Snake Pit (1948)

Snake Pit (1948)

4.6 5
Director: Anatole Litvak

Cast: Anatole Litvak, Olivia de Havilland, Mark Stevens, Leo Genn

     
 

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"A woman loses her mind and is confined to a mental institution." That's the usual TV-listing encapsulation of The Snake Pit -- and like most such encapsulations, it only scratches the film's surface. Olivia de Havilland stars as an outwardly normal young woman, married to loyal, kindly Mark Stevens. As de Havilland's behavior becomes more and more erratic,See more details below

Overview

"A woman loses her mind and is confined to a mental institution." That's the usual TV-listing encapsulation of The Snake Pit -- and like most such encapsulations, it only scratches the film's surface. Olivia de Havilland stars as an outwardly normal young woman, married to loyal, kindly Mark Stevens. As de Havilland's behavior becomes more and more erratic, however, Stevens comes to the sad conclusion that she needs professional help. She is sent to an overcrowded state hospital for treatment -- a curious set-up, in that, while de Havilland is treated with compassion by soft-spoken psychiatrist Leo Genn, she is sorely abused by resentful matrons and profoundly disturbed patients. Throughout the film, she is threatened with being clapped into "the snake pit" -- an open room where the most severe cases are permitted to roam about and jabber incoherently -- if she doesn't realign her thinking. In retrospect, it seems that de Havilland's biggest "crime" is that she wants to do her own thinking, and that she isn't satisfied with merely being a loving wife. While this subtext may not have been intentional, it's worth noting that de Havilland escapes permanent confinement only when she agrees to march to everyone else's beat. Amazingly, Olivia de Havilland didn't win an Academy Award for her harrowing performance in The Snake Pit (the only Oscar won by the film was for sound recording). While some of the psychological verbiage in this adaptation of Mary Jane Ward's autobiographical novel seems antiquated and overly simplistic today, The Snake Pit was rightly hosannahed as a breakthrough film in 1948.

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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Mark Deming
At a time when Hollywood's understanding of mental illness hovered at the level of Arsenic and Old Lace, The Snake Pit bravely suggested that healthy, respectable people could suffer severe depression and nervous breakdowns, and that emotional maladies were treatable, and even curable. The film's representation of Virginia Cunningham and her troubles may seem elementary by today's standards, and the worries about her ability to remain a good wife may feel archaically sexist. But Anatole Litvak's grim portrait of the mental hospital and its residents remain strong and startling, and Olivia de Havilland's Oscar-nominated portrayal of Virginia was a bravely unglamorous choice that still holds up as her best performance. While the film's sunny ending seems a bit pat, it suggests that Virginia's crippling anxieties could be cured, like any other disease, a radical notion in Hollywood in the 1940s. If The Snake Pit does not seem quite as brave or groundbreaking today as it did on first release, it's still an effective and powerful drama.

Product Details

Release Date:
01/01/1998
UPC:
0086162198236
Original Release:
1948
Rating:
NR
Source:
20th Century Fox

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Olivia de Havilland Virginia Stuart Cunningham
Mark Stevens Robert Cunningham
Leo Genn Dr. Mark Kik
Celeste Holm Grace
Helen Craig Nurse Davis
Glenn Langan Dr. Terry
Leif Erickson Gordon
Beulah Bondi Mrs. Greer
Lee Patrick Asylum Inmate
Natalie Schafer Mrs. Stuart
Ruth Donnelly Ruth
Katherine Locke Margaret
Frank Conroy Dr. Jonathan Gifford
Minna Gombell Miss Hart
June Storey Miss Bixby, the Ward Nurse
Lora Lee Michel Virginia at Age 6
Damian O'Flynn Mr. Stuart
Ann Doran Valerie
Esther Somers Nurse Vance
Jacqueline De Wit Celia Sommerville
Betsy Blair Hester
Lela Bliss Miss Greene
Queenie Smith Lola
Grayce Hampton Countess
Dorothy Neumann Champion
Jan Clayton Singing Inmate
Isabel Jewell Asylum Inmate
Victoria Horne Asylum Inmate
Tamara Shayne Asylum Inmate
Grace Poggi Asylum Inmate
Sylvia Andrew Actor
Marie Blake Actor
Ellen Lowe Actor
Therese Lyon Actor
Barbara Pepper Patient
Sally Shepherd Nurse
Minerva Urecal Actor
Jeri Jordan Actor
Helen Servis Miss Servis
Howard Freeman Dr. Curtis
Virginia Brissac Miss Seiffert
Ashley Cowan Tommy
Celia Lovsky Gertrude
Mae Marsh Tommy's mother
Marion Marshall Young girl
Lester Sharpe Dr. Sommer
Mary Treen Nurse
Sid Saylor Visor

Technical Credits
Anatole Litvak Director,Producer
Robert Bassler Producer
Millen Brand Screenwriter
Bonnie Cashin Costumes/Costume Designer
Ernest Lansing Set Decoration/Design
Thomas K. Little Set Decoration/Design
Alfred Newman Score Composer,Musical Direction/Supervision
Ben Nye Makeup
Frank Partos Screenwriter
Dorothy Spencer Editor
Leo Tover Cinematographer
Lyle Wheeler Art Director
Joseph C. Wright Art Director

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