Don Birnam, a long-time alcoholic, has been sober for ten days and appears to be over the worst... but his craving has just become more insidious. Evading a country weekend planned by his brother and girlfriend, he begins a four-day bender that just might be his last - one way or another.
Delirium is a disease that only comes at night.
Don Birnham is not a drinker, he is in fact a drunk, he is left alone for the weekend by those who love him under the proviso that he gets stuck into his writing, thus the hope is that he stays away from the booze that is killing his life and the loving foundation that his life is built upon.
Billy Wilder directs this with brilliant hands, he pulls his first masterstroke by casting Ray Milland in the lead role of Don Birnham, at the time Milland was better known for light and airy roles, so for audiences of the time it was quite something to see someone so normally affable descend into a real dark shadow of their perceived persona. It was a formula that "Blake Edwards" would repeat some 17 years later with "Days Of Wine And Roses", there, comedy great "Jack Lemmon" would wow the viewers with his own descent into alcoholic hell.
It's no different here in 1945, Milland (and Wilder) drag us into an airy, almost jaunty first reel, and the foundation is set here for us to firmly stand by Don as he spirals through a series of nightmares that is acted with genuine skill by the leading man. The journey has us rapidly trying to hock a typewriter - if only we could just find a pawnbrokers open. We will beg in touchingly heart breaking fashion for a drink from the trusted barkeep, we will find ourselves in a dry out ward where the night terrors take over, we will be terrified by the delirium as sobriety threatens to unhinge this vile addiction...
We will be part of this film because of the simple magnetic qualities that draws you in. It's not just Milland's realistic show, Wilder the crafty sod uses deep focus to emphasise anything that will steer us to the demon drink, be it escalating water rings as each shot of Rye is consumed, or camera shots through the bottles themselves, Wilder doesn't let up with knowing reminders of the core subject. The score is just terrific, Miklos Roza scores it to perfection because the music leads you into a swirling nightmare as Don's functional mind gives way to the haven of numbness, in short, the tech work on the film is tops.
The back story to this now revered masterpiece is somewhat hilarious, Paramount didn't want to release the film after temperance groups protested that the film championed drinking (LOL). One strong arm group even offered 5 Million Dollars to have the film's negative destroyed, Wilder stood by his guns and thankfully the movie watching world still has a dark and poignant classic to view with resonance in any decade. 10/10
Paramount by Billy Wilder, Charles R. Jackson, Charles Brackett.
Stars: Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry.
Genres: Drama, Film-Noir
Keywords: paranoia weekend bartender brother addiction alcoholism noir flashback suicidal writer alcoholic bats low self esteem dishonesty hopelessness delirium tremens lies devoted girlfriend
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