Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Olivia De Havilland as the troubled Virginia
THE SNAKE PIT (1948). Director: Anatole Litvak.

Virginia (Olivia de Havilland) is a troubled woman who has been committed to a psychiatric institution. Dr. Kik (Leo Genn) interviews her confused but loving husband, Robert (Mark Stevens), and tries to figure out what is responsible for Virginia's fragile mental state. Flashbacks show her life with Robert, as well as the earlier years before she met him. It's all rather psychologically dubious, but the film is generally well-acted and entertaining. Fellow patients in the institution, some of whom are crazier than others, include Beulah Bondi as a haughty old lady with delusions, Betsy Blair as the delicate Hester, as well as Lee Patrick, Celia Lovsky, Barbara Pepper, Minerva Urecal, Marie Blake (Blossom Rock), and others, most of whom just have bits. Mary Treen, Glenn Langan, and Ann Doran are on the staff; Helen Craig gives a terribly unsubtle performance as the evil Nurse Davis. Natalie Schafer is cast as Virginia's mother and Lora Lee Michel plays her as a child; both are quite good. While The Snake Pit is an uncertain mixture of sentiment and silly moments, and is a bit on the exploitative side, it does have some undeniably effective scenes, such as the poignant climax when Laura (Jan Clayton, who was Julie Jordan in the original Broadway production of Carousel) sings "Going Home" at the dance. Alfred Newman's score and Leo Tover's cinematography are also assets. Arthur Laurents, among others, worked on the screenplay and disavowed this in his memoirs. Seven years later, The Shrike was a somewhat grittier look at life inside a mental ward. Litvak also directed This Above All and many others.

Verdict: Hardly the final word on the subject but not without its merits. ***.

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