Posts Tagged ‘Jane Wyman’

The Lost Weekend for 31 Days of Oscars Blogathon

Today’s post is a contribution to the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, hosted by three great gals, dedicated  fans of classic movies.  Please visit their sites to read other great posts covering all things Academy Awards: Once Upon a Screen,  Outspoken and Freckled, and  Paula’s Cinema Club.

When I learned about the annual Oscar Blogathon, I knew I wanted to participate again.  This time I decided to write about a specific Best Picture winner and I chose 1945’s The Lost Weekend.  I scoured for an online source in order to re-watch it, but struck out with that source.  I checked our Netflix and Amazon sites, via our Roku box, and again, struck out!  The local Family Video store didn’t have it.  I finally went to Rolla’s Public Library and bless them-they had the newest dvd of it!!  I settled into our comfy tv room, popped that movie into the dvd and became mesmerized again by this bleakest of  dramatic offerings.  If you are not familiar with The Lost Weekend, it is a realistic look at an alchoholic and his horrific weekend, seeking out alchohol, and the broken relationships and self-harm he leaves in his wake.     The Lost Weekend poster 1

Hollywood, from early silent films  until 1944, usually depicted an alchoholic character as a comedic, bumbling joke.  However, in  1944, writer Charles Jackson wrote his first best-selling novel, The Lost Weekend, an autobiographical, unflinching look at the horrors of being an alchoholic.   Jackson’s novel was published in early 1944 and that spring, director Billy Wilder was on a train trip from LA to NYC and while on a layover in Chicago, he bought  Jackson’s novel.  Wilder was so enthalled with the book that he stayed up all night reading the book, re-reading it, and taking notes.  When Wilder arrived in NYC, he quickly contacted Paramount Production Head Buddy De Sylva, and told him that The Lost Weekend was to be Wilder’s next movie, so please quickly buy the rights!  De Sylva had heard about the book and he had a lot of doubts that any movie about an alchoholic could be a financial success, but lucky for Wilder, the rights were purchased.

Wilder set to work.  His friend and collaborator Charles Brackett agreed to help write the screenplay and agreed to be the film’ s producer.  Now to find the lead actor.  Wilder was interested in having Jose Ferrer, currently getting raves on Broadway, to play the lead role of Don Birnum.  De Sylva nixed that idea as Ferrer wasn’t that well-known.  The  scuttlebut in Hollywood was that any actor who agreed to play the lead would be committing career suicide.  Wilder knew that that wouldn’t be the case and even said, “Not only did I know it was going to make a good picture, I also knew that the guy who was going to play the drunk was going to get the Academy Award!”  In 1942, Wilder had been allowed to direct his first movie, a romance comedy, The Major and the Minor.  The lead actor in that film, Ray Milland, had worked well with Wilder and so he was asked to consider the lead in The Lost Weekend.  Milland gladly accepted the challenge that this role would provide his career.

One tiny production problem popped up: Milland didn’t drink alchohol!  He didn’t know what it was to be drunk or to be craving a drink.  The actor turned to the author, Charles Jackson, for advice on the inner mind of the alchoholic, how to act drunk, and Milland also decided to stay for 24 hours at Bellevue Hospital, in NYC, in the drunk ward.  He went incognito as a patient, and during the night, a new patient was ushered into the drunk ward.  The patient was  agitated and began howling and since he wouldn’t settle down, the staff had to come and try to restrain him. Milland decided he had had enough so he left the hospital during this commotion but forgot about grabbing his street clothes.  A cop saw him as he exited Bellevue, still wearing the robe patients were given at that time to wear, and the cop nabbed Milland and took him back inside the hospital!  It took Milland a good chunk of his time to finally convince the officer and the hospital that he was really there just to do research for an upcoming movie role!  Also, a few weeks prior to the film’s start date, Milland decided to go on a crash diet.  He figured that an alcoholic probably doesn’t concern him or herself with eating 3 nutritious meals a day, so he lived on hard-boiled eggs, dry toast, grapefruit juice, and black coffee.   Milland went from his normal weight of 168 lbs. down to 160 lbs.

Katherine Hepburn was shown the script to possibly sign her on as Helen St. James,  Don Birnum’s long-suffering girlfriend.  Hepburn was intrigued by the script but was already preparing  to shoot another movie and wasn’t going to be available to work on The Lost Weekend.  Jean Arthur was then offered the role but she turned it down.  That led to discussions, of hiring an ingenue, and Brackett contacted Jack Warner, head of Warner Brothers, about letting them borrow Jane Wyman.  Warner agreed and Wyman got her chance to have her name above the title, and to also play in a more dramatic part then she had ever done before.

Publicity still of Milland and Wyman.

Publicity still of Milland and Wyman.

Rounding out the cast were the very capable Phillip Terry, as Wick Burnham, Don’s long-suffering brother, Howard Da Silva as Nat, the owner and bartender of Nat’s, Don’s favorite bar, Doris Dowling as Gloria, a flirt who hangs out at Nat’s and has a huge crush on Don, Frank Faylen as Bim, the male nurse who explains the reality of being an alcoholic to Don when he is at Bellevue.  Lilian Fontaine(mom of Olivia de Haviland and Joan Fontaine) has a small part as Helen’s mom and Lewis L. Russell plays her father.  William Newell also has a bit part as a liquor store owner whom Don robs for a quart of rye.  Gordon Jennings is good as the opera house’s coat room clerk who won’t let Don search for his coat when he is handed Helen’s by mistake, and Douglas Spencer-better known as reporter Scotty in The Thing From Another World, is quite good as an alchoholic with a horrible case of the dt’s,  sharing the drunk ward with Don.

Philip Terry as Wick, with Jane Wyman as Helen

Phillip Terry as Wick, with Jane Wyman as Helen

Howard Da Silva as Nat

Howard Da Silva as Nat

Doris Dowling as Gloria

Doris Dowling as Gloria

Frank Faylen, as Bim

Frank Faylen, as Bim

The Lost Weekend begins on a Thursday afternoon, with a wonderful opening shot of New York City, a long view of the tall buildings as they sweep by our eyes.  It must be spring or fall, as we see apartment buildings with opened windows, curtains billowing in the breeze.  We meet the characters that tell us the story of this weekend, which begins on a Thursday afternoon and ends on a Monday morning.  There is Wick Burnham. the sensible brother, but he’s getting so very tired of trying to help his brother Don dry out.  He lets Don share his apartment, but pays all of the rent, the utilities, pays for their food, because Don, who aspires to be a writer, has no job.   Don’s girlfriend is Helen St. James.  A sweet lady, who left behind a loving home in Toledo, Ohio to make her way in the exciting environs of NYC.  Helen works at Time magazine and often is given tickets to the theatre or opera.  We see in a flashback that the opera is where she met Don, over a mixing up of their coat check tickets.  Helen is sweet, honest, tough, and not willing to give up on Don or the possible future they could have together.

At Nat’s bar, we meet Nat.  He’s a good-natured guy, but not one to push around.  He sees the downward spiral Don is in and tries to counsel him to get help, especially since Don has that nice St. James lady who loves him.  Also at Nat’s is Gloria.  A very pretty gal, who is very attracted to Don and lets him know it.  She doesn’t seem to understand that he is an alchoholic, and is ready to loan him some cash when he visits her apartment, desperate for money.  It is here that Don has a horrible fall down a flight of stairs that lands him at Bellevue.

Then there is Don, the main character of this story.  Milland really gave a tour de force performance.  We can see glimpses of the jovial and charming man that Don Birnum could be.  We see the huge frustrations and desperation in his eyes when he can’t find anymore hidden bottles of liquor in the apartment, or when there isn’t anymore money to buy that quart of rye.  We see his fear at waking up in Bellevue’s drunk ward, not knowing where he is at first and then being caustically lectured by Bim, the head male nurse, as to what he sees all the time in dealing with alcoholics.  Echoing those horrors is Don’s own experience of the dt’s or delirious tremens, when he thinks he sees a mouse that has chewed a hole in the wall of the apartment, only to be attacked by a bat and blood running down the wall!  Milland looks hagard, ill, is unshaven and sweats profusely.  He staggers around NYC and in one scene, he practically cries out to some businessmen why are the pawn shops closed???  Don’t they realize he has to pawn his typewriter for money???  When he is told it’s because of Yom Kippur that the stores are closed, he looks devasted, like he’s lost his last friend and there won’t be anymore in his lifetime.

The delirious tremens

The delirious tremens

Threatening a liquor store owner

Threatening a liquor store owner

About to have a drink he begged Nat for

About to have a drink he begged Nat for

"Why aren't the pawn stores open??"

“Why aren’t the pawn stores open??”

Don calls the rings from his glasses of rye his "vicious circles"

Don calls the rings from his glasses of rye his “vicious circles”

At Nat's Bar

At Nat’s Bar

Miklos Rozsa needs to also be mentioned due to his musical contributions to the score.  When test audiences saw the film in California, they didn’t like it.  Rozsa noticed that a jazzy, George Gershwin type of tone was being used in different scenes and he told Wilder that he thought musically that that was the wrong approach.  Wilder told him to come up with another musical score and Rozsa did.  He used the instrument, the theremin, whenever Don was having one of his alcoholic crises.  That sound immediately gave the movie an other worldly feel, to symbolize that the alcoholic’s world isn’t normal.  You can hear that sound for yourself in this clip from Youtube, the movie’s trailer.  The theremin is apparent at the 23 second mark.

After The Lost Weekend was seen by the American movie going public, and the movie viewers abroad, it cleaned up nicely in the awards categories for 1945.  Billy Wilder and Ray Milland won Best Director and Best Actor, and the movie won Best Picture from the New York Film Critics Circle.  Milland won Best Actor from the National Board of Review.  At Cannes, Milland won Best Actor and Wilder won the Grand Prize.  The Lost Weekend won the Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Film, Milland for Best Actor, and Wilder for Best Director.  For the Academy Awards, The Lost Weekend had garnered 7 nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Writing(screenplay), Cinematography, Music, and Editing.  It won 4 Oscars: Best Actor, Best Director, Best Writing, and Best Picture.  Since Wilder had also co-written the screenplay, he actually won two Oscars for The Lost Weekend.  As Milland took the stage to accept his award, emcee Bob Hope joked that Milland’s Oscar was hidden away in a ceiling light, as that was one place Don Birnum had hidden a liquor bottle in the film!

Producer and screenwriter Charles Brackett with co-screenwriter and director Billy Wilder, on the set of The Lost Weekend

Producer and screenwriter Charles Brackett with co-screenwriter and director Billy Wilder, on the set of The Lost Weekend

Milland with his Oscar

Milland with his Oscar

If you  have never seen The Lost Weekend, do find it and view it.  It really is a remarkable feat in the motion picture arts and was added in 2011 to the National Film Preservation Board.

Credited articles that helped in the writing of this blog topic: “Weekend in the Sun”, Bailey, Blake.  March, 2013, Vanity Fair.

“Why The Lost Weekend is Essential”, McGee, Scott.  Turner Classic Movies website.

 

My Classic Movie Pick: Magnificent Obsession

Sometimes when wanting to view a classic old movie, I just want to see one that is heavy on the drama and romance.  A movie  that most guys just want to avoid, but a movie  most women would enjoy.  My pick is that type of movie, 1954’s Magnificent Obsession.   Based upon Lloyd C. Douglas’s hugely successful 1929 novel, it was made into a film in 1935 and again in 1954.  I saw the ’54 version not that long ago and decided to make it my pick for today.   This version was directed by Douglas Sirk, a well-known director in the 1950s.  Sirk  skillfully directed  overly dramatic material without it becoming too over the top and hammy.  His films  especially appealed to women and were very popular.   1954’s Magnificent Obsession stars Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson(his first role to put him on the map, so to speak), Barbara Rush, Agnes Moorehead,  Otto Kruger, Richard Cutting, Gregg Palmer, Paul Cavanaugh, Rudolph Anders,Fred Nurney, and Judy Nugent.

MO poster 1

The movie opens at a lake( much of the outdoor scenes were filmed at Lake Arrowhead and Lake Tahoe in California) where rich playboy Robert Merrick(Rock Hudson) is racing  his newest purchase, a speedboat.  He foolishly pushes the boat to race at faster and faster speeds which lead  to a horrible crash.  Emergency personnel save him from the wreckage and by using a new device, a resuscitator, his life is saved.  Merrick  is driven via ambulance to the hospital.

Merrick racing in that speedboat!

Merrick racing in that speedboat!

Merrick's newest toy

Merrick’s newest toy

The movie then  cuts to  Mrs. Helen Phillips(Jane Wyman), wife of Dr. Wayne Phillips, the most well thought of man in town.  Helen is driving home from a shopping spree with her stepdaughter, Joyce(Barbara Rush).  Dr. Phillips was a longtime widower when he met Helen and after a whirlwind courtship, they married.  Helen is happily telling Joyce about the dinner party she is about to host to celebrate her 6 month wedding anniversary to Dr. Phillips.  Before their car arrives home, a state patrol car speeds past them,  rushing the resuscitator machine to Dr. Phillips house.  Nurse Nancy Ashford (Agnes Moorehead) rushes out of the house urging the patrolmen to get the machine inside quickly!  After the patrolman leave, we see them sadly shake their heads as Helen and Joyce arrive at the house.  As Helen and Joyce enter the house, Nancy and Dr. Dodge(Richard Cutting) sadly inform them that Dr. Phillips had a massive heart attack and has just passed away!  Joyce, after her initial shock, asks why wasn’t the resuscitator used on her father as he kept one at the house due to his heart problems.  Nancy informs her that a boating accident victim needed it and right after it was taken to aid that victim, Dr. Phillips had his attack.  Joyce asks about the boating accident victim and is it  is Robert Merrick.  She immediately scowls, as Robert Merrick is known in the town as the spoiled rich brat who does whatever he wants and doesn’t care who he hurts.

Merrick is having to recover from his injuries at the very hospital that Dr. Phillips started and was in charge of.  He is rude to all of the staff there, but puzzled as to why they are treating him so coldly.  Finally, Nancy the nurse tells him of Dr. Phillips death, and that if Merrick hadn’t had that boat accident, Dr. Phillips might very well still be alive.  Merrick, going against the hospital’s advice, sneaks out and decides to walk home to his bachelor mansion.  Meanwhile, Helen and Joyce have had a meeting with the late Dr. Phillips lawyer who informs them that there is almost no money for either of them and that the hospital may be in danger of having to shut down.  Helen and Joyce are puzzled by the tons of mail that Dr. Phillips received, thanking him for monetary donations.  One lady does show up to give  a check to repay a debt for a large sum of money that the doctor had given her and her family years earlier.  Dr. Phillips always refused debts being paid back to him, so Helen decides to also refuse the debt payment and tells the lady just to pass that money on to someone else who could benefit from it.   Helen then drives herself home and she finds Merrick standing dazed in the road.  She doesn’t know who he is, he doesn’t know who she is, but she gives him a lift just the same.  Merrick, finding Helen pretty, decides to flirt with her, which makes Helen increasingly uncomfortable.  She finally tells him that she is a recent widow, and who her late husband was.  Merrick immediately apologizes to Helen and tells her to let him out of the car.  He is feeling very guilty realizing that his being saved by the machine kept Helen’s husband from being saved.  After Merrick gets out of her car, he faints!  Helen manages to return him to the hospital and finds out that this young man in her car is Robert Merrick!

Helen giving this stranger a lift

Helen giving this stranger a lift

Helen finding out who that guy in her car is!

Helen finding out who that guy in her car is!

Merrick is finally released a week later and as he is feeling terrible about Dr. Phillips and all, he writes Helen a check for $24,000 for her to use for the hospital.  Helen is cold to Merrick and refuses the check, angrily accusing him of wanting to assuage his guilt away.  After a night of drinking, Merrick crashes his car in a yard.  He goes to the homeowner to apologize for what he’s done, and is greeted by artist Edward Randolph(Otto Kruger).  Randolph doesn’t get mad at Merrick, treats him with respect, and suggests that Merrick sleep off the alchohol on his couch.  In the morning, over a nice breakfast he’s made for Merrick, Randolph reveals that he was a great friend of Dr. Phillips and explains to Merrick the late doctor’s way of living: from Matthew 6: 1-4: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.  If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, don’t announce it with trumpets as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.    This scripture hits Merrick like a two-by four and he begins to change his ways.  We see him help out a taxi driver he knows with a monetary gift, then urges the man not to tell anybody where the money came from.  Merrick also keeps running into Helen Phillips, and tries to explain to her his new way of living, that it came from her husband’s example.  Helen, irritated that Robert Merrick yet again won’t leave her alone, tries to avoid him by clamboring out of a taxi and into the street, not seeing an oncoming car.  The car bumps Helen, down she goes, and is left blind!!!  Robert Merrick is overcome with more guilt and tries to see Helen at the hospital as she recovers but Joyce informs him that he is no longer wanted.

Merrick about to learn about Matthew 6:1-4

Merrick about to learn about Matthew 6:1-4

We next see Helen learning to maneuver her way around her home and down to the beach by the lake to enjoy the afternoon sun.  A neighbor girl, Judy, likes to come by and read the newspaper aloud to Helen.  During one of these daily excursions, Judy notices a man nearby and tells Helen that a man is close by and introduces him to Helen.  Robert Merrick is that man, and he doesn’t want Helen to know it’s him so he lies, and says he is Robbie Robinson.  Weeks go by and Robbie, Helen, and Judy continue to meet each afternoon.  Helen has become very fond of Robbie, and he of her.  She informs him that she will soon be visiting 3 famous doctors in Switzerland and they might be able to perform an operation that will save her sight.   What Helen doesn’t know is that Merrick(Robbie) has been secretly funding the hospital so it can stay open, has paid off her home so she won’t have that financial worry, and has researched and found these 3 Swiss doctors!

Nancy and Randolph marveling at Helen's recovery

Nancy and Randolph marveling at Helen’s recovery

Falling in love during the lake visits

Falling in love during the lake visits

Telling Robbie about her upcoming trip

Telling Robbie about her upcoming trip

Helen, with Nancy and Joyce, travels abroad to meet the doctors:  Dr.  Fuss, Dr. Giraud, and Dr. Laradetti( Anders, Nurney, and Cavanaugh.)  After much testing, they determine that restoring Helen’s sight won’t happen.  Back at her rented villa,  Helen is about to cry herself to sleep, when  Merrick bursts in the front door!  Helen, thinking it is Robbie, is overjoyed.  Joyce is at first horrified, as she can see it’s really Merrick, but then she relents when she realizes that they love each other.  After a whirlwind evening of dinner and dancing, Merrick reveals who he really is to Helen, she says she already knew and has fallen in love with him.  Merrick  proposes and  the next morning he arrives  to marry Helen  only to  find out she and Nancy have disappeared!   Merrick searches endlessly for Helen unsuccessfully.  He then decides to become a doctor, for in that career,  he can continue to help people financially and secretly, the same way Dr. Phillips did.  Years go by, and he finds out from artist Randolph that Helen is living in New Mexico, but that she is in a coma!   Merrick rushes there to be with her, and after reviewing her medical charts, he decides it is the blood clot that caused her blindness now causing the coma.  None of the doctors at the hospital in New Mexico can do the operation, but Merrick just might be able to.  Will he operate on Helen and save her life?  Will he operate and she dies anyway?  Will her sight come back? Will she survive and they marry?  I am not revealing anymore of this movie as it will be on Turner Classic Movies on Monday, Sept. 30th at 6:00 pm (EST)/5:00 pm (CST).  Magnificent Obsession is also out on dvd, it’s on Netflix, and the trailers for the film are up on Youtube.

Merrick finding Helen in a coma!

Merrick finding Helen in a coma!

For a great romantic film, tune in to see Magnificent Obsession!  If your husband does agree to watch it with you, you must agree to watch an NFL game with him, or go fishing with him, or make him his favorite meal!MO poster 3 spanish versionMO poster 2, french version

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