Sunday, August 7, 2011

208. The Snake Pit (1948)

Running Time: 108 minutes
Directed By: Anatole Litvak
Written By: Millen Brand, Frank Partos, from novel by Mary Jane Ward
Main Cast: Olivia de Havilland, Mark Stevens, Leo Genn, Celeste Holm, Helen Craig


My wife has been urging me for months now to watch "The Snake Pit", as she liked it so much that she recently bought it. It arrived the other day, so last night I finally succumbed to her pleas and spent a Saturday night with her and Olivia de Havilland.

When the film opens, we're right in the thick of things and we are immediately introduced to Virginia Cunningham (de Havilland). From the get go, we are witnessing Virginia as she struggles with trying to understand and figure out why she's in a mental institution. At first, Virginia has no recollection of being committed or even what month it is. She doesn't remember her husband, Robert Cunningham (Stevens) and in fact, she doesn't remember very much at all. She simply believes that she isn't sick and that she doesn't belong in Ward 5 of Juniper Hill State Hospital. She works with her doctor, Dr. Kik (Genn) and in flashbacks we see that she met her husband in a whirlwind romance in Chicago. All of a sudden, Virginia seems to lose it and abruptly skips town and moves to New York. Robert never forgets her and when he, himself moves to New York, he meets up with her again. There they're married, but on May 12th Virginia has a major nervous breakdown and lands in Juniper Hills. Through the use of electro-shock therapy and hypnosis, Dr. Kik begins to make some real progress with Virginia, but the hospital intends to release her, citing that they're already overpopulated. As the film begins we slowly start to see the origins of Virginia's illness through the use of flashbacks.


I liked "The Snake Pit" and will most likely give it a decent enough rating, but I'm going to gripe, so beware. In my opinion, I never really was able to make an emotional connection to the character of Virginia. When the film opens, the first shot shows her already in a state of mental disarray and therefore, to me, she was never more than just another patient at the state hospital. Had the film maker's, instead, shown us Virginia in her normal life, prior to her nervous breakdown, I think it would have given us (or "me" rather) a chance to make a connection with her and she would have taken on more personal qualities, giving me the opportunity to feel for her that much more when she was being shocked into realizing her illness. I was ultimately able to find a little emotional attachment to her, but not as much as I could have if the film had been presented differently.

Olivia de Havilland pours her heart out in "The Snake Pit" and if you're a fan of hers, then this is essential viewing. She really wraps herself up in the role of Virginia Cunningham and shows what a dynamite actress she could be. In fact, kudos to the whole cast who did a fine job, including Leo Genn. I kept thinking that Virginia and the good doctor were going to strike up a love affair, but then again, that may have been a little too slimy for my liking...or anyone's for that matter. I think another thing that will keep this film from appealing to me as a favorite, is the fact that the patients don't interact as much as I'd like to. I'm a big fan of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" so any film set in a mental institution always gets compared to that, in my head. There just weren't enough colorful characters floating around. Really, the entire flick is intended to tackle why Virginia's sick and helping her, which is fine, but I would've enjoyed MORE interaction between her and the other patients.

Yeah I griped a lot, but when a film's not a '10', then I feel the need to nitpick. Doesn't mean "The Snake Pit" wasn't a fine film, I just find myself focusing more on the negatives sometimes, rather than the positives. This is a good picture and like I said, Olivia de Havilland puts on a hell of a show with her portrayal of Virginia Cunningham.

RATING: 7/10 It was able to get into that "really good" tier (by a hair), but I couldn't, in good conscience, kick it into greatness territory.


August 7, 2011 12:08pm

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