Don Birnam, an want-to-be writer with writer's block, is ecstatic when his brother Wick finally leaves their apartment for a long weekend in the country. Free of the constant watching, he is incredibly happy and feels even better after the second drink. Throughout the five days, Don drinks, makes and forgets promises, discovers a brilliant idea for writing and forgets it just as quickly, loses track of time. His mind takes him on a guilt-ridden trip through past experiences and hallucinations. He even awakens after a spill down the stairs to find himself in the alcoholic wing of a sanitarium.
Billy Wilder's film adaptation of the novel by Charles Jackson does a fine job of detailing what happens to someone in the grips of alcoholism: the desparate need, the hallucinations, the blackouts, etc. Ray Milland delivers one of the finest screen performances as Don, giving the impression that you are living every moment with Don, suffering his hallucinations and withdrawal, and thirsting for alcohol. This performance also earned him the Best Actor Academy Award. Jane Wyman is wonderful as Don's girlfriend Helen, who wants to see him through this terrible ordeal. Phillip Terry also gives a strong performance as Don's brother Wick, who wants to help Don by being the strong one, but always caves in, feeding Don's dependency.
For anyone who has read the book, certain aspects from the story have been removed and altered, but this in no way detracts from this portrait of a man in the throes of alcoholism. It's still a very potent and powerful film dealing with an almost taboo subject at the time. Highly recommended.