Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Snake Pit (1948)

                The Snake Pit is a 1948 drama film about a woman’s time in the chaotic conditions of a mental hospital back in the early 20th century.  It stars Olivia de Havilland as Virginia Stuart Cunningham in one of her finest roles.  It’s directed by Anatole Litvak, whose other films include Anastasia, Sorry Wrong Number, All This and Heaven Too, and more.  It was nominated for 7 Oscars in 1948, of which it won one award for Sound Mixing.  Olivia perhaps deserved the Best Actress Oscar she was nominated for, but lost out to Jane Wyman for her performance in Johnny Belinda.

                Virginia Cunningham starts out the movie confused and talking to herself in her mind.  She doesn’t remember where she is or how she got there.  As the movie progresses, we come to learn about her history through fragmented memories the doctors are able to get out of her.  It is through these that the doctors aim to learn what triggered Virginia’s mental episode in the first place.  We come to see how events from her childhood into her adult life worked together to lead to her breakdown.  Olivia de Havilland’s great performance throughout this really builds up your interest in learning about her.

                As interesting as the aforementioned plot is, you then have to factor in the chaotic conditions of a hospital such as the one she is in at that time.  Corrupt nurses who want things to work their way, the use of shock therapy, and an overcrowded gang of varyingly sick women are some examples of this ever-present chaos.  At one point things are going decently for Virginia, but when she upsets the wrong person she finds herself sent up to a ward where the high-level, or extra-sick patients are crowded together.  In this chaos is when the movie’s title comes into play as Virginia comes to view her experience as being like a snake in a pit.

                The entire time, Virginia is trying to remember her husband, Robert, who is played well by Mark Stevens.  Toward the end, Virginia’s condition improves as doctors uncover more about her past, which I don’t want to spoil.  Past trauma is responsible for her breakdown, we discover, and as Virginia’s condition improves she even begins to help and befriend others in the hospital.  In the end, we get a happy ending for a drama film as she comes to fully understand what got her there in the first place and is mentally stable enough to return to her married life at home.  This isn’t film noir, people, if you were looking for an unhappy ending!  I hope I’ve clued you into the atmosphere of this movie without spoiling anything major, nonetheless!  Anyway, I give this film 3.5 out of 4 stars.  It’s definitely a classic that you should check out as soon as you can!  

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is a 1966 American black-comedy film.  It’s also, perhaps, my favorite classic film of all time.  It stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, a well known Hollywood couple from back then, as well as George Segal and Sandy Dennis.  This film, directed by Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Carnal Knowledge, etc), was released by Warner Bros.  It is based on the stage play of the same name by Edward Albee.  It’s one of the only films to ever be nominated for every eligible Oscars category, winning five of them out of thirteen.   And that doesn’t surprise me, as performances from all four stars are fantastic, as well as being a great story with solid direction.

                Richard Burton plays a middle-aged college professor named George, who is married to Elizabeth Taylor’s character Martha.  George invites over a younger couple, played by George Segal and Sandy Dennis, and we get to spend a night with George and Martha as hosts as they drink alcohol and argue about their relationship in front of Segal’s and Dennis’ Nick and Honey characters.  George and Martha verbally abuse each other throughout, revealing to their guests the depth of their relationship with all of its problems.  Elizabeth Taylor certainly deserved the Best Actress Oscar that she won for her performance, while Sandy Dennis won for best supporting actress.  Richard Burton was nominated for Best Actor, but did not win, though he gives perhaps his best performance of his entire career in this film.

                I wouldn’t recommend trying to read or discover everything about the film before seeing it, as, if you’re like me, you’ll be shocked by the ending if you don’t understand for most of the film exactly what George and Martha are going on about.  They give contradictory reports about their children, for instance, much to the confusion of their guests.  Ultimately, I think the film is a shining example of what a married couple, dedicated to one another but troubled, may go through in the struggle to maintain their lives, their marriage, and their very sanity.  This film was a box office success, bringing in 40 million dollars for Warner Bros.  Anyway, without spoiling anything, I must insist that if you haven’t yet watched this film that you seek out to watch it ASAP.  I give it a full 4 out of 4 stars!  Don’t miss this one, even if you previously weren’t a fan of Burton or Taylor as an on-screen duo (or on their own, at that!).  This one’ll tear at your heart strings, in a way that I’ll never forget and I don't think you will either!

The Invisible Man (1933)

Welcome to my first review!  Why did I choose The Invisible Man (1933)?  Well because I had to pick something and this movie is fresh on my mind as I just watched it last night.  Coming from the director, James Whale, that brought you Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Showboat, and more…   It stars Claude Rains, though other actors, like Una O’Connor, do well in their parts.

A movie like this may not be such a big deal in terms of special effects by modern standards… but if you judge this movie rightfully on its 1933 standards, it’s definitely a technical achievement!  James Whale did his best to make me really feel like there was an invisible man doing things on screen.  I’d sure like to know more details about how they created the special effects for this film!  They say on wikipedia that “When the Invisible Man had no clothes on, the effect was achieved through the use of wires, but when he had some of his clothes on or was taking his clothes off, the effect was achieved by shooting Claude Rains in a completely black velvet suit against a black velvet background and then combining this shot with another shot of the location the scene took place in using a matte process.”  This at least somewhat clarifies how some of the effects were achieved.

Some may say that the film’s success was heavily reliant on these special effects, but let’s not forget that we get a good performance out of Claude Rains, whether we can see him or not!  Claude Rains plays Jack Griffin, a scientist who himself discovered how to become invisible yet hasn’t figured out how to un-do it.  A side effect of the process that made him invisible also made him lose his mind.  So we are treated to a shouting, often violent character who throughout the film not only murders a cop but causes an entire train to derail and crash, as he believes he is on a path to having power.  Not to spoil the plot, but there are ways to catch an invisible man.  For instance, if it’s cold out we would see his breathing.

This film was put out by Universal Pictures in 1933, and was Universals most popular Horror film since Frankenstein, another James Whale movie as mentioned before.  It didn’t win any Oscars but other groups both then and in recent times have awarded this movie various awards and/or top lists.  Overall, it’s not one of my favorites but I consider it an overall solid film and would give it 3 out of 4 stars.  If you like sci-fi and/or classic movies, and haven’t seen this yet, do yourself a favor and seek it out!  It just recently played on TCM so I’m not sure when they’ll air it next, but I’m sure you’ll find a way if you try!