Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USA, 1945. Paramount Pictures. Screenplay by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, based on the novel by Charles R. Jackson. Cinematography by John F. Seitz. Produced by Charles Brackett. Music by Miklos Rozsa. Production Design by Hans Dreier, A. Earl Hedrick. Costume Design by Edith Head. Film Editing by Doane Harrison. Academy Awards 1945. Cannes Film Festival 1946. Golden Globe Awards 1945.
Ray Milland is trying to conquer his alcoholism and has agreed to go on a weekend getaway with his girlfriend (Jane Wyman) and his brother (Phillip Terry) but at the last minute makes up an excuse to stay home. They give him the benefit of the doubt but neither are too surprised when it turns out that the bottle he has hidden in his apartment is his real reason for not wanting to go anywhere. That bottle turns out to be the beginning of a nightmare of a weekend in which he spends as much time drunk as he possibly can, crawling through divey bars, attempting to steal from a woman’s purse in a nicer club and hitting up anyone he runs into for a few bucks with which to buy a drink. His constantly leaving home puts Wyman in a state of deep concern while he takes out all his feelings about his failure as an author out on himself through this destructive habit, which eventually lands him in the alcoholic ward of a psychiatric hospital. Movies by major studios that dealt with such dark subject matter were rare in the forties, so it’s important to not be too harsh on this film’s now severely dated treatment of as unfortunate a topic as alcoholism and addiction (he indicates his thirst by grabbing his throat a lot, and looks like he’s drinking a transformative potion every time he swigs one back). It’s an early directorial effort by Billy Wilder that provided him his breakthrough as a filmmaker, earning him Oscars for what feels like a stitched-together effort to entertain both through sympathy as well as shock: the sequence of Milland getting a jones for booze while watching champagne being poured on stage in a performance of La Traviata is the kind of ironic humour that Wilder would make masterpieces out of in the future, while the hospital sequence and the hallucinations that he suffers as a result of the DTs is the kind of Crime Doesn’t Pay moralizing that feels trite and cheap now (no attempt is made to really investigate the cause of his addiction, that sort of psychologizing wouldn’t happen until the fifties). Milland gives plenty of energy to the role, he’s as two-dimensional as he was his whole career but spends the movie unshaven and upset, while Wyman does her best with the flimsy part of the truehearted gal who never gives up on her man; she would go on to greater things in the years to come, masterfully performing her shades of humour and wisdom in films like the Yearling and All That Heaven Allows, while Milland would recede into the uninteresting villain roles that he was meant to play.