Outwardly, The Lost Weekend couldn’t be more different than Double Indemnity, but the themes are similar: concealment and deceit, social hypocrisy and the inevitable consequences.
It follows dawn-to-dusk booze monster Don Birnham (the always mesmerising Ray Milland) as he embarks on a four-day bender, tailspinning into a cycle of despair that’s a forerunner for later addiction dramas, from Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky to Requiem For A Dream.
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation,” he exclaims at the apex of his suffering. “I can’t take quiet desperation!” It certainly reflects Wilder’s rueful view of life, as well as the attitudes of its age – “After all, it could be worse. You drink too much, and that’s not fatal,” remarks Don’s cheery, endlessly faithful girlfriend Helen (Jane Wyman).
Its conclusion, too, is a little too forced and upbeat to be true, and its portrayal of alcoholism verges on the hysterical at times – particularly when Don, at the height of withdrawal, starts hallucinating monstrous bats coming out of the wall, Repulsion-style.
“The screen dares to open the strange and savage pages of a shocking bestseller!” shrieked the original promo tag – a reference to the semi-autobiographical book it’s based on by Charles R. Jackson, whose life had a less than happy ending. But taken as a treatise on addiction generally, it’s remarkably sensitive and thoughtful, and after an initially wary public reaction, deservedly garnered four Oscars, including Best Picture.