“The whole place seemed to me like a deep hole, and the people down in it were strange animals — snakes! And I’d been thrown into it, as though I were a snake, too.
Upon experiencing a sudden nervous breakdown, troubled newlywed Virginia Cunningham (Olivia de Havilland) is sent by her concerned husband (Mark Stevens) to a state mental institution, where kindly Dr. Kik (Leo Genn) tries to help her uncover the reasons for her distress.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Olivia de Havilland — “whose strong performance,” Peary notes, “still holds up” — is the primary reason to watch this sincere yet dated adaptation of Mary Jane Ward’s bestselling, semi-autobiographical novel. In the wake of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), nothing in The Snake Pit comes across as particularly shocking, but audiences at the time must have been horrified by its depiction of inhumane overcrowding (the didactic script makes sure we’re aware of the impossibly mounting number of inmates), seemingly abusive treatment methods (including shock therapy), and power-playing nurses (Helen Craig’s evil Nurse Davis is an eerie precursor to Nurse Ratched). Leo Genn’s saintly “Dr. Kik” conveniently mitigates much of this impersonal horror, emerging as Virginia’s literal savior; while his Freudian analysis of Virginia’s childhood is ridiculously simplistic, it’s hard not to feel for de Havilland’s highly sympathetic protagonist, and wish her well.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Olivia de Havilland as Virginia Cunningham
- The creepy “snake pit” shot
- Fine supporting performances by Betsy Blair and others as female inmates
Yes, simply for its historical importance.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)