Maybe 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.
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 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?
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.
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?
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.
- 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.
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