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May 10, 2022 – One of the unfortunate side effects of how The Lost Weekend grapples with alcoholism comes in the more heightened aspects of Ray Milland’s Oscar-winning lead performance. He’s not terrible as Don Birnam, but he’s one of the key parts of The Lost Weekend let down by being made in this era of American cinema. While some leading men in the 1940s opted to take a cue from the groundbreaking work of Humphery Bogart by adhering to more restrained performances, Milland’s portrayal of Birnam is much more traditional. More often than not, this actor leans on a pronounced sense of physicality and exaggerated line deliveries to carry the day.
This acting style isn’t a bad thing at all inherently, but it works better with certain roles than others. For Birnam, going so showy tends to dilute the horrors of his sickness. Take a scene where Milland is sauntering down the street looking for a drink while all the liquor stores are closed for a religious holiday. His hands flop all around, his pupils practically look like they’ll pop out of his head, and moans in dejection at every new obstacle in his path. Despite the actor being committed to each of these tics, it’s not enough to make these traits feel like organic parts of the character.