Friday, February 6, 2009

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Casting Coup Month: The Lost Weekend

Last year, I did a Casting Coup of All the King's Men, the Best Picture winner of 1949. I never saw the original. I never saw the remake. I read the book senior year of high school, so my memories of some of the details were kind of hazy. Nevertheless, I went with it, for it was an Oscar-winning film and I knew who to cast.

This year, we get a similar treatment. I have never seen this movie. What I have done, though, is read the book. Recently, in fact. It was Thanksgiving Weekend, and I was over at my grandfather's house, celebrating with my mom's side of the family. I skimmed through the many titles on Poppa's bookshelves. Poppa is a voracious reader, has a library's worth of fiction and non-fiction, the entire Travis McGee collection, and still remembers most of the details of each one. I was torn between two titles: The Bridge Over the River Kwai and The Lost Weekend, books he acquired when he subscribed to a Time-Life book club back in the 1960s. The covers were awesome, though falling apart. The binding job was more for artistic purposes than to actually hold a damn book together, but I soldiered through the detaching cover and read the novel in three days. And it took me a week to get through Pippi Longstocking.

The book was just amazing. The period of time mentioned in the title is a span of four days in the life of Don Birnam. It is a fascinating piece depicting the mental, emotional and physical state of the alcoholic, with all the faux conversions and desperate action that is now familiar to audience members. Yet Charles Jackson's semi-autobiographical novel was years ahead of its time, one of the first to acknowledge alcoholism as a disease.

How they managed to adapt this novel, made up mostly of inner monologues, is beyond me. They must have done something right, though. The film absolutely dominated at the 1945 Academy Awards (that's right, same as The Picture of Dorian Gray). The Lost Weekend won four of its seven nominations. John F. Seitz lost Cinematography, Black and White to Dorian Gray, Doane Harrison's Film Editing to Robert Kern's National Velvet, and Miklos Rozsa's score lost to himself, but for Spellbound. But the other four were just a little important, I think. Like, say, Best Writing, Screenplay (Charles Brackett/Billy Wilder), Best Actor (Ray Milland), Best Director (Billy Wilder) and Best Picture. So...yeah, just a little awesome.

Who is He: Runs a pawn shop, where Don is at his lowest.

Originally played by:
The always uncredited, frequently unpictured Milton Wallace (The Killers, None But the Lonely Heart)

My Choice:

Saul Rubinek (Santa's Slay, The Express)
The book makes much of the fact that Rabinowitz is Jewish, as it illustrates Don's drunken anti-Semitism. Rubinek is a respected yet unassuming character actor who is very Jewish. Elliott Gould would be too distracting, so Rubinek has to step in.

Who is He: The doctor that runs the Alcoholic Ward at the hospital. He sees his wing as merely a place for drunks to stay until they get enough strangth to drink themselves to oblivion again.

Originally played by:

Emmett Vogan (Charlie Chan at the Opera, Edison, the Man)

My Choice: BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actor (Carrington)

Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Brazil)
The doctor is a much bigger part in the book (he goes uncredited in the film). Pryce has that professional air about him. He's someone you can trust. Which is odd, because he plays sleazebags quite a bit. But he's rather professorial, and would sound natural in the hospital scenes.

Who is He: A limp-wristed nurse at the hospital, his attempts to soothe Don are both comforting and uncomfortable. He understands better than most what Don is going through.

Originally played by:

Frank Faylen (Mission to Moscow, Funny Girl)

My Choice:

Pruitt Taylor Vince (Nobody's Fool, Indentity)
Vince is always playing someone who is a little "off". I've always suspected he's a little retarded, but I can't find anything proving this. So, anyway, I think he can do the comforting thing, but since most of this is Don's impression of people, and Bim kind of weirds him out, Pruitt Taylor Vince. That is all.

Who is She: She works at the bar Don frequents. Is she a call girl? A slut? Maybe. But she seems to be really impressed by Don, and she even makes a date with him.

Originally played by:

Doris Dowling (The Blue Dahlia, The Car)

My Choice: BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actress (Lost in Translation), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress in a Drama (Girl with a Pearl Earring, Lost in Translation, A Love Song for Bobby Long) and Best Supporting Actress (Match Point)

Scarlett Johansson (He's Just Not That Into You, The Nanny Diaries)
I will take this opportunity to say that The Nanny Diaries is an extremely funny, highly underrated movie, and the fact that I do not own it is abominable. But Johansson is great. She's a great actress who could use a few small character roles to remind us of the heights she can achieve. Gloria is a minor character, true, but Scarlett could play it. It's Marble Columns with depth.

Who is He: The bartender at Don's preferred bar. Knows he should stop Don, but business is business. Unfortunately, though, Don just kind of runs up a tab, leading him to horrifying lows.

Originally played by: BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Foreign Actor (David and Lisa)

Howard Da Silva (Sergeant York, Mommie Dearest)

My Choice:

Ian Gomez (Rookie of the Year, My Big Fat Greek Wedding)
Bartender look, first of all. But secondly, his roles in film and television reveal him to be a sympathetic, "best friend" type. As a bartender should be.

Who is He: Don's brother, who says he worries about the alcoholism, but also enab les him through denial. Wick's kind of a pussy, I feel, but who wouldn't be in such a situation?

Originally played by:

Phillip Terry (Honolulu, Calling Dr. Kildare), and three-year hubby of Joan Crawford

My Choice:

Nicky Katt (Snow Angels, The Dark Knight)
The main guy in the story is Don, with everyone else only occupying a couple of scenes or so. Thus, the supporting cast should consist of outstanding yet chameleon-like character actors. Thus, Nicky Katt, a good actor who resembles the lead I have in mind. He can play the human, spineless character. You've seen it. You havem, don't tell me otherwise.

Who is She: Don's longtime girlfriend. She suffers through all of Don's problems, taking care of him, supporting him. Helen's a fucking saint, but even she has her limits. If only she'd act on them.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Actress (Johnny Belinda), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress in a Drama (Johnny Belinda, The Blue Veil) and Female World Favorite

Jane Wyman (Anything Goes, Night and day)

My Choice:

Sarah Paulson (Down with Love, The Spirit)
Paulson was fantastic as Harriet hayes, the Kristin Chenowith-inspired sketch comedy actress on Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. She was soothing, but worn out and serious-minded. Which is what it takes to play Helen. Whose name is also an H. Paulson is marvelous.

Who is He: An alcoholic. He is an intellectual, a closeted homosexual (oh, come on, it's true!), a man who fancies himself to be a better man than he really is. I mean, he knows he's an alky, but he also thinks he's the classiest alky this side of Nick Charles. And no one is cooler than Nick Charles, so you know Don has a problem.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Actor (The Lost Weekend), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor in a Drama (The Lost Weekend)

Ray Milland (The Informer, The Uninvited)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Into the Wild)

Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers, Rudy)
I don't think I should have to justify it. Vaughn, to me, always seems drunk. he does. He's not very fit, he's sloppy, but he's also (somehow) attractive to women. Don is comic, but there is tragedy in his comedy. Like The Break-Up, actually, which worked when Vince Vaughn was actually going through a break-up, and not being Vince Vaughn, with as many "funny" lines as possible. No, Vince Vaughn can nail this part, balancing the lighter touches (two of them, I think) with the much sadder ones. Much, much sadder. Vaughn is a great actor who needs a challenge.

Best Actor: Vince Vaughn
Best Supporting Actor: Nicky Katt
Best Supporting Actress: Scarlett Johansson, Sarah Paulson

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