“Not all us who drink are poets. Some of us drink because we’re not poets.”
Milland plays a writer, naturally, although I don’t think he’s published anything in a while, and he can’t seem to ever write anything now, partly because of writer’s block, and partly because of his drinking, which seem to go hand-in-hand. The first image in the movie is a bottle hanging outside his window tied to a rope which is one of his hiding places. He has an on-again-off-again girlfriend in Helen St. James (Jane Wyman), a girl she met while at the opera where he was so in need of a drink, he recalled a row of dancing raincoats and identified his, which had a half-full bottle of scotch in it. He ends up leaving the opera trying to retrieve his coat to get his bottle. There’s a subplot about a brother and a family, but it drifts in and out during a few unwelcome moments of soberness. He travels from bar to bar, pawn shop to pawn shop, liquor store to liquor store, or at least he tries to. The film doesn’t pretend to be about anything other than us getting a chance to follow one man through his plight. The word that comes to my mind is anguish. Milland’s performance shows a man who thinks his desire is a need, but he’s a man who’s fallen so low, he can’t even look up anymore. At one point, he ends up in a hospital with a bunch of other fellow drunks on similar lost weekends of their own. He can’t stand it and escapes. There are famous sequences of him searching for where he has hidden one of his bottles, and even some bizarre images of bats and rodents coming out of the wall when he’s in at his deepest. His other idea is to write about his desire to drink, calling the novel, “The Bottle.” He talks about it, his supposed book as his savior, but if he’s anything like John O’Brien (author of the novel, “Leaving Las Vegas,”) it’s probably more of a suicide note. The movie ends on a somewhat happy ending. He’s vowed to get clean no matter what it takes, and supposedly the fact the film and novel were made is proof that he eventually did, but they don’t show that it’s still a fight to not drink. It’s all really just a disease, isn’t it?