Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
November 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.


More Flashbacks
Robert Altman November 20, 2006
Robert Altman dies

On this day in 2006, the legendary film director Robert Altman passed away at the age of 81 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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Nov. 20, 1992
Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant opens

The unlikeliest franchise was born on November 20, 1992, when Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant opened in New York City. Produced by Ed Pressman, written by Zoe Lund and Paul Calderon, and starring Harvey Keitel, Bad Lieutenant boldly yoked a tale of a distraught Catholic cop seeking redemption by pursuing the rapists of a nun to a sordid, walk-on-the-wild side panorama of downtown New York in the early '90s.

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November 20, 1981
Ragtime Starts Up

Released on November 20, 1981, Milos Forman's Ragtime presented a sweeping picture of America at the beginning of the 20th century. While based on E.L. Doctorow’s sprawling novel, the film centers on the story of Coalhouse Walker Jr (Howard E. Rollins Jr.), a young black pianist who fights to have his honor restored after being abused by racist volunteer firemen. For Forman, the film’s story of oppression connected to his own struggle in Communist Czechoslovakia. For others, the story was a reflection of America’s own new Gilded Age, especially as the holiday season approached. But all saw the 155-minute spectacle, with a massive cast that included actors and celebrities like James Cagney, Donald O’Connor, Pat O’Brien, Elizabeth McGovern, Norman Mailer, Mandy Patinkin, and many more, as a movie event. It took an impressive $17 million and was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, and even spawned a Broadway musical; today, however, Ragtime, a historical epic to remind of past excesses, has sadly been all but forgotten.

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