Olivia deHavilland is one of my favorite actresses. While I was in high school I made it a personal goal to watch every film in her filmography. So far I am steady at 22 feature films. For me, of that set, one of her finest (if not the finest) performances is that of Virginia Cunnigham in Anatole Litvak’s The Snake Pit.
The audience is first introduced to Virginia when she has been recently hospitalized by her husband after suffering a nervous breakdown. We soon discover that the source of her breakdown is rooted in a series of events from the distant and recent past culminating in her recent episode.
The layers of her psyche are peeled away with the aid Doctor “Kik” (portrayed by Leo Genn) and his us he of psychotherapy.
There are many reasons to like this film in addition to merely being a fan of the lead actress. After doing a little research I discovered that this film shed light on the conditions of mental hospitals and consequently helped usher in reforms in many state mental health institutions. So it worked on a level beyond that of mere entertainment
With all the praise and the pleasure I have in watching the film, I must provide this caveat: by today’s standards some of the ideas about what may aid in “curing” Virginia may come across as partially laughable.
My favorite scenes: Ward 33 the shot showing Virginia in the “pit” and also nearer to the end the scene at the dance and the patient singing “I’m Going Home.”