DVD Reviews: The Lost Weekend, Double Indemnity and Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis

Powerful! Terrifying! Unforgettable! Superb! Brilliant! No, I’m not describing the quality of the upcoming reviews but quoting from the trailer for Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (1945), recently unleashed onto Blu-ray by Masters of Cinema here in the UK.

Ray Milland stars as Don Birnam, a New York author whose life is ruled by the bottle. We’re introduced to Don as he and his brother, Wick (Phillip Terry), are packing for a weekend away following weeks of sobriety for the former. Don’s girlfriend, Helen (Jane Wyman), is convinced he’s turned a corner in his alcoholism and is rooting for him to come back the man she wants him to be.

Don’s inability to avoid alcohol for a day leads to his brother abandoning him and his life spiralling into the gutter, his world becoming a kind of hell.

If all that sounds a bit heavy for an evening’s entertainment, well, it is. From the opening moments, as we see a bottle of whisky hanging out of Don’s bedroom window, it’s clear that our “hero” is a troubled and very ill man surrounded by people who don’t seem to know how to handle him.

Wick’s attempts to make Don go cold turkey are laudable, as is Helen’s determination to love him no matter what, but they all seem to be doing him more harm than good, something that becomes apparent when he winds up in an institution, cared for by the less-than-tactful Bim (Frank Faylen).

Wilder’s direction ensures Don’s world is suitably shadow-filled and claustrophobic, his tiny apartment hardly the kind of place likely to inspire recuperation. The script, co-written by Wilder with Charles Brackett, manages to make Don a sympathetic character, mainly becuase it is so clear that his alcoholism can’t be cured by talking or wishful thinking.

Milland manages the character’s descent well as he’s called on to portray various states of anguish and guilt. Wyman gets the raw deal here, Helen’s inability to grasp the severity of the situation making her appear more stupid than saintly.

Still packing a punch today, The Lost Weekend will hopefully find a new audience on Blu-ray, particularly for those who want to see another side to Billy Wilder.

Some exemplary extras on this release include a three-part Arena special from 1992, featuring a three-hour interview with Wilder in which he discusses his lengthy life and career, a radio adaptation of the film and an introduction from director Alex Cox.

Joining The Lost Weekend on Blu-ray from Masters of Cinema’s is Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944), the archetypal film noir starring Fred MacMurray as insurance salesman Walter Neff, who finds himself caught in a web of deceit when he meets the beautiful Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck).

Determined that her husband should die so that she can claim his inheritance, Dietrichson convinces Neff to collude with her and to ensure a plan is formed that will mean the new insurance policy is paid out to her.

Although the plan seems to be foolproof, the pair don’t reckon of Neff’s boss’ interference, Keyes (Edward G Robinson), who finds the death suspicious.

Told in flashback by an injured Neff, Double Indemnity is an ingenious tale of deception, lust and greed that has more twists than the roads above Los Angeles. MacMurray’s switch from upstanding citizen to lowly murderer is believable thanks to the chemistry between the two leads. Stanwyck sets the tone from her first appearance, adding a touch of glamorous sleaze that the film never loses.

Wilder again shows his skill at keeping the main narrative moving forward while dropping in interesting camera angles and drawing fine performances from his cast, including Robinson who seems to be a template for Lieutenant Columbo some 30 years later.

Extras include the trademark Masters of Cinema booklet, a commentary from film historian Nick Redman and screenwriter Lem Dobbs, a 2006 documentary on the making of the film and more.

Any subtlety or class evident in the above films is long forgotten in Giorgio Moroder’s 1984 take on Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic, Metropolis, out now on DVD.

Lang’s story of a dystopian future ruled by the nasty piece of work that is Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel) and a love story between his son, Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), and a poor factory worker, Maria (Brigitte Helm), is given a novel twist with the addition of a tinted film stock and a rock score.

Moroder’s controversial decision to impose his own vision upon Lang’s work has been both criticised and praised over the years, the naysayers arguing that Queen, Adam Ant and Bonnie Tyler aren’t exactly sympathetic to the film’s style (for more on the debate, head over to the Movie Morlocks site for David Kalat’s view).

What hampers Moroder’s Metropolis more than the jarring soundtrack is that the version he had to work with wasn’t the complete one we can enjoy elsewhere in the Masters of Cinema library. The recently restored 150 minute version we can now access was only 83 minutes long in 1984, meaning we have the bare bones of the story but none of the meat.

We’re left with a kind of ‘beginner’s guide’ to Metropolis that could either intrigue new viewers and send them off in search of the newer edition or put them off for life. In fairness to Moroder, the music isn’t as offensive as some claim and he should be applauded for bringing the film to the attention of 1980s audiences who had perhaps forgotten Lang’s legacy.

Today the film is a diverting curio that can’t be said to be essential viewing, particularly for those who perhaps can’t afford to buy both versions of the film, but it’s still nice to finally have it looking and sounding so good.

The solitary extra on this DVD is a documentary from 1984 following Moroder’s mission to restore Metropolis.

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