Ray Milland won an Oscar from his only nomination for portraying alcoholic writer Don Birnam in The Lost Weekend.
Ray Milland is quite interesting as Don Birnam in that despite playing an alcoholic writer he never exactly becomes drunk. He becomes slightly slurred, but he never really fully becomes drunk due to the fact that he has been drinking for so long and so hard. Milland does not play Birnam's alcoholism as just a problem Birnam has but an innate condition and disease that he struggles with. The alcoholism is not only his need for a drink but also his need to cover up a lack of confidence. Milland completely makes Don's problems completely authentic and realistic, and all the more difficult to watch due to Milland honest performance.
Milland never overacts once in this performance which is amazing due to the difficulty of the part. Milland as I said does not really do any drunk scenes exactly, but he does his long length of time as withdraws from a lack of alcohol. His long extended time here is brilliant, because Milland slowly shows the symptoms of withdrawal which grow as his time of not having a drink continues to increase. His frustration, panic, and pain are all exceptionally well shown by Milland, too well shown because how downright realistic he is in both the symptoms themselves, and showing the slow way his withdrawal deteriorates both his health and his mind.
The most heartbreaking and effective moments of his performance are how Milland makes Birnam such a real person, and such a desperate and problematic person. There is not a bit of acting in Milland's whole performance shown on screen. Every moment of his performance is completely honest and effective. I completely believed in this guy Don Birnam who simply cannot get over his lack of confidence, his writer's block and his drinking problem. Don Birnam depression, and sadness, are made truly heartbreaking because of how Birnam is made a completely true person by Milland.
Milland performance is essential to this film, and it is he who makes the film a success. He holds interest and attention throughout the film. He makes Don's struggle one that becomes very personal, and it is with this that he makes the film as compelling at it is. Milland makes every scene believable and authentic, even when there is a risk against it. Think about the scene with the bat, it could have potentially been too much, but Milland frightened reaction is completely authentic the scene completely succeeds. The film has its strength because Milland's performance simply is so honest, so powerful and so heartbreaking. With the wrong actor the film could have been too melodramatic, too boring, unauthentic, but Milland avoids all that giving a fantastic performance.