Snake Pit (1948)Director: Anatole Litvak
"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.
- Release Date:
- Original Release:
- 20th Century Fox
Cast & Crew
|Bonnie Cashin||Costumes/Costume Designer|
|Ernest Lansing||Set Decoration/Design|
|Thomas K. Little||Set Decoration/Design|
|Alfred Newman||Score Composer,Musical Direction/Supervision|
|Lyle Wheeler||Art Director|
|Joseph C. Wright||Art Director|
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Despite Oscars for 2 other films, Olivia de Havilland gives her greatest performance in ''The Snake Pit''. The viewer travels with her thru every step of the way in her journey into mental illness - particularly harrowing is the shock treatment, and greatly moving is the Dance Sequence with the ''Going Home'' moment. Leo Genn does well as her doctor while Mark Stevens is adequate, but it is de Havilland's picture and she is great!
First of all, what issues does the reviewer Hal Erickson have?-- ''In retrospect, it seems that deHavilland's biggest 'crime' is that she wants to do her own thinking, and that she isn't satisfied with merely being a loving wife.''-- Where did he pull that from? This movie is great. You can f-e-e-l the pain of these people. And when they sing that beautiful song 'Goin' Home' it brought a lump to my throught. Olivia de Havilland is just such an amazing actress, and so were the supports. How about Hester? She was so convincing.
'The Snake Pit' received excellent notices when it opened at the Rivoli theater in New York in November, 1948. Since then many have written that it will always be remembered for Olivia de Havilland's performance. Indeed, Hal Erickson is wrong in his review when he says she was not even nominated for an Oscar for it. She won the N.Y. Film Critics Award on the first ballot (a rarity) and she won an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in the role of Virginia Cunningham, the mental patient undergoing psychiatric treatment amid harrowing conditions. It still packs a powerful punch despite whatever changes have been made for treatment of schizophrenics in today's society. As a writer of articles dealing with profiles of classic actors and actresses, I wanted to clear up the misconception that Erickson made in declaring that de Havilland was not even nominated for this role. He was wrong and the correction has never been made.
If you enjoy drama with a happy ending, this is it. One of the most unforgetable movies that I have ever seen. I video taped this movies long before DVD's were invented and watch it often. This is a keeper. One of Olivia de Haviland's best performance since Gone With the Wind. I am looking for a copy of the song sung at the party, I believe called ''Going Home''. If anyone knows of this song please email me. Thanks and enjoy the movie.
Anatole Litvak's 'The Snake Pit' charts the atypical view of psychoanalysis prevalent in most classic films - a.k.a - everything is linked to one's childhood trauma, repression of that trauma and subsequent guilt. That shortcoming aside, 'The Snake Pit' is a stark, often disturbing, melodrama about life inside a mental asylum. It charts the dementia of Virginia Cunningham (Olivia de Havilland), a woman suffering from an emerging psychosis in which she has developed an intense paranoia of distrust and fear against her placid husband, Robert (Mark Stevens). Leo Genn plays the sympathetic psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Kick to whom Virginia's mental health is entrusted. It is through his care and patience that Virginia's psychosis is finally laid to rest. The ending ¿ true to Hollywood¿s golden age conventions ¿ infused with hope and promise, nevertheless offers a critical commentary on the inner mental anguish that, more often than not, is incurable and debilitating. De Havilland delivers a stellar and shockingly dramatic performance. The film is an apocalyptic vision of insanity under horrendous conditions. The transfer is troublesome. Although the gray scale is presented at a well balanced level, and blacks are generally solid, age related artifacts are sometimes glaringly present. Film grain, as well as edge enhancement and pixelization are present for an image quality that is rarely smooth and only moderately easy on the eyes. The audio has been cleaned up and is nicely presented. Fox Studio Line is about as skimpy on extras as is the rest of their output of classic films on DVD. One wonders why the distinction is made between 'Studio' titles and just regular releases. Here we get a sparse audio commentary, some stills and theatrical trailers. Big deal! I recommend this film for its performances, but the DVD is not up to reference quality.