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The Lost Weekend
The Lost Weekend (1945 film).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBilly Wilder
Screenplay by
Based onThe Lost Weekend
by Charles R. Jackson
Produced byCharles Brackett
CinematographyJohn F. Seitz
Edited byDoane Harrison
Music byMiklós Rózsa
Color processBlack and white
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • November 29, 1945 (1945-11-29)
Running time
101 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.25 million
Box office$11,000,000[2] or $4.3 million (US rentals)[3]

The Lost Weekend is a 1945 American film directed by Billy Wilder, and starring Ray Milland and Jane Wyman. It was based on Charles R. Jackson's 1944 novel of the same name about an alcoholic writer. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It also shared the Grand Prix at the first Cannes Film Festival, making it one of only three films—the other two being Marty (1955) and Parasite (2019)—to win both the Academy Award for Best Picture and the highest award at Cannes.

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 97% based on 70 reviews, with an average rating of 8.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "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."[4] In 2011, The film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[5][6]


On Thursday, alcoholic New York writer Don Birnam is packing for a weekend vacation with his brother Wick. When Don's girlfriend Helen drops by with two tickets for a concert that day, Don suggests that Wick attend with Helen. Knowing they had disposed of all the liquor Don had hidden in the apartment and thinking he has no money for more, they go to the concert.

After finding ten dollars that Wick left for the cleaning lady, Don heads for Nat's Bar, calling in at a liquor store to purchase two bottles of rye on the way. Don intends to be back home in time to meet Wick and catch their train, but he loses track of time due to his drinking. When he arrives home, he sees Wick leaving and Helen saying she will stay and wait for Don. Don sneaks back into the flat, where he hides one of his bottles of liquor and drinks the other one.

On Friday, back at Nat's Bar, Nat criticizes Don for treating Helen so badly. Don tells Nat that he intends to write a novel about his battle with alcoholism, called The Bottle. He recalls how he first met Helen at the opera house, where the cloakroom mixed up their coats. He and Helen struck up a romance, and he remained sober during this time. When he goes to meet her parents, he overhears them talking about him being unemployed, wondering if he is good enough for their daughter. He loses his nerve and sneaks off. She goes to his flat, where Wick tries to cover for him, but Don confesses that he is two people: "Don the writer", whose fear of failure causes him to drink, and "Don the drunk" who always has to be bailed out by Wick. Helen devotes herself to helping him.

After telling Nat the story behind his proposed novel, Don heads back home to begin writing it. However, his alcohol cravings get the better of him and he begins a desperate search for the other bottle from the previous night, which he knows he has hidden away somewhere. After failing to find it, he visits another bar, where he is thrown out after trying to steal from a woman's purse because he didn't have enough to pay the bill. Back in his flat, he finds the bottle he had hidden and drinks himself into a stupor.

On Saturday, Don is broke and tries to pawn his typewriter so he can buy more alcohol, but the pawnshops are closed for Yom Kippur. Desperate for money, he visits Gloria, a prostitute who has a crush on him. She gives him some money, but he falls down her stairs and is knocked unconscious.

On Sunday, Don wakes up in an alcoholics' ward where nurse Bim Nolan mocks him and other guests at "Hangover Plaza". Bim offers to help cure his delirium tremens, but Don refuses help and escapes while the staff are occupied with a raving, violent patient.

On Monday, Don steals a bottle of whisky from a store after threatening the owner, and spends the day drinking. Suffering from delirium tremens, he hallucinates a nightmarish scene in which a bat flies in his window and kills a mouse, spilling its blood. Helen then returns. Finding Don collapsed and in a delirious state, she stays overnight on his couch.

On Tuesday morning, Don slips out and pawns Helen's coat, the one that had brought them together. She trails him to the pawn shop and learns from the pawnbroker that he traded the coat for his gun, for which he has bullets at home. She races to Don's apartment and interrupts him just before he is about to shoot himself. As she pleads with him, Nat arrives to return Don's typewriter. After Nat leaves, Helen convinces him that "Don the writer" and "Don the drunk" are the same person. He commits to writing his novel The Bottle, dedicated to her, which will recount the events of the weekend. He drops a cigarette into a glass of whiskey to make it undrinkable as evidence of his resolve.


Production and notable features

Wilder was originally drawn to this material after having worked with Raymond Chandler on the screenplay for Double Indemnity. Chandler was a recovering alcoholic at the time, and the stress and tumultuous relationship with Wilder during the collaboration caused him to start drinking again. Wilder made the film, in part, to try to explain Chandler to himself.[7]

Wilder originally wanted Jose Ferrer for the role of Don, but he turned it down. Charles Brackett's first choice for playing Helen was Olivia de Havilland, but she was involved with a lawsuit that prevented her from being in any film at that time. It has been said that Katharine Hepburn and Jean Arthur were also considered for the role.[8]

The majority of the film was shot at Paramount studios in Hollywood. Wilder, however, insisted they shoot part of the film on location in New York City to create a distinct sense of realism. On October 1, 1944, Wilder and his small crew began filming in New York, mostly along Third Avenue in Midtown East Manhattan. To further create a realistic atmosphere, Wilder and his crew used hidden cameras, placing them behind boxes or in the back of trucks, and capturing Milland as he walked up 3rd Avenue among actual pedestrians who were unaware a film was being made. The production also had the unprecedented permission to film inside Bellevue Hospital in the alcoholic ward, a request that would be denied to future films. After completing filming in New York, the cast and crew returned to California to resume principal photography, where they recreated several New York locations, including a replica of P.J. Clarke's, a tavern often frequented by author Charles Jackson.[9]

The film also made famous the "character walking toward the camera in a daze as time passes" camera effect.

Once The Lost Weekend was completed, it was shown to a preview audience, who laughed at what they considered Milland's overwrought performance, and the studio actually considered shelving the film. Part of the problem was that the print shown at the preview didn't have Miklós Rózsa's original musical soundtrack, but instead had a temporary track containing upbeat jazz music. However, once the Rózsa score was in place, along with a re-shoot of the last scene, audiences and critics reacted favorably. The film's musical score was among the first to feature the theremin, which was used to create the pathos of alcoholism.[10][9]

Rights to the film are currently held by Universal Studios, which owns the pre-1950 Paramount sound feature film library via EMKA, Ltd.

The film differs significantly from the book by leaving out the novel's noted homosexual overtones, namely the strong implication that Don Birnam (as was the book's author, Charles Jackson) is a closeted homosexual.[11]

The liquor industry launched a campaign to undermine the film even before its release. Allied Liquor Industries, a national trade organization, wrote an open letter to Paramount warning that anti-drinking groups would use the film to reinstate prohibition. Liquor interests allegedly enlisted gangster Frank Costello to offer Paramount $5 million to buy the film's negative in order to burn it.[9] Wilder quipped that if they’d offered him $5 million, “I would have [burned the negative].”[12]


Box office performance

The film was a commercial success. Produced on a budget of $1.25 million, it grossed $11 million at the box office,[2] earning $4.3 million in US theatrical rentals.[13]

Academy Awards

At the 18th Academy Awards in May 1946, The Lost Weekend received seven nominations and won in four categories.

Category Nominee Result Lost To
Best Picture Charles Brackett Won
Best Director Billy Wilder Won
Best Actor Ray Milland Won
Best Adapted Screenplay Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett Won
Best Cinematography John F. Seitz Nominated Lost to Harry Stradling for The Picture of Dorian Gray
Best Original Score Miklós Rózsa Nominated Lost to Miklós Rózsa for Spellbound
Best Film Editing Doane Harrison Nominated Lost to Robert J. Kern for National Velvet

Cannes Film Festival

This film also shared the 1946 Grand Prix du Festival International du Film at the first Cannes Film Festival and Milland was awarded Best Actor. To date, The Lost Weekend, Marty (1955), and Parasite (2019) are the only films ever to win both the Academy Award for Best Picture and the highest award at the Cannes Film Festival. (Marty received the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm), which, beginning at the 1955 festival, replaced the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film as the highest award.)[14][15][16]

National Film Registry

In 2011, The Lost Weekend was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.[17] The Registry said the film was "an uncompromising look at the devastating effects of alcoholism" and that it "melded an expressionistic film-noir style with documentary realism to immerse viewers in the harrowing experiences of an aspiring New York writer willing to do almost anything for a drink."[17]


The Lost Weekend was adapted as a radio play on the January 7, 1946, broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater, starring Milland, Wyman, and Faylen in their original film roles.

On March 10, 1946, three days after winning the Academy Award, Milland appeared as a guest on a radio broadcast of The Jack Benny Show. In a spoof of The Lost Weekend, Milland and Jack Benny played alcoholic twin brothers. Phil Harris, who normally played Jack Benny's hard-drinking bandleader on the show, played the brother who tried to convince Ray and Jack to give up liquor. ("Ladies and gentlemen," said an announcer, "the opinions expressed by Mr. Harris are written in the script and are not necessarily his own.") In the alcoholic ward scene, smart-aleck Frank Nelson played the ward attendant who promised Ray and Jack that they would soon start seeing DT visions of strange animals. When the DT visions appeared (with Mel Blanc providing pig squeals, monkey chatters, and other animal sound effects), Ray chased them off. "Ray, they're gone!", Benny shouted. "What did you do?" Milland replied, "I threw my Oscar at them!"


  1. ^ "The Lost Weekend – Diary of a Dipsomaniac (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. 1945-08-23. Retrieved 2013-01-27.
  2. ^ a b Box Office Information for The Lost Weekend. The Numbers. Retrieved March 8, 2014.
  3. ^ "Variety (January 1947)". New York: Variety Publishing Company. December 3, 1947 – via Internet Archive.
  4. ^ "The Lost Weekend (1945)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved January 31, 2022.
  5. ^ "With "20,000 Leagues," the National Film Registry Reaches 700". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-11-24.
  6. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-11-24.
  7. ^ "Shadows of Suspense". Double Indemnity Universal Legacy Series DVD. Universal Studios. 2006.
  8. ^ Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies
  9. ^ a b c Phillips, Gene (2010). Some Like It Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 76–78, 83. ISBN 978-0813173672. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
  10. ^ "Miklós Rózsa". International Film Music Critics Association. 25 November 2010. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
  11. ^ "'Farther and Wilder' by Blake Bailey". Retrieved May 13, 2016.
  12. ^ Terrall, Ben. "The Lost Weekend" (PDF). filmnoirfoundation.org. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-10-09. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
  13. ^ "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p. 69.
  14. ^ "The Lost Weekend Awards". Imdb.
  15. ^ "Marty Awards". Imdb.
  16. ^ "A Brief History of the Palme D'Or". Festival de Cannes Official Website. Festival De Cannes.
  17. ^ a b "2011 National Film Registry More Than a Box of Chocolates". Library of Congress. December 28, 2011. Retrieved December 28, 2011.