The Snake Pit (1948) Olivia de Schizo Journeys The Levels Of Madness!

The Snake Pit (1948) movie poster film artwork olivia de havillandMaybe it’s an insight into my own fractured mind but I do enjoy a good insane asylum film. Traveling into the depths of madness. They do have to be done well and feature deep thoughts on the subject. Films like David and Lisa and Shock Corridor have score high on my wolfy meter.

The Snake Pit (1948) Olivia de Havilland lost and bewildered.

Here she is again featured on this blog, the wonderful, beautiful and very talented Olivia de Havilland. An actress who didn’t seem to shy away from challenging psychological roles. She’s recently entertained me as twins in The Dark Mirror and as the panic ridden and determined old Lady In A Cage.  In The Snake Pit she gets to show off her vulnerable and emotionally broken side and I was truly absorbed with her performance. The film might feature Mark Stevens but he’s just there for window dressing. This really is the Olivia de Havilland show!

The Snake Pit (1948) Olivia de Havilland Mark Stevens

The young innocent Virginia Stuart Cunningham (Olivia de Havilland) is introduced to us sitting on a park bench. Birds chirp in the trees, wind blows through her hair. Poor Virginia looks lost. That’s when the voices start, a man inquires about her well being and she answers but so does the voice in her head. She’s confused, working out her surroundings, where is she? She suddenly becomes aware of the young lady sat next to her, the lady calls her name, Virginia, but Virginia has no clue to who she is. It must be the sun, it’s too warm? Where am I? where do I live? She doesn’t recall, panicked and worried. A bell!…. Quick we must hurry! We don’t want to get into trouble! says the young lady. Running, pulling her to a buildings courtyard. It’s frenzied, racing ladies, moving fast, old and young women of different classes. Quick line up, come on Virginia join the line. What is going on and where are they?

The Snake Pit (1948) Olivia de Havilland Leo Genn Dr Kik mental hospital

Taglines – Married and in Love . . . with a Man She Didn’t Know or Want!

They all happened to be at entrance to the Juniper Hill State Hospital. New and old troubled patients of this mental institution queued ready to feed inside. What is wrong with poor Virginia you may ask? What has happened? She has unfortunately fallen into a schizophrenic state which has developed into a complete loss of reality including memory loss. She’s even failed to recognise her loving husband Robert (Mark Stevens). Reluctantly he commits her to the hospital. Lucky Dr Kik (Leo Genn) is on hand. A specialist in psychoanalytic therapy he tries different treatments to discover and root out the underlying problem.

The Snake Pit (1948) Electroshock treatment dial shock

Dr Kik is kind and well meaning but the treatments are still harsh. Ranging from hypnotherapy delving into her childhood memories to the extremes and brutality of electroshock treatment. Through a series of flashbacks revisiting the details of Robert and Virginia’s first meetings and love affair can they piece together what traumatic event may of started her illness? Can he unlock the puzzle in her mind?

The Snake Pit (1948) Olivia de Havilland screaming steam bath freakout

What’s more, poor Virginia has to maneuver the wards of madness like the levels on an arcade game. The hospital runs a level system of rooms and floors. Each level holds different stages of madness. Can she get down to level one and begin her journey back to the outside world? Can she steer clear of toxic inmates and venomous nurses and most of all keep out of The Snake Pit?

A Few Things I Have Learnt.

  • Directed by Anatole Litvak who worked on the series Why We Fight WW2 propaganda films that Frank Capra was commissioned to make.
  • After suffering a nervous breakdown Mary Jane Ward was inspired to write a novel on her experiences of being institutionalised in New York’s Rockland State mental hospital. Published in 1946 under the name The Snake Pit.
  • Olivia was nominated for best actress at the 1949 21st Academy Awards but lost the Oscar to Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda. Which sounded like an equally controversial film, I need to see it.
  • Olivia did get an unanimous win for the best actress from the prestigious New York Film Critics Circle awards.
  • The end big dance and sing event is extremely brilliant and surreal. A practice that I read was real at the time.

The Snake Pit (1948) mental hospital group dance surreal and crazy

  • A positive to come out of the film and book is the hearing that some reform in practices were changed and observed after being highlighted by the film.
  • Made me laugh that the British censors felt the need to add an intro stating that people on screen are paid actors and British hospitals were unlike those portrayed in the film.
  • Look out for the legend that is Emma (Bee Humphries) when she struts her stuff in a impromptu singing dancing outbreak of Sweet Georgia Brown.

The Snake Pit (1948) Emma (Bee Humphries) dancing singing Sweet Georgia Brown

I really enjoyed this daring film, really felt like it must of pushed so many boundaries in 1948 with it’s taboo subject and no holds barred approach. I loved watching Olivia on the screen again. She can do that vulnerable lost but determined to plough on through the rough times role so well. I’m still yet to venture into her more straight forward dramas? Where to go I ask?

Hey it’s really nice you having a visit to my humble blog. Feel free to tell me if you have seen this one if you wish. All the best… Mikey Wolf


13 thoughts on “The Snake Pit (1948) Olivia de Schizo Journeys The Levels Of Madness!

  1. This is a terrific movie, isn’t it Mikey? I saw it with my mother many years ago and loved it. It made a big impact. My mom was eight years old when it came out and she remembered how controversial it was. I think it was the first movie to depict the then horrors of “shock treatments”. And what you saw in Snake Pit was true to life. They strapped and held people down, some patients had such violent convulsions that they suffered broken bones from the thrashing. Snake Pit shook things up so much, that reforms came and just five years later they began to give sedatives to patients going through shock treatments and they began to reform the mental asylums as well. Brilliant review. Loved it.
    Oh, and you must watch Johnny Belinda. It’s a wonderful film.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a superb film and I can’t imagine how disturbing it must’ve been on release. It’s crazy to know they still use ECT therapy today. Though I would like to think that it’s not as invasive as what we’ve been shown on film through the years. Jack in Cuckoo’s nest was always the big “shocker” but you know what they even threw it in a kids film? Well one dark as f..k kids film. You ever see Return To Oz? I used to get stoned with that film in my teens. Jeepers creepers!
      Thanks for sharing the story of you and your Mom watching it. What a film to have watched with her.
      Thanks, I look forward to Johnny Belinda, well I know that is gonna be dark too!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Long time since I have seen this one. Remember it being freaky cause I was fairly Young at the time. Favorite asylum movie…. That’s easy. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Jack’s greatest movie and that alone speaks volumes considering his resume.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. One of the first/great Hollywood movies about mental illness. It almost feels like a horror movie! Olivia is superb (I believe Ingrid Bergman turned down the film, and Gene Tierney wanted to do it, but pregnancy prevented her from taking the role).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sounds like an unsettling yet impactful watch! You could almost label it horror? Probably more of a historical document of how conditions once were. Fortunately for the patients, treatments are more humane now and from reading your review the film helped progress things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really is fascinating that levels they go to show in a film from 1948. Must of been a real eye opener for the public back then. It still have the power to shock even to this day. Great to hear that it may of pushed for practices to be looked at in a more humane way. Btw they still use Electroconvulsive therapy to this day!!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

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