Ray Milland earned an Oscar playing an alcoholic desperately seeking a drink while facing a very bad night of the DTs in Billy Wilder’s 1945 The Lost Weekend, one of the first Hollywood films to seriously confront alcoholism as a disease. George Stevens’ 1952 Something to Live For is in no way a sequel but The Lost Weekend can’t help but inform Ray Milland’s character Alan Taylor, an advertising copywriter and recovering alcoholic who, at 18 months sober, has volunteered to go on calls for problem drinkers.
Joan Fontaine takes top billing as Jenny Carey, a no-longer-fresh young actress whose career is finally gaining traction, or at least was until she started lubricating her anxieties and emotion wounds in alcohol. She’s almost unrecognizable in her first scenes, sprawled across her hotel bed in slacks and blouse, more Katherine Hepburn modern woman than the usual Fontaine shy beauty or vulnerable sophisticate, and she doesn’t overwork the drunk act. She’s more wary and suspicious of Alan, who was called by the hotel’s worried elevator operator (Harry Bellaver) and proceeds to use the wily tricks of a veteran drunk to steer her clear of another drink (the inevitable echoes of The Lost Weekend reverberate through this scene). It looks like the beginning of a possible romance, until Alan returns home to his wife and children.
“Only a drunk can stop a drunk,” he explains to his supportive wife Edna (Teresa Wright) the next morning, but he came home with more than duty on his mind. Alan and Jenny continue to see one another, meetings that are as ecstatic as they are painful when reminders of his marriage and family responsibilities never fail to intrude on every reunion. Between their mostly chaste trysts, we follow their struggles in their respective worlds of corporate advertising (where Alan loses faith in his talent as a young hotshot takes the prime accounts) and New York theater (where Jenny’s confidence is undercut by the subtly cruel gestures of a jealous ex-lover). Even when they are apart, however, director George Stevens unites them in the many long, slow lap dissolves that connect them through their thoughts.