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.