Oh my God. This movie is amazing. The year it came out it won Oscars for best picture, actor, director, and screenplay, and it was one of those films that definitely deserved it. This was a throwaway choice for me. I put it on the list because it was on 12 lists on iCheckMovies, but otherwise I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, nor was it one of the films I was particularly looking forward to once the list was completed. It was such a wonderful surprise.
It stars Ray Milland as failing writer Don Birnam. Mostly he’s failing because he is an alcoholic, although he is also, in part, an alcoholic because he is failing. He is supposedly ten days off the sauce to open the film, preparing for a weekend away with his brother. He can think of nothing more than finding his next drink, so he manages to trick his girlfriend and his brother out for the afternoon so he can find his way to some alcohol. What follows is a weekend plunge into drunkenness, shame, pain, and humiliation as things just keep getting worse. Any hope he has is slowly whittled away by the grip alcohol has on his life.
Ray Milland is absolutely fantastic as our drunken protagonist. He’s an uncanny mash-up of Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant, which would be distracting if his acting in this film were any less gripping.
Also, the film marks the return of Billy Wilder to noir month. This is his third appearance as writer and director, and he’ll be back again before the month is through. Very soon in fact, when I rewatch Double Indemnity, another noir uber-classic.
This movie also hit really close to home. When Don would break down and share his darkest feelings, his shame and frustration at continuing to fail as a writer, his feelings of uselessness, that the people who care about him would be far better off if they’d never met him, realizing he peaked too young as a human being… it was like I wrote it myself. The only difference between us is that his mental illness is alcoholism, and mine are depression and insomnia. It only helped all the more to shoot this movie up into one of the more impressive films I’ve seen. By far the biggest surprise of the month. I would probably have changed the ending, but it is an otherwise perfect film.