Wednesday, 6 June 2018

''The Snake Pit'' (1948 film)- Review

Directed by: Anatole Litvak
Released: 1948
Country: United States

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


I have admired Olivia de Havilland since I watched Gone with the Wind. In the 1940s, she risked her career to fight for her rights. Back then she was under contract to Warner Bros. and the oppressive ''studio system'' required her to comply with every single demand made by the studio that employed her; the studios had the right to suspend the stars who refused to accept the roles they were offered. The period of time they spent in suspension would be added to the contract, extending the period they would have to work for the studio. Olivia de Havilland disliked the films she was offered- mostly period dramas and romantic comedies. In 1943, she sued Warner Bros. and it was a brave act against the studio system. She won the lawsuit and it weakened the control the studios had over the artists they employed. 

Freed from the contract system, Olivia de Havilland pursued her career on her own terms and starred in such classics as To Each His Own (for which she won her first Oscar), The Snake Pit (for which she won a Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival) and The Heiress (which won her a second Academy Award).

''The Snake Pit'', directed by Anatole Litvak, is a raw and honest portrayal of the difficulties faced by patients in mental institutions. The protagonist, Virginia Stuart (played by de Havilland), falls in love with Robert Cunningham (played by Mark Stevens) and gets married to him. The first few days of the marriage are happy and peaceful but Virginia soon starts behaving abnormally, forgetting important things and losing track of dates. Things eventually get serious and Virginia starts displaying violent behavior. Terribly concerned for her, Robert has her institutionalized. Dr. Kiks (played by Leo Genn) tries to find out the roots of Virginia's illness. He believes Virginia's illness is caused by something that happened in her past. Something really traumatic from her past must have been affecting her present life and he thinks he will be able to bring her out of the maze she is trapped in only if he discovers what exactly casts a sinister shadow over her life. 

Virginia encounters many people people on her journey towards recuperation. Some of them are kindly like Dr. Kiks. Some of the doctors she comes across are harsh and their actions have the ability to worsen her condition. Most nurses are kind; some of them are rude. She also becomes friends with some fellow patients. The most moving of the friendships she forms is, in my opinion, the one she forms with Hester (Betsy Blair), a violent patient who has stopped talking. Virginia is not intimidated by Hester and although plagued by troubles herself, she tries her best to make Hester feel better. I found this really touching.

''The Snake Pit'' was way ahead of its time. Mental illness was, in those days, not something you were supposed to discuss. The film defied societal restrictions and presented a deeply moving- and realistic- portrayal of mental illness and mental institutions. The film is brilliantly written and acted. Plotwise it's near perfect and I loved the gradual unfolding of the story. I loved how everything makes sense by the time the film ends.

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