The Snake Pit

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The Snake Pit
Directed byAnatole Litvak
Produced byRobert Bassler
Anatole Litvak
Darryl F. Zanuck
Written byMillen Brand
Arthur Laurents (uncredited)
Frank Partos
Mary Jane Ward (novel)
StarringOlivia de Havilland
Mark Stevens
Leo Genn
Celeste Holm
Music byAlfred Newman
CinematographyLeo Tover
Editing byDorothy Spencer
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date(s)November 4, 1948
Running time108 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Box office$4.1 million (US/ Canada rentals) [1]
 
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The Snake Pit
Directed byAnatole Litvak
Produced byRobert Bassler
Anatole Litvak
Darryl F. Zanuck
Written byMillen Brand
Arthur Laurents (uncredited)
Frank Partos
Mary Jane Ward (novel)
StarringOlivia de Havilland
Mark Stevens
Leo Genn
Celeste Holm
Music byAlfred Newman
CinematographyLeo Tover
Editing byDorothy Spencer
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date(s)November 4, 1948
Running time108 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Box office$4.1 million (US/ Canada rentals) [1]

The Snake Pit is a 1948 American drama film directed by Anatole Litvak.[2][3] The film tells the story of a woman who finds herself in an insane asylum and cannot remember how she got there, and stars Olivia de Havilland, Mark Stevens, Leo Genn, Celeste Holm, Beulah Bondi, and Lee Patrick.

The film was adapted by Millen Brand, Arthur Laurents (uncredited) and Frank Partos from the novel by Mary Jane Ward.

Contents

Plot

Virginia Cunningham (Olivia de Havilland) is an apparently schizophrenic inmate at a mental institution called the Juniper Hill State Hospital. She hears voices and seems so out of touch with reality that she doesn’t recognize her husband Robert (Mark Stevens).

Dr. “Kik” (Leo Genn) works with her, and flashbacks show how Virginia and Robert met a few years earlier in Chicago. He worked for a publisher who rejected her writing, and they bumped into each other again in the cafeteria. Occasionally she continued to drop by the cafeteria so they get to know each other.

Despite their blossoming romance, Virginia eventually abruptly leaves town without explanation. Robert moves to New York and bumps into her again at the Philharmonic. After she provides a loose excuse for her absence and departure, they pick up where they left off, though she remains evasive and avoids his desire for marriage. Eventually, Virginia brings up the possibility of marriage. They go ahead and marry on May 7, but Virginia acts erratically again. She can’t sleep and loses touch with reality, as she feels it’s November and snaps when Robert corrects her. The rest of the film follows her therapy. Dr. Kik puts her through shock treatment and other forms of treatment including hypnotherapy. Dr. Kik wants to get to the “causes of her unconscious rejection.” The film includes many flashbacks, including her earlier failed engagement to Gordon (Leif Erickson) as well as childhood concerns. The film shows her progress and what happens to her along the way.

The mental hospital is organized on a spectrum of "levels." The better a patient gets, the higher level she is able to achieve. Virginia moves to the highest level, but there she encounters Nurse Davis (Helen Craig) who is the only cruel nurse in the movie. Jealous of Dr. Kik's interest in Virginia, (purely professional), and in her eyes excessive concern, Nurse Davis is so severe with Virginia that she goads her into an outburst which results in her being expelled from first level in a straight jacket. We then see Virginia demoted to what we are led to believe is the lowest level. Despite this setback, Dr Kik's excellent care continues to improve Virginia's mental state.

Of special note, when Virginia realizes that she is recovering, there is a dance social including both male and female patients. Virginia meets and dances with Dr. Kik. We then see and hear a moving rendition of the song "Going Home" (from the second movement of Dvorak's 9th symphony, New World Symphony) sung by Jan Clayton, who ironically received no billing despite her stellar performance. The patients stop dancing. Everyone gathers to hear this song with its poignant lyrics including such words as "mother's there 'spectin' me, father's waitin' too." Spontaneously they all begin to sing knowing that many of them will never go home. At the end of the movie, Virginia's husband Robert comes to take her home. As they leave on the Juniper Hill State Hospital bus, we hear the melody again.

Accolades

It won the Academy Award for Best Sound Recording (Thomas T. Moulton), and was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Olivia de Havilland), Best Director, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay.[4]

The film also won the International Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1949, where it was cited for "a daring inquiry in a clinical case dramatically performed."[5]

Cast

Actor/ActressCharacter
Olivia de HavillandVirginia Stuart Cunningham
Mark StevensRobert Cunningham
Leo GennDoctor Mark Kik
Celeste HolmGrace
Glenn LanganDoctor Terry
Helen CraigNurse Davis
Leif EricksonGordon
Beulah BondiMrs. Greer
Lee PatrickAsylum Inmate
Howard FreemanDr. Curtis
Natalie SchaferMrs. Stuart
Ruth DonnellyRuth
Katherine LockeMargaret
Celia LovskyGertrude
Frank ConroyDr. Jonathan Gifford
Minna GombellMiss Hart
Betsy BlairHester

Production

Gene Tierney was the first choice to play Virginia Stuart Cunningham, but was replaced by Olivia de Havilland when Tierney became pregnant.

Director Anatole Litvak insisted upon three months of grueling research. He demanded that the entire cast and crew accompany him to various mental institutions and to lectures by leading psychiatrists. He didn't have to convince Olivia de Havilland. She threw herself into the research with an intensity that surprised even those who knew well. She watched carefully each of the procedures then in vogue, including hydrotherapy and electric shock treatments. When permitted, she sat in on long individual therapy sessions. She attended social functions, including dinners and dances with the patients. In fact, when, after the film's release, columnist Florabel Muir questioned in print whether any mental institution actually "allowed contact dances among violent inmates," she was surprised by a telephone call from de Havilland, who assured her she had attended several such dances herself.[6] Much of the film was filmed in the Camarillo State Mental Hospital in California.

Censorship

The British censor required a foreword added to the movie that explained to the audience that everyone in the movie was an actor — and that conditions in British hospitals were unlike those portrayed in the film.[5]

Impact

The film led to changes in the conditions of mental institutions in the United States. In 1949, Herb Stein of Daily Variety wrote "Wisconsin is the seventh state to institute reforms in its mental hospitals as a result of The Snake Pit.[7]

Publicity releases from 20th Century Fox claimed that twenty-six of the then forty-eight states had enacted reform legislation because of the movie. This is a very difficult claim to verify because few of the bills introduced, regulations changed or funding increases implemented specifically mentioned The Snake Pit as a motivating factor.[7]

Adaptations to Other Media

The Snake Pit was dramatized as an hour-long radio play on the April 10, 1950 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater, with de Havilland reprising her film role.

See also

References

  1. ^ "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
  2. ^ Variety film review; November 3, 1948, page 11.
  3. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; November 6, 1948, page 179.
  4. ^ "The 21st Academy Awards (1949) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/legacy/ceremony/21st-winners.html. Retrieved 2011-08-18.
  5. ^ a b Clooney, Nick (November 2002). The Movies That Changed Us: Reflections on the Screen. New York: Atria Books, a trademark of Simon & Schuster. p. 143. ISBN 0-7434-1043-2.
  6. ^ Clooney, p. 141
  7. ^ a b Clooney, p. 144

External links