Wednesday, February 20, 2002


I had long avoided this movie because of its reputation as one of the first serious Hollywood treatments of a "social problem," alcoholism. I assumed it would be dated and overly melodramatic. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. I'm still not a fan of Ray Milland, but he did a good job with the unlikeable character of an alcoholic writer who falls rather spectacularly off the wagon one weekend, betraying both his brother (Philip Terry) and girlfriend (Jane Wyman). The opening is great: Milland and Terry are packing to go away (with Wyman) to the country for what is supposed to be a restful reward for Milland having stayed sober for an extended period of time. Milland seems a bit nervous, and it turns out that he has a bottle of booze hanging out the window; he's waiting for the right time to reel it in and surreptitiously pack it for the trip. He's caught, however, and things spiral out of control for Milland from there until he hits rock bottom and decides to kill himself. Milland never descends into sloppy and obvious exaggeration--he is quite believable most of the way through as a drunk. Howard Da Silva is good as a sympathetic bartender who, nevertheless, can't bring himself to cut Milland off.

There are two scenes that stand out. One involves Milland desperately combing the city looking for a pawn shop that's open to get money for alcohol (it turns out it's Yom Kippur), and the other is when he's thrown into a drunk ward at a sanitarium. Frank Faylen, the friendly taxi driver in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, plays a snippy, effeminate attendant who gives Milland a hard time. It's a short but memorable scene. A later scene where we see what Milland sees when he gets the DT's is a bit laughable at first, with a mouse poking out of a hole in the wall and a bat flapping about the room, but when the bat attacks the mouse, it *is* a startling and effective moment. The ending is a bit pat, with the promise of Wyman's love saving Milland--they've been dating for months, so why did it take so long? Wyman doesn't have much to do and gives a rather bland performance; Philip Terry is better (with a slightly better part) but also suffers from lack of screen time. But overall, a good movie that is not nearly as dated as I was afraid it would be.

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