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!  

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