The Lost Weekend/Rozsa
January 3, 2016
“On Sunset Boulevard The Life and Times of Billy Wilder,” a book written by Ed Sikov, devotes over a chapter to the making of “The Lost Weekend,” a fictional novel by Charles Jackson, which is very much autobiographical. Jackson was not only alcoholic but addicted to pills (Seconal) as well and struggled with both for a good part of his life. In my opinion this would also have made a great story. Written in 1944 the book quickly became a hit and it was on a news stand that Wilder bought the book for his train ride and by the time he reached his destination he had already started writing the screenplay for it. As the story unfolds in the making of the picture Joseph Breen, head of the Production Code Administration went right to work in tearing down the submitted screenplay and as a result the novel couldn’t be shot the way Wilder wanted. The homosexual passages and the hinting of prostitution all had to be taken out of the script. The ending of the book, a depressing one with no hope, had to be changed to a happy one to please the audience. There are numerous events connected to the making of the picture such as Milland attempting to be pinched because he looked so bad in front of Bellevue hospital and Wilder carrying on two affairs with Audrey Young and Doris Dowling while still married, and an offer from the liquor industry to buy the film for five million dollars quite a juggling act. The end result was multiple Oscars for Milland, screenplay, director, and picture of the year. Now let’s talk about the music.
A temp track of Gershwin type music with xylophones turned out to be a disaster when a preview was given in Santa Barbara so much so that the film was nearly abandoned. Enter Miklos Rozsa who had worked with Wilder on his last film “Double Indemnity” and not only was the problem solved but Miklos received an Oscar but lost out to another score he did “Spellbound.”
Rozsa offers three basic main themes which he uses throughout the entire film. The prelude is a brash dissonant which is introduced by the brass which gives way to the strings and the brass become harmony. The strings cry out with melodrama and if one is familiar with Rozsa the sound is the film noir one that became his trademark. It is a theme that you’ll remember after listening to this CD a couple of times The end of the track introduces a secondary theme, “New York Skyline” a tribute to the lure of New York. However, right at the end we hear a bit of the second theme, the best in the film in my opinion, which is a calling card that Ray Milland (Birnam) is wanting to drink. We hear the introduction of the electronic instrument the theremin a wailing sound intermixed with the clarinet giving it a whirling effect. This is a true leitmotif that will be present whenever there is drinking or the thought of it. The third theme is also a leitmotif that of the love and support that Helen (Jane Wyman) had for Don Birnam. It is the one calming influence in the turmoil he has created with desire to drink. Sometimes the solo gypsy style violin is used in c major to add the schmaltz necessary. The solo violin is also used with the drinking motif offering the melody as the swirling theremin provides the harmony. This was the second time that Rozsa used the instrument, the first film being “Spellbound.” The instrument would go on to have quite a following.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theremin There is also what I like to call the bat theme, a sequence when Birnam is in Bellevue and going through the withdrawal/delirium tremors. You’ll hear this on the “Nightmare” track along with some other material that critics of the time called a horror classic. Also included on the CD are 6 extra cues including material not used in the film. The liner notes written by Frank K. DeWald are researched and well written.
We now must come to the bad part of this CD release which is the terrible sound quality. Even with my mono speaker setup, which I use on these types of recordings, there was no improvement. I’m not blaming Intrada or their engineers at all just warning you that this is a archival recording some of which has been damaged.
Rozsa collectors are very happy as this is a step up from the Koch recording or the older Tony Thomas LP’s.