October 26, 2015

Ray Milland, The Lost Weekend

as DON BIRNAM
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Won: Academy Award - Best Actor | New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actor
Cannes Film Festival - Best Actor | Golden Globe Award - Best Actor 

Ray Milland's performance in The Lost Weekend swept just about any and all the Best Actor prizes that were available to be won back in 1945. It's the type of performance that has been heralded for its greatness to this day, and it's also the kind of performance that completely lives up to the hype.

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If there was a word I could use to describe Milland's work here, it would be "frantic." For pretty much the entire film, his Don Birnam is plagued with a sense of frenetic craving. And it's an interesting thing to watch. He is wild such that you literally cannot believe that this is the type of behavior that actually afflicts certain people, and yet he is so equally go-for-broke in his dedication to this behavior that it feels real. Whether it's waking up in genuine physical pain or going above and beyond to the greatest lengths just to secure some cheap booze, at times demeaning himself in the process, Milland is a sight to see to say the least. His slow unravelling descent in the film which begins from the opening frame and culminates with his powerful (and powerfully pathetic) hallucination is a wonderful display of acting; in fact, I can only think about that shriek he lets out when I think of this performance, how real and maniacal it was, and isn't that essentially this performance in a nutshell? While watching him you wonder why he does the things that he does, you wonder why he can't just get it together and get right, but most importantly--you pity him. Because he's a tragic character but because of Milland's ability to present Don in a way that connects you with him. This is a performance that's so pained, so palpably compelling in its depiction of human emotion and flaw that it only accentuates the ridiculousness that this was in the running with such self-righteous fluff as that of Bing Crosby in The Bells of St. Mary's or Cornel Wilde in A Song to Remember or Gregory Peck in The Keys of the Kingdom.


2 comments:

  1. Absolutely agree. Milland makes us forget every wannabe leading alcoholic character in film till we come to a strapped-in Jack Lemmon in Days Of Wine and Roses. The two of them then remain unmatched till we come to Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas. Milland is frighteningly good, and I can't imagine any of his fellow nominees begrudging him.

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  2. Ray Milland absolutely deserved this Oscar. His performance is so wrenchingly believable that at times you want to look away ... but you can't. It's a painfully accurate depiction of alcoholism without any of the romanticisms typical of Hollywood films of its time. Much credit must go to Billy Wilder, who co wrote (with Charles Brackett) and directed this film with unflinching honesty. I think it helped that Milland didn't have a specific persona and was relatively unfamiliar to much of the public at the time. There wasn't a preconceived notion of who the character would be, so Milland was free to explore and take risks, and he ran with it. He never got another crack at an Oscar and his career meandered before it sank (see 1972's "Frogs") but 'Lost Weekend' remains a testament to his abilities as an actor and Wilder's abilities as a filmmaker.

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