(On TV, June 2018) You really wouldn’t expect a film about alcoholism to be so … entertaining. And yet here we are with The Lost Weekend, a film about an alcoholic protagonist being offered a weekend out of town to work on his issues … which he refuses in order to go on a three-day bender that leads him to rock-bottom. Surprisingly non-didactic, the script nonetheless carefully maps out the behaviour and coping mechanisms of a functioning alcoholic, before dropping him down as low as he can go: abandonment, debts, imprisonment, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts and perhaps self-redemption at the end. And yet the film remains fascinating and engaging throughout, a paean to director Billy Wilder’s ability, amply demonstrated here and elsewhere, in balancing extremely different tones into a cohesive whole. Ray Milland is convincing in the lead role, although Doris Dowling is captivating in a relatively minor barfly role. The filmmaking techniques here are used wisely, but it’s the message of the film that’s interesting: Alcoholism isn’t always shown in a proper light (often used a s a comic device), and The Lost Weekend does manage to find a way to talk about it that still stands the test of time. Hilariously enough, The Lost Weekend was directly inspired by director Wilder’s experience working with noted alcoholic Raymond Chandler during Double Indemnity. I’m not the best audience for the film (I don’t even drink, so it’s not as if I can relate to alcoholism), but I found the film far more interesting than expected, and I find it an entirely acceptable Oscar-winner.
(On DVD, January 2018) Even the most average Hitchcock films are better than most other thrillers, so when I refer to Dial M for Murder as slightly-above-average, the lofty standards of the director mean that the film is really good. There’s a pleasant eeriness at the very beginning of the film, as elements are thrown together on-screen (such as a blackmail letter) in a way that seems more hurried than logical—it’s only later that we learn the ghastly truth having led to the situation. The rest is about an attempted murder, a criminal scheme, a woman in distress and an intricate plot for a detective to untangle. The mid-point plot twist makes Dial M for Murder jump tracks into far more interesting territory than simply a woman being stalked by a murderer. The plotting is impeccable, the character work is fine, much of the story is thrillingly set in one location, and the climax is unusually effective even by contemporary standards. There’s a comfortable classic feel to the story as set in post-war London. Grace Kelly is quite good in the lead role, with able supporting turns by Ray Milland, Robert Cummings and John Williams (who’s not John Cleese). Hitchcock’s direction is so slick that despite the film having been shot in 3D, little of it seems forced or out-of-place. I now have a little bit more respect for the 1998 remake A Perfect Murder, which takes the same premise but runs with it in different yet satisfying fashion. Still, have a look at the original Dial M for Murder—it’s a thrill and a pleasure to watch even today.