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The Lost Weekend

One's too many and a hundred's not enough! But no matter what Nat the barkeep tells Don (his retort, I'm not a drinker, I'm a drunk!), Don's "lost weekend" will take him on a downward spiral into alcohol-induced psychosis and self-loathing to the brink of suicide. The Lost Weekend (1945), directed by Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard, 1950; The Seven Year Itch, 1955; Some Like It Hot, 1959; The Apartment, 1960) and based on a Charles R. Jackson novel (of the same name), delves into the insanity of alcohol abuse with an early noir style and also stars Jane Wyman and Doris Dowling (pictured below). The script is entertaining—fast and punchy—with less of the melodrama typical in the dialogue of films of the time (scroll down for choice bits). There's also a must-watch, classic noir-surreal scene (delirium is a disease of the night) showing a bloody dispute between a mouse and a bat. (That stuff about pink elephants, that's the bunk. It's little animals. Little tiny turkeys in straw hats. Midget monkeys that come through the keyholes!)

Don reflects on his madness...


Only my mind wasn't on the suitcase,

and it wasn't on the weekend. It

wasn't on the shirts I was putting

in, either. My mind was hanging

outside the window. It was suspended

about eighteen inches below the

sill... And out there in that great

big concrete jungle, I wonder how

many others there are like me. Poor

bedeviled guys, on fire with thirst.

Such comical figures to the rest of

the world, as they stagger blindly

towards another binge, another bender,

another spree...

Earlier on, when Don chats with Nat in the tavern...


Come on, Nat. One little jigger of





You don't approve of drinking?


Not the way you drink.


It shrinks my liver, doesn't it,

Nat? It pickles my kidneys. Yes. But

what does it do to my mind? It tosses

the sandbags overboard so the balloon

can soar. Suddenly I'm above the

ordinary. I'm competent, supremely

competent. I'm walking a tightrope

over Niagara Falls. I'm one of the

great ones. I'm Michelangelo molding

the beard of Moses. I'm Van Gogh,

painting pure sunlight. I'm Horowitz

playing the Emperor Concerto. I'm

John Barrymore before the movies got

him by the throat. I'm a holdup man—

I'm Jesse James and his two brothers,

all three of them. I'm W. Shakespeare.

And out there it's not Third Avenue

any longer. It's the Nile. The Nile,

Nat, and down it moves the barge of

Cleopatra. Listen: Purple the sails,

and so perfumed that The winds were

love-sick with them; the oars were

silver, Which to the tune of flutes

kept stroke, and made the water which

they beat to follow faster, as amorous

of their strokes. For her own person,

It beggar'd all description.

Near the end, with Helen...


There must be a reason why you drink.

The right doctor can find it.


I'm way ahead of the right doctor. I

know the reason. The reason is me.

What I am. Or, rather, what I'm not.


What aren't you that you want to be,



A writer. Silly, isn't it? You see,

in college I passed for a genius.

They couldn't get out the college

magazine without one of my stories.

Boy, was I hot. Hemingway stuff. I

reached my peak when I was nineteen.

Sold a piece to the Atlantic Monthly.

It was reprinted in the Readers'

Digest. Who wants to stay in college

when he's Hemingway? My mother bought

me a brand new typewriter, and I

moved right in on New York. Well,

the first thing I wrote, that didn't

quite come off. And the second I

dropped. The public wasn't ready for

that one. I started a third, a fourth,

only about then somebody began to

look over my shoulder and whisper,

in a thin, clear voice like the E-

string on a violin. Don Birnam, he'd

whisper, it's not good enough. Not

that way. How about a couple of drinks

just to put it on its feet? So I had

a couple. Oh, that was a great idea.

That made all the difference. Suddenly

I could see the whole thing—the

tragic sweep of the great novel,

beautifully proportioned. But before

I could really grab it and throw it

down on paper, the drink would wear

off and everything be gone like a

mirage. Then there was despair, and

a drink to counterbalance despair,

and one to counterbalance the

counterbalance. I'd be sitting in

front of that typewriter, trying to

squeeze out a page that was halfway

decent, and that guy would pop up



What guy? Who are you talking about?


The other Don Birnam. There are two

of us, you know: Don the drunk and

Don the writer. And the drunk will

say to the writer, Come on, you idiot.

Let's get some good out of that

portable. Let's hock it. We'll take

it to that pawn shop over on Third

Avenue. Always good for ten dollars,

for another drink, another binge,

another bender, another spree.


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