Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Forgotten Movies: The Snakepit




This movie scared the bejesus out of me the first and only time I saw it. Based on the memoir of Mary Jane Ward, this film directed by Anton Litvak in 1948 explores the road to mental health by one woman. It utilizes all the therapies of the day (including electric shock). And although only one nurse on the ward rivals Nurse Ratchett her experience is difficult to watch. Olivia de Havilland earned an Oscar nomination for her work in this stark drama as Virginia Cunningham, a married young woman whose idyllic life falls apart when she sinks into a world of psychosis and is eventually placed in an institution.

Anatole Litvak's portrait of mental illness examines the treatment of mentally unstable patients in the late 1940s and '50s.When the film debuted in the UK, there was a warning added that UK mental hospitals were nothing like THE SNAKE PIT seen here. I hope that's true for their sakes.

This is a serious film--not a horror movie--although it seemed like one when I watched it on THE LATE SHOW in Philly in the early sixties. deHavilland was wonderful but up against some stiff competition for an Oscar. Jane Wyman won for Johnny Belinda.

Actors playing mentally or physically challenged people have a leg up on the competition as we have seen time and time again. 

10 comments:

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Haven't seen this one in ages Patti, but then it's hardgoing movie and tough to remember (for me at least) with affection I suppose - De Havilland certainly gave a very Oscar worthy performance though.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - I read this book and saw the movie and both impressed me so much! Such a powerful performance by De Havilland in the film, and the book was so well-written and memorable.

Anonymous said...

This one scared me too, when I saw it in my teens. Ending up in a strait jacket was not fun.

Jeff M.

George said...

I'll watch anything with Olivia de Havilland in it.

Ron Scheer said...

I remember this film when it was new but do believe I gave it a pass. The title and the advertising made it too scary. I'm surprised to read that it apparently is not as sensationalized as it was made to seem. Generally, films about mental illness are not well based in fact. Another Oscar winner in the disability category from about that time would be Joanne Woodward in THREE FACES OF EVE.

Deb said...

Don't forget Jane Wyman was also playing someone with a disability--her character was deaf.

pattinase (abbott) said...

YEah, that's what I meant.

Yvette said...

Never saw this, Patti. Maybe too harrowing for my impressionable young mind. :)

Cap'n Bob said...

I saw it a few years ago for the first time. By then the impact had been softened for me. Still, it had a fine performance and I get a glimmer of satisfaction seeing shock therapy's results shown in a positive light. Take that, Hubbardites!

Todd Mason said...

I will take, at this late date, issue with the notion of the opposition of "not horror, serious."