Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 20
November 16, 1945
The Lost Weekend Premieres in NYC

On the train ride from Los Angeles to New York City, Billy Wilder picked up four novels, with Charles Jackson’s harrowing tale of alcoholic writer The Lost Weekend being one them. As soon as Wilder’s train pulled in Manhattan’s Grand Central Station, he called his old writing partner Charles Brackett back in LA to get him on board with the film. But why such a downbeat tale? Some suggest his recent experience with Raymond Chandler’s alcoholic behavior while co-writing Double Indemnity propelled Wilder's desire to understand the disease. In the novel, the main character drank over guilt of a homosexual affair, but in the film Wilder changed that to writer's block. Wilder convinced Paramount to greenlight the project, but the production faced challenges at every stage. Ray Milland was wary of starring as a drunk. Studios execs were nervous about the downbeat tale. Even the liquor industry, according to Wilder, want to quash the project, supposedly offering Paramount $5 million to sell them the negative. When it first showed, the audience reaction was so bad that Paramount almost buried it. But when the film finally was released, it was greeted with much critical acclaim. The film was nominated for seven oscars, winning four: Best Actor (Ray Milland), Best Director (Billy Wilder), Best Screenplay (Wilder and Charles Brackett) and Best Picture. Miklós Rózsa was nominated for Best Music for his innovative score that included the first use of theremin in a film.


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Harold and Maude Dec. 20, 1971
Harold and Maude Opens

Hal Ashby's iconic black comedy Harold and Maude opened in theaters on December 20, 1971.

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December 20, 1979
Bob Fosse's All That Jazz

For denizens of the New York theater scene, Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical All that Jazz provided them the guessing game of the season. What scandals was Fosse going to spill in his expose musical? The film, which tells the story of a Broadway choreographer/director Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider), whose excesses in life and work bring him to the edge of a collapse, was clearly modeled on Fosse’s own life. Some actors (like Ann Reinking) play characters very similar to themselves; other figures (like ex-wife Gwen Verdon, producer Hal Prince, and others) are played by others; and other actors (like Jessica Lange) who were close to Fosse play oddly mythic figures. Fosse, who’d started choreographing for film in 1954, was soon pulled to New York to choreograph and eventually direct such musicals as Pippin, Chicago, and Sweet Charity. In 1969, he started making films as well, winning an Oscar in 1972 for Cabaret. A demanding taskmaster and infamous womanizer, the chain-smoking Fosse suffered a heart attack in 1975. It was during this period that Shirley Maclaine (according to her) suggested he create something about his brush with death. The resulting film is a breathtaking musical sleight of hand as Fosse’s alter ego Joe Gideon reveals his innermost fears and desires only to cover them in the next moment with all that jazz––surreal show stopping dance numbers and Felliniesque romps into his libido and unconscious. In 1987, life imitated art as Fosse died from a heart attack, just moments before his revival of Sweet Charity was to open at the National Theater.

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