It was only in later years that Billy Wilder discovered that the title of Charles R. Jackson's novel is actually a typo. It was supposed to have been called "The Last Weekend".
Billy Wilder claimed the liquor industry offered Paramount $5 million to not release the film; he also suggested that he would have accepted, had they offered it to him.
Upon completion, Billy Wilder confidently predicted that Ray Milland would win an Oscar for his performance. He was right.
Ray Milland actually checked himself into Bellevue Hospital with the help of resident doctors, in order to experience the horror of a drunk ward. Milland was given an iron bed and locked inside the "booze tank." That night, a new arrival came into the ward screaming, an entrance which ignited the whole ward into hysteria. With the ward falling into bedlam, a robed and barefooted Milland escaped while the door was ajar and slipped out onto 34th Street where he tried to hail a cab. When a suspicious cop spotted him, Milland tried to explain, but the cop didn't believe him, especially after he noticed the Bellevue insignia on his robe. The actor was dragged back to Bellevue where it took him a half-hour to explain his situation to the authorities before he was finally released.
The first film featuring a "theremin" on the soundtrack--a musical instrument that produces a strange "wailing" sound that later became familiar to 1950s science-fiction film audiences. Miklós Rózsa used it in composing the score for the nightmare sequences.
To prepare for the part, Ray Milland spent one night in Bellevue Hospital as a patient. He also stopped eating as much, as most alcoholics forget to do so.
Ray Milland didn't give an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards when he picked up his Best Actor Oscar. He merely acknowledged the crowd's applause and then left the podium without saying anything.
In 1944 Billy Wilder was traveling from New York to Hollywood by train and stopped off at the Chicago train station to buy some reading matter for the journey. One of these books was "The Lost Weekend". By the time he'd reached Hollywood, Wilder knew this would make the ideal basis for his next film.
The original novel the film is based on has the character referring to a homosexual affair, but the script was changed so that the main character was suffering from writers block.
The film had a particular impact on the waves of GIs returning from war service, many of whom were dealing with their PTSD with alcohol.
Billy Wilder felt the need to tackle the subject of alcoholism as a direct result of his experience of working with Raymond Chandler on Double Indemnity (1944). Wilder made the film as a way of explaining the condition to Chandler himself.
The only film to win both an Academy Award for Best Picture and the Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix du Festival International Film. (NOTE: Marty (1955) won both the Academy Award for Best Picture and the Cannes Film Festival Palme D'Or (Golden Palm). In 1955, the Palme D'Or replaced the Grand Prix du Festival International Film as the highest award given to films at Cannes.)
Billy Wilder became infatuated by a brunette extra who was hired to play a coat check girl in the scene where Don Birnam gets thrown out of a bar for stealing money from a woman's purse. It proved to be a non-role for the extra, since only her arm can be seen giving a coat to Birnam, but no matter. The extra's name was Audrey Young, and she eventually married the smitten director.
As well as the alcohol industry badgering Paramount Pictures into not releasing the film, the studio was also besieged by temperance groups lobbying that the film shouldn't be released, as it would only encourage drinking. It was released on a limited engagement at Billy Wilder's behest. Reviewers fell all over themselves in their praise of it, thus prompting Paramount to take the plunge and give it a wide release.
The $10 Don finds in the sugar bowl to go buy booze with would equate to him finding $140 in 2017.
Studio advisers warned Ray Milland that this would be the death of his career. Milland himself was initially reluctant to take the part, as it had been turned down by many other leading actors of the day. However, Paramount was convinced that the only way it could sell such a film was with a matinée idol in the lead. Billy Wilder acquiesced to this only when it became clear that his first choice, José Ferrer, would not land the part.
The outdoor filming was done in New York City and the interiors were done in Hollywood. The latter included an exact duplicate of a Third Avenue bar, P.J. Clarke's, on Stage 5 at Paramount Pictures, complete down to the dusty stuffed cat on the top of the pay phone. Ray Milland, who starred in the film, tells that for one week every afternoon at 5:00 the door of the set would open, a man would walk up to the bar (whether filming was going on or not), order a straight bourbon, chat about the weather, plunk down 50 cents and stroll out. It was the writer Robert Benchley, who was homesick for New York.
Ray Milland doubted he had the acting chops to pull it off, but his wife encouraged him to take a chance. Additionally, Milland was tempted to star in the film because Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett were riding high from previous successes. So he finally agreed to appear in what would become his most famous role.
When the film was given its first public showing at a sneak preview in Santa Barbara, CA, the audience reaction to the intense film was not good--they laughed. Billy Wilder recalled, "The people laughed from the beginning. They laughed when Birnam's brother found the bottle outside the window, they laughed when he emptied the whiskey into the sink." The theater lost viewers like a broken sieve. Preview cards were handed out, and the opinions of the flick ranged from "disgusting" to "boring." Wilder even claimed that one patron left the theater proclaiming, "I've sworn off. Never again." "You'll never drink again?" he was asked. "No, I'll never see another picture again." Another preview card said that the movie was great, but that all the "stuff about drinking and alcoholism" should be omitted.
Ray Milland had been a popular matinee idol for several years in Hollywood, making his mark in romantic comedies and adventure films, so the decision to cast him as Don Birnam was a surprise to many--especially him.
Ray Milland was given the novel to read by Paramount chief Buddy De Sylva, with a note attached reading: "Read it. Study it. You're going to play it." Milland read it, and was struck by its dramatic dimensions as a social document, but he could not see much of a film in the bleak story, nor could some of his friends and associates. If Milland took on the role, they felt he would be committing professional suicide.
During Don Birnam's flashback to the opera, the piece that is being sung on stage is the "Champagne Aria" from "La Traviata".
This was the first time any film crews had been given permission to film in New York's Bellevue Hospital.
Miklós Rózsa was nominated for his scores for both Spellbound (1945) and this film the same year. A theremin was used in both scores. David O. Selznick threatened legal action against the use of the instrument in "The Lost Weekend" until it was pointed out that the mere use of a particular instrument could not be copyrighted. "Spellbound" won the Oscar, although Rozsa considered "Weekend" the stronger score.
John Lennon would later refer to his year-and-a-half drunken exile in Los Angeles (1973-75) as his "Lost Weekend".
Billy Wilder first read the book when he was traveling to New York by train. Upon arrival, the first thing he did was ring his writing partner Charles Brackett in Los Angeles to get him to see if the film rights could be obtained. Brackett rang him back later that day with the news that they were available. He also asked Wilder what did he see in the book that made him think it would make a good film, having just read it himself. Wilder replied that it would be a hugely important movie--the first to depict a real alcoholic as opposed to a comic interpretation of the condition.
To achieve the gaunt, haggard look of a drunk on a whopper of a bender, Ray Milland went on a crash diet of dry toast, coffee, grapefruit juice and boiled eggs, and subsequently took off many pounds.
On March 10, 1946--three days after winning the Academy Award--Ray Milland appeared as a guest on a radio broadcast of "The Jack Benny Show." In a spoof of "The Lost Weekend", Ray and Jack Benny played alcoholic twin brothers. Phil Harris--who normally played Jack Benny's hard-drinking bandleader on the show--played the brother who tried to convince Ray and Jack to give up liquor. ("Ladies and gentlemen," said an announcer, "the opinions expressed by Mr. Harris are written in the script and are not necessarily his own.") In the alcoholic ward scene, smart-aleck Frank Nelson played the ward attendant who promised Ray and Jack that they would soon start seeing DT visions of strange animals. When the DT visions appeared (with Mel Blanc providing pig squeals, monkey chatters and other animal sound effects), Ray chased them off. "Ray, they're gone!" Benny shouted. "What did you do?" Milland replied, "I threw my Oscar at them!"
Not a heavy drinker, Ray Milland tried getting drunk, but he usually ended up on his knees in a bathroom.
Don quotes twice from William Shakespeare when he is in Nat's bar. The first quote "Purple the sails, and so perfumed . . . " is from "Antony and Cleopatra": Act II, Scene 2. The second "Yea, all which it shall inherit . . . " is from "The Tempest", Act IV, Scene 1.
Some temperance organizations incorrectly accused the film of promoting or publicizing drinking. The Ohio temperance board objected to a line in the script attributed to the sadistic orderly, Bim. He says, "Prohibition--that is what started most of these guys off." Bim also makes a slam against "narrow-minded, small-town teetotalers." Paramount refused to remove the line, but Ohio won in the end. Paramount was also warned that the delicate sensibilities of the British might be offended by the film. The studio nixed any potential trouble by adding a subtitle for the British release, "The Lost Weekend: Diary of a Dipsomaniac", and producing a special trailer alerting Britons of the film's harsh subject matter. The disclaimer read: "Ladies and gentlemen, as this is a most unusual subject for screen presentation, we have been requested to warn you of the grim and realistic sequences contained in this unique diary carrying such a powerful moral."
Paramount was very nervous about releasing a film with such an adult theme and very nearly buried it when it didn't do too well with preview audiences. Ultimately, of course, it went on to become a major hit and Academy Award winner.
One of the more elaborate location shots in New York City was ruined when a girl suddenly ran into view, wanting Ray Milland's autograph.
Film debut of Doris Dowling. NOTE: It was also the beginning of her affair with Billy Wilder.
Katharine Hepburn was offered the role of Helen St. James. She was interested, but had to turn it down in order to star in Without Love (1945).
Ray Milland had some very real doubts about taking on the part as he was unsure whether he and indeed director Billy Wilder could pull it off.
Jack L. Warner was glad to loan Jane Wyman to Paramount for what he called "that drunk film."
In his video essay introducing the film for the Masters of Cinema edition on disc, Alex Cox expresses surprise that this film, made in 1945, makes no mention of the war. This is because the film takes place in either 1937 or 1938; we know this because Don tells Nat the bartender that he met Helen at the opera "three years ago", and the poster in front of the opera house in the subsequent flashback to that meeting is clearly marked "Grand Opera Season 1934-1935".
Billy Wilder quipped, "If To Have and Have Not (1944) established Lauren Bacall as The Look, then 'The Lost Weekend' certainly should bring Mr. Milland renown as 'The Kidney'."
"The Screen Guild Theater" broadcast a 30-minute radio adaptation of the movie on January 7, 1946, with Ray Milland, Jane Wyman and Frank Faylen reprising their film roles.
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
One of over 700 Paramount productions, filmed between 1929-49, that were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. It was first released on DVD 6 February 2001, and, since that time, has enjoyed occasional showings on cable TV on Turner Classic Movies.
Warren Zevon referenced the typewriter scene in his song "Carmelita": "Well, I pawned my Smith-Corona/And I went to meet my man He hangs out down on Alvarado Street/By the Pioneer Chicken stand." However, the song is about heroin, not alcohol.
Ray Milland's Oscar winning performance in this film is his only Academy Award nomination.
One of two films starring Ray Milland that deals with alcoholism and co-stars a wife of Ronald Reagan. This one features his first wife, Jane Wyman, and the other--Night Into Morning (1951)--features his second wife, Nancy Davis.
Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
The very near-sighted Phillip Terry wears his own glasses with prescription lenses in this film.