Saturday, September 17, 2011


It's clear that most reviews are written by enthusiasts: that's why most product reviews are so high. Naturally, there is also the odd reviewer who really hates a book or movie and is determined to have his opinion heard. However, the vast, silent majority are mostly indifferent to almost everything. In any case, the point of this rather abstract introduction is that I fall into none of these three categories: I'm a movie lover who was disappointed by this "classic" of the forties. I had seen it before, but many years ago when I was a kid.

I admit that for its time it was ground-breaking. Hollywood didn't usually treat of alcoholism in any serious way and here we get benders, DTs, alcoholic hospitals, moral degradation and a lot more. Yet somehow--and I suppose we should expect this--the movie never quite loses its Hollywood sheen. Ray Milland is good enough in the leading role, but given Hollywood's propensity for gifting the acting oscar to anyone who is given an overacting opportunity, the oscar award doesn't say a lot. Everyone does a competent job, but the real problem is in the screenplay. Milland is an alcoholic who has never had a job, but wants to become a writer. It is assumed from the beginning that somewhere deep inside Birnam there is a real and talented writer struggling to emerge: but what is the proof? A few student articles and an early piece in Reader's Digest. Other than that, there is zilch. Lots of people want to write--but unless you write you're not a writer. Perhaps it would have been unendurable at the time to admit that most alcoholics don't have any special skill waiting to emerge: they are simply alcoholics. The Hollywood schmaltz element is further highlighted when Jane Wyman, a worker on Time magazine and the possessor of a perfect Hollywood wardrobe, decides to fall in love with our alcoholic nobody who--for reasons of Hollywood etiquette--must have the makings of a 'somebody' inside him. This might actually have done harm to the real alcoholics' cause, as one of the worst aspects of the disease is that the sufferer becomes a social pariah: the idea of an unemployed alcoholic winning the love of a high class lady from Time magazine and keeping it through all his degradations is pure Hollywood hoo-ha. Even the end of the movie rings false with Milland giving up drink and beginning on his infamous novel, "The Bottle", once again. This is supposed to be a happy ending--but the odds are that its just one more false dawn before the drinking starts again.

I'm sorry to be so negative, but this movie after deciding to deal with an important issue of this kind refuses to face the real horrors head on and, instead, is determined to wrap them up in several layers of Hollywood hokum.


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