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 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.
Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and French.
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.