The Snake Pit, directed by Anatole Litvak, stars Olivia de Havilland as a mild schizophrenic suffering from a lack of touch with reality at a psychiatric ward. It is an extremely sobering view of mental illness, one that otherwise wasn’t apparent in Hollywood at the time. This film was to mental illness was The Lost Weekend was to alcoholism; it finally puts the horrors and strifes of those who suffer from it into view in Hollywood for the first time.
While her schizophrenia is only apparent near the beginning, and indeed de Havilland does appear to get progressively better through the film, at the start of it she is clearly out of touch with reality to the point that several days and even months go by without her even remembering them. This film handles the subject of mental illness, and specifically how mental illness is treated at a psychiatric ward, so deftly and courageously that I couldn’t help but applaud the film for what it accomplishes. Olivia de Havilland is absolutely stunning here. Her expressive face reveals so much to the audience, and her emotions flow out of her like a river.
Olivia de Havilland is growing to be one of my favorite classical actresses. I absolutely loved her in The Heiress, and I loved her in this as well. The subject of mental illness and how to treat those with it is one that’s very close to my heart, and this film struck a very resonant chord with me. It is played beautifully, even the ugly parts, which are there to help you realize how ugly they are. This is another important touchstone film, like The Lost Weekend, that makes it must see viewing, and if you ever get the chance to, I highly recommend it.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10