The Lost Weekend (1945)

The Lost Weekend (1945)



Critic Consensus: 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.

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Movie Info

This grim, realistic treatment of alcoholism stars Ray Milland as Don Birnam, a troubled novelist with a drinking problem. Escaping from the apartment his worried brother has confined him to for the weekend, Don makes his way to his favorite tavern, where he knocks back drink after drink.
Classics , Drama , Romance
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
Paramount Pictures

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Ray Milland
as Don Birnam
Jane Wyman
as Helen St. James
Phillip Terry
as Nick Birnam
Philip Terry
as Nick Birnam
Doris Dowling
as Gloria
Mary Young
as Mrs. Deveridge
Anita Bolster
as Mrs. Foley
Lilian Fontaine
as Mrs. St. James
Lewis L. Russell
as Charles St. James
Frank Orth
as Opera Attendant
Gisela Werbiseck
as Mrs. Wertheim
Eddie Laughton
as Mr. Brophy
Harry Barris
as Piano Player
Craig Reynolds
as M.M.'s Escort
William O'Leary
as Irishman
Fred 'Snowflake' Toones
as Washroom Attendant
Clarence Muse
as Washroom Attendant
Gene Ashley
as Male Nurse
Jerry James
as Male Nurse
William Meader
as Male Nurse
Emmett Vogan
as Doctor
Milton Wallace
as Pawnbroker
Lester Sharpe
as Jewish Man
Bertram Warburgh
as Jewish Man
Theodora Lynch
as Opera Singer
John Garris
as Opera Singer
Byron Foulger
as Shopkeeper
Pat Moriarity
as Irishman
Peter Potter
as Shaky and Sweaty
Helen Dickson
as Mrs. Frink
Lee Shumway
as Guard
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Critic Reviews for The Lost Weekend

All Critics (33) | Top Critics (6)

Under Wilder's imaginative direction, Milland has been able to convey just what an uncontrollable craving for liquor does to a man's mind, his body and soul.

Full Review… | February 22, 2012
New York Daily News
Top Critic

Director Billy Wilder's technique of photographing Third Avenue in the grey morning sunlight with a concealed camera to keep the crowds from being self-conscious gives this sequence the shock of reality.

Full Review… | February 17, 2009
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

It is intense, morbid -- and thrilling. Here is an intelligent dissection of one of society's most rampant evils.

Full Review… | February 20, 2008
Top Critic

Today it's less impressive but not without its virtues.

Full Review… | December 12, 2006
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

What makes the film so gripping is the brilliance with which Wilder uses John F Seitz's camerawork to range from an unvarnished portrait of New York brutally stripped of all glamour.

February 8, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

A shatteringly realistic and morbidly fascinating film.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Lost Weekend

Looking at the films of the 1940's. many of these films featured high society types in zany situations, gallivanting between set up and set up and setting up the lunacy of life as something to mesmerize by the viewing public. Movies were kind of like TMZ is today. In The Lost Weekend director Billy Wilder gives us a look into the fall from grace of writer Dan Birnam (Ray Milland) caused by his raging alcoholism. The title of the film has a double meaning when watching the film. It could refer to the weekend holiday planned for Dan and his brother Wick (Phillip Terry) that Dan ruins by alienating his brother with his alcoholic ways or, the more obvious answer, the fact that this weekend ends up lost to Dan in an alcoholic haze. Even after all of the turmoil and disheartening that's caused by Dan's dependence of the bottle, his best girl Helen (Jane Wyman) still holds out hope that Dan can be saved from his affliction, going so far as sleeping on the steps outside his apartment that is financed by his brothers charity. This film is really about the fall and rise of one man. Dan has been an alcoholic for six years and even though we haven't followed him that entire time, other than flashbacks to watershed moments in his relationship with Helen that always include a bottle or two, it's this weekend that represents the fork in the road that Dan has been working towards all of his life. The film depicts how desperate a person can be in any addictions, not just alcohol. Eventually the addiction even kills Dan's dreams and wants to the point where all he cares about are the rings left on the bar top by his whiskey glass. Dan has pathetically hit rock bottom. Ray Milland deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Dan. It's a real haunting performance that becomes the focus throughout the film. Everyone else is reacting to Dan's behavior and each of the personality types are represented. The brother who gives up. The girl that stands with him no matter what. The disagreeing, yet enabling bar tender. This film is as much about following Dan's story as it's an examination of how people react to an alcoholic, almost comparable to the stages of grief if we compared it to anything at all. Some people can take it and some can't. This is Ray Milland's film though and he creates a presence where the audience feels those same feelings that those in relationships with Dan feel. Anger, disgust, sympathy, maybe a little guilt. It's all there for us to dissect in our heads. Director Billy Wilder (who also won an Oscar, as did the film itself as Best Picture of 1945) achieves a remarkable feat when making this film. Dan, who is surrounded by the people in his life and living in New York City is hopelessly alone in his addiction throughout the film. There are times, especially when we're in the apartment, that Dan feels like he's a million miles away locked in a claustrophobic filled tomb of alcoholism. This really pushes the film over the top into being a great achievement. Instead of hazy shots and wobbly cameras, Wilder opts to go with the feeling of being an alcoholic. Not the surface feeling of being tipsy, but the never ending alone feeling that no drink can every wash away. The Lost Weekend is one of the best films to come from the 1940's. It's a tale about alcoholism and addiction, but it doesn't talk down to the audience. This is not a temperance sermon, but an exploration into the soul of a man darkened by drink. A true masterpiece.

Chris Garman
Chris Garman

Super Reviewer


A boozing writer tries to reform himself with the love of a good woman. My one-sentence plot summary is inaccurate, but it's as close as I can come to briefly restating the plot of this film. It's inaccurate because he doesn't spend much time trying to reform himself. This is the film's primary problem. Don is a dick. There's nothing to like, and it's impossible to understand what Helen sees in him because as he's portrayed here, there's nothing to see. Normally I think that characters can be interesting even if they're despicable, but Don's not interesting. He's just a drunk. What can be said of the film is that it's gritty and searing. It's portrayal of alcoholism is tough to watch and ugly, and it takes a brave performance by Ray Milland to give it its power. Overall, if only Don had a few scenes in which he did something nice, we might be able to side with him, but as it is, I find it difficult to care about his troubles.

Jim Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer


A harrowing depiction of an alcoholic writer (Ray Milland) who is convinced he has nothing to live for except for getting drunk, and how his addiction takes a turn for the worst one weekend as he goes on a drinking binge. Although a little simplistic in its explanation for the lead character's reasoning as to why he's destroying himself (he can only get inspiration for story ideas when he drinks), the force this film packs is still unmistakably powerful. Milland's performance singlehandedly carries this film from start to finish and makes it arresting, all the way to its hair-raising, suspenseful conclusion. It is not as effective as the absolute devastating "Leaving Las Vegas", another film concerning the troubles of alcoholism, but it was definitely a film ahead of its time, willing to tackle a difficult subject with skill, not to mention its paced to near perfection. Highly recommended.

Dan Schultz
Dan Schultz

Super Reviewer

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