Waking up in the drunk tank, a first time for everything Richard Egan tells someone after they are taken out to be processed for release. Egan was a successful commercial artist brought about to drunkenness allegedly through his daughter Laura's illness and subsequent death. You'd think that the mother (Julie London) would go through that depression, but it's obvious that she's been distracted by her own grief through being forced to take care of her husband she deeply loves.
Walter Matthau, not yet a big star, is really good as the family doctor who gives Egan the drinking equals death speech then harshly warns him that he's on his way to an insane asylum it he doesn't stop. Egan resents being sent to rehab, insisting that he can quit, but London knows it isn't true. It's obvious that Egan is protesting too much, talking realistically from the brain, but the from the heart is where it becomes really doubtful.
Having discovered Richard Egan in my teens with viewings of such classic movies as "A Summer Place" and "Pollyanna" as well as the TV soap "Capitol", I found him to be quite an underrated actor who really could reach deep into his character's deep emotions, and here, he's pitiful, vulnerable, loving and deeply sad. Some of his toots are so realistically portrayed that his hallucinations seem far too realistic.
The look on his face when he spies a bottle of whiskey at his first day on a new assignment shows the self hatred, desperation and weakness of a man who really wants to quit but outside being put on an island where no alcoholic ingredients grow, there's no seeming cure, that is until he finds more than just a lost weekend and hits a bottom from where the rise back up seems impossible.
This film is filled with memorable supporting performances, some nothing more than cameos. Egan gets a glimpse of what he could become when he meets the desperate Arthur O'Connell, looking so desperately at the shot being poured in front of him like it's going to be the last drink he ever has. In just a short scene, the legendary character actor of stage and screen describes that false power that has fooled many yet cured none.
Roy Glenn (whom I confused for Brock Peters) is that sign of God so quickly as the janitor who offers to pray with Egan when he looks up in reverence at a portrait of Jesus when he walks into the hospital chapel. These moments really speak volumes about how the saddest of drunks feel that they are alone when they are never alone. A young Troy Donahue shares a scene with his future "A Summer Place" costar as a very young alcoholic Egan and O'Connell attempt to mentor.
What makes this work is the fact that in spite of covering a subject that has been covered a lot of ways, it really shows how filled with hope Egan is at one moment where he realizes that he could fall back at any minute, and that's the first sign to being cured. The spiritual methods he finds to try to cure his addiction are only just one step, and the love and toughness he finds with his wife and doctor are just the tip of the iceberg evidenced by a scene between London and Matthau where he indicates that he despises the roughness of his methods but has no choice. This is a film with many twists and philosophies, and while some viewers may find it a bit preachy, I found it tender and respectful, showing forgiveness as well as atonement.