The Closet Drunk
Ray Milland as Don Birnam in The Lost Weekend
Now here’s a real pro. This guy could tour the country running seminars about how to hide your addiction from everyone who cares about you. The scene where, in quick succession, he checks all of his usual hiding spots for secured liquor lasts almost a full minute! And what’s most impressive and/or inspiring is the pride he holds in what a prolific liar he is. Viewers beware, however. At one point Don’s brother finds a full bottle of rye he’d stashed and pours every drop down the drain: this is possibly the most heartbreaking shot in the whole picture. From the way the other characters react, it seems much easier to be a secret drunk these days, as you don’t have to put up with the crazy social stigma. And yet some things never change – Don remarks to the bartender “You need it most in the morning; don’t you know that by now?” Amen!
The Fun Drunk
Dudley Moore as Arthur Bach in Arthur
While it’s obvious that “The Lost Weekend” has an anti-booze message, documenting the protagonist’s utterly miserable near-suicidal binge, with “Arthur” it’s much tougher to tell. Arthur is so charming, funny, and content to be an alcoholic, why would you take the bottle away from him? So what if he has a Superman poster on his wall and basketball hoop on the back of his door well into his thirties. It’s all part of his man-child appeal! And considering he’s a millionaire, he probably throws the greatest parties, so in recommending he quit you’d really just be depriving yourself. Clearly his old British personal butler (John Gielgud) is inclined to agree. All I know is I wish I could drink whiskey from a paper bag behind the wheel of a convertible, and I wish John Gielgud was my enabler.
The Self-Destructive Drunks
Mickey Rourke as Henry Chinaski and Faye Dunaway as Wanda Wilcox in Barfly
Barfly is a semi-autobiographical film written by the great American poet and novelist Charles Bukowski, who famously spent a great deal of time in bars, taking ten years off from writing at one point in order to get drunk. Given the subject matter - a rude crude drunk with the soul of a poet - one might expect a film like Barfly to offer a self-serving romantic at the life of an alcoholic, but Chinaski is too stubborn to try breaking the cycle of addiction. Likewise, fellow barfly and newfound lover Wanda is under no illusions about her drunkenness. At one point she warns Henry that she’ll leave with any man who offers her a fifth of whisky, and low and behold, she does. Perhaps the most incisive touch is the utter lack of character growth. Chinaski ends the film the same way he begins it: a drunk looking for a fight.
The Lucky Drunk
WC Fields as Egbert Sousé in The Bank Dick
Egbert Souse is one lucky guy. It may not appear so at the beginning of the film, but everything is bound to work out for him. On his way to look for a job, he stops off at the tavern for a drink. Who does he meet? A film producer looking for a director. Afterwards, he stops to read the newspaper, and inadvertently trips a bank robber, becoming a town hero. I won’t even mention his rather unsafe driving habits. Throughout the film, Sousé (“It’s pronounced ‘soo-ZAY’”) has a habit of ending up on the good side of fate’s sometimes cruel decisions, and not because his plans ever work out. And I’m not sure if it has anything to do with luck, but WC Fields has one of the most impressive proboscises I’ve ever seen.
The Suicidal Drunk
Nicolas Cage as Ben Sanderson in Leaving Las Vegas
When washed-up Hollywood screenwriter Ben Sanderson heads to Las Vegas, he intends to do one thing and he intends for that thing to be the last thing he ever does. He intends to drink himself to death. In the process, he forms a relationship with a world-weary prostitute (Elisabeth Shue) and vomits and gets some seriously bad hangovers and spends an awful lot of time shaking uncontrollably as his body rejects the poison. If the idea of suicide by alcohol is new to you, as it was to me when I first watched this film, Nicolas Cage’s performance renders it utterly believable. And like Arthur, Ben Sanderson is a drunk with financial means, so unlike Henry Chinaski, a lack of funds won’t prevent the inevitable.