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Snake Pit (1948)

Snake Pit (1948)

4.6 5
Director: Anatole Litvak

Cast: 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,


"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.

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:
Original Release:
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

Customer Reviews

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Snake Pit 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.