary by a film scholar (like Criterion often does for older titles)? How about a documentary, like the ones that Laurent Bouzereau created for the Universal Hitchcock DVDs?
Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and French.
THE LOST WEEKEND is a very well-made film, with great performances and a well-written script. However, modern audiences may find it to be dated and melodramatic. Additionally, fans of the film will find the DVD presentation to be slightly disappointing. For a film that won four Academy Awards and is considered by many to be an important, classic work, Universal has certainly skimped a bit on the DVD presentation. The picture and sound quality are adequate -- nothing more. The lack of any significant extra material makes this DVD doubly disappointing. Universal should have spent some effort to clean up the film, provided some additional supplements to place this film in historical context, or at the very least reduced the high ($30) price tag.
Note: In January 2002 (11 months after the initial release), Universal reduced the retail price of this title -- cutting it in half to $15. I have not changed my review above, but I did want to note that Universal's new price certainly makes the disc more appealing for fans of the film. While the mediocre quality and lack of extras are still disappointing, being able to find the DVD for ten dollars online makes it easier to accept.