In 1948, Olivia deHavilland was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in The Snake Pit.
It was one of the first films to deal with mental illness and more importantly, its treatment. We in the audience are even exposed to electro-shock treatments. There is no doubt it is a difficult film to watch. Perhaps that is why it is rarely seen today.
Anatole Litvak directed the film which was based on a novel by Mary Jane Ward, often described as “semi-autobiographical.”
As so often is the case in movies, the lead actress got the role by accident. The film had been set for Gene Tierney, but she became pregnant and had to drop out. DeHavilland threw herself into the part, and researched it thoroughly.
Her leading men are Mark Stevens as her husband and Leo Genn and Glenn Langham as her doctors, but it is the actresses who play the nurses and other inmates at the all female asylum which make this film bristle with excitement.
The cast includes Celeste Holm, Beulah Bondi, Lee Patrick, Natalie Schafer, Ruth Donnelly, Minna Gombell, Betsy Blair, and an actress who made too few films, Helen Craig. Craig plays a sadistic nurse who’s responsible for Olivia being put into a straitjacket and thrown into “the snake pit.”
While we wouldn’t list this as one of the 100 classics of the period, and while we agree it’s not a film one can watch again and again, we do feel it is a film which every film buff should see at least once.