The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder / U.S., 1945):

The mouse and the bat and "the nice young man who drinks," Billy Wilder’s tragicomic vortex of addiction. Psycho's opening originates in the New York scan that dollies into an open window, the whiskey bottle hanging by the neck is the psyche of the aspiring novelist (Ray Milland) who can't make it past page one. The genteel concern of fiancée (Jane Wyman) and brother (Phillip Terry) merely aggravates the thirsty protagonist, who falls off the wagon most spectacularly for the next four days and nights. Lubricated again at the saloon, the itchy dilettante grows darkly grandiloquent, bantering with the slangy prostitute (Doris Dowling) and marveling at the "vicious circles" left by damp glasses on the countertop. The bartender (Howard Da Silva) lends an ear to acrid recollections: Parched-lipped at the opera house (La Traviata's champagne chalices dance mockingly on stage, capped with a note from Dalí), Milland bolts for the flask in his overcoat and bumps into the Time scribe from Ohio, a fitting Meet Cute for a relationship that’s like "clutching a razor blade." Life’s innumerable fears call for a tonic and liquor fills the void, the liquid femme fatale rolls from under the bed and shimmers above the chandelier. (The antihero loosens his tie and grins at the bourbon-filled cup, the camera leans over and plunges right into the teasing juice.) Dry alkies and wet teetotalers perpetually out of balance, startlingly laid out by Wilder as a lonely metropolis’ quivering nervous system. The hangover is a trudge down Third Avenue, leaden typewriter lugged like a ball-and-chain past one gated pawnshop after another (sallow location shooting only heightens the expressionism); the bottom of the pit is a Bellevue bedlam where the orderly (Frank Faylen) warns of tremors to come with a queeny smile: "Delirium is a disease of the night. Good night." Milland features in Stevens’ riposte (Something to Live For), the benefactor is not Hollywood’s social-problem cycle but the Nouvelle Vague’s existential side (Le Signe du Lion, Le Feu Follet). Cinematography by John F. Seitz. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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