THE SNAKE PIT might be many things. This could be as the film that saw Olivia de Havilland mental patient role nominated for an Oscar only to lose to Jane Wyman deaf mute role. Or it could be that it is wrongly considered a film noir by some. What I think it is however is a remarkable note on how Hollywood was waking up to issues in a post war world. Taking as it does, a disturbingly honest approach to mental health and the institutions that over saw its treatments. Based as it is on Mary Jane Ward’s 1946 semi-autobiographical novel, this is frank and bold but with little gloss expected from Hollywood from an age of glamour and glow.
Virginia Cunningham (Olivia de Havilland) is housed at a mental institution called the Juniper Hill State Hospital. She is diagnosed as a schizophrenic, as she hears voices and seems often in a world of her own. She is unable to recognize her husband Robert (Mark Stevens). Dr. Kik (Leo Genn as Mark Van Kensdelaerik) works to help her overcome the condition. Flashbacks show her past and some of the things that might have triggered her condition. But can she be helped back to integrate into society?
In my life I have seen a lot of films on mental health. Some exploit the condition. Others wrap it in a haze to narrate a moral sentiment. The third and final approach is that of a mature challenge to the norm. THE SNAKE PIT falls into this third set. Lindsay Hallam gives Powerhouse’s greatest essay on any film from their many releases in this set. She details everything of importance and charges her piece with a broad scope and an interesting one at that. From the films life in production, to the response to the heavy handed censor. I have little extra of worth to add without being in the shade of her fine work. I will not that finally this wonderful film is brought to Blu Ray and on these shores, a film that was hard to see before, unless you sent for it from the US. That meant you had to live with a perfectly nice looking but extra empty DVD. Now we have this Blu Ray, that has changed. This is rich in visual quality (the 4K tone has done away with the former master on the DVD dull tones. It has also annexed that saturation leak in the first third of the film.) It has a Very good piece from Pamela Hutchinson, that challenges de Havilland legacy as a performer. By doing so it illustrates her uniqueness as an actress and as a selector of projects. I suspect its about time that this was done. I would love to see more of Hutchinson after seeing this.
Extras – Indicator Limited Edition Blu-Ray Special Features:
- 4K remaster from original negative
- Original mono audio
- Audio commentary with author and film historian Aubrey Solomons
- The Battles of Olivia de Havilland (2019): critic and film historian Pamela Hutchinson discusses the revered actor’s illustrious career
- Neil Sinyard on ‘The Snake Pit’ (2019): A new appreciation by the author and film historian
- Theatrical trailer
- Image gallery: On-set and promotional photography
- New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Lindsay Hallam, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
- World premiere on Blu-ray