The Snake Pit

Critics Consensus

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Total Count: 7


Audience Score

User Ratings: 2,645
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The Snake Pit Photos

Movie Info

"A woman loses her mind and is confined to a mental institution." That's the usual TV-listing encapsulation of The Snake Pit -- and like most such encapsulations, it only scratches the film's surface. Olivia de Havilland stars as an outwardly normal young woman, married to loyal, kindly Mark Stevens. As de Havilland's behavior becomes more and more erratic, however, Stevens comes to the sad conclusion that she needs professional help. She is sent to an overcrowded state hospital for treatment -- a curious set-up, in that, while de Havilland is treated with compassion by soft-spoken psychiatrist Leo Genn, she is sorely abused by resentful matrons and profoundly disturbed patients. Throughout the film, she is threatened with being clapped into "the snake pit" -- an open room where the most severe cases are permitted to roam about and jabber incoherently -- if she doesn't realign her thinking. In retrospect, it seems that de Havilland's biggest "crime" is that she wants to do her own thinking, and that she isn't satisfied with merely being a loving wife. While this subtext may not have been intentional, it's worth noting that de Havilland escapes permanent confinement only when she agrees to march to everyone else's beat. Amazingly, Olivia de Havilland didn't win an Academy Award for her harrowing performance in The Snake Pit (the only Oscar won by the film was for sound recording). While some of the psychological verbiage in this adaptation of Mary Jane Ward's autobiographical novel seems antiquated and overly simplistic today, The Snake Pit was rightly hosannahed as a breakthrough film in 1948.

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Olivia de Havilland
as Virginia Stuart Cunningham
Mark Stevens
as Robert Cunningham
Leo Genn
as Dr. Mark Kik
Glenn Langan
as Dr. Terry
Helen Craig
as Miss Davis
Beulah Bondi
as Mrs. Greer
Lee Patrick
as Asylum Inmate
Isabel Jewell
as Asylum Inmate
Victoria Horne
as Asylum Inmate
Tamara Shayne
as Asylum Inmate
Grace Poggi
as Asylum Inmate
Howard Freeman
as Dr. Curtis
Natalie Schafer
as Mrs. Stuart
Frank Conroy
as Dr. Jonathan Gifford
Minna Gombell
as Miss Hart
June Storey
as Miss Bixby, the Ward Nurse
Ann Doran
as Valerie
Damian O'Flynn
as Mr. Stuart
Lora Lee Michel
as Virginia at Age 6
Esther Somers
as Nurse Vance
Jacqueline de Wit
as Celia Sommerville
Lela Bliss
as Miss Greene
Virginia Brissac
as Miss Seiffert
Mae Marsh
as Tommy's mother
Ashley Cowan
as Young Man
Therese Lyon
as Patient
Jeri Jordan
as Patient
Marie Blake
as Patient
Ellen Lowe
as Patient
Jan Clayton
as Singing Inmate
Helen Servis
as Miss Servis
Celia Lovsky
as Gertrude
Lester Sharpe
as Doctor Somer
Victoria Albright
as Virginia at Age 2
Dorothy Neumann
as Miss Neumann
Marion Marshall
as Young girl
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Critic Reviews for The Snake Pit

All Critics (7) | Top Critics (2) | Fresh (7)

  • It makes no compromise with the shocking facts as presented in the novel. The result is a drama that builds to a fever pitch of tension and holds itself there with superlative artistry.

    Nov 5, 2018 | Full Review…
  • It's entertaining enough in a hysterical sort of way, even if it never matches up to the excesses of Fuller's later Shock Corridor.

    Feb 9, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • [Olivia] de Havilland does as much as she can with what she's given.

    Dec 5, 2016 | Rating: 6/10 | Full Review…
  • This remains one of the best screen explorations of mental illness and its treatment.

    Jan 31, 2012 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…
  • As one of Hollywood's first "serious" chronicles of life in an asylum, the film is uneven, containing some intelligent observations but also lurid sequences and simplistic psychological explanations.

    Jan 5, 2009 | Rating: B+ | Full Review…
  • For the audience of today, the primary draw of the picture is watching Olivia de Havilland deliver a particularly terrifying performance.

    May 30, 2004 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Snake Pit

  • Oct 12, 2016
    I watched this movie in health class when I was 15 and it disturbed me so much it has made my list of movies that have given me ongoing nightmares. This movie is a little to real for the time, mental illness was seen as a made up sickness and medical professionals did not have the tools to appropriately treat these illnesses. A must see for those in the mental health field and anyone who liked Girl,Interrupted.
    Jessica S Super Reviewer
  • Mar 26, 2014
    De Havilland is fantastic but the film falls a wee bit short in terms of really getting into the mental health issue. Nonetheless it is tremendously entertaining and I'm sure it was enlightening for the time.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Mar 13, 2011
    I think for it's time, this movie was probably groundbreaking, but to watch it now, it just seems kind of silly.
    Sarah P Super Reviewer
  • Mar 13, 2010
    Few performances have equaled the raw power of Olivia de Havilland's in The Snake Pit. In the film, de Havilland plays Virginia, a young woman who suffers a mental breakdown and is committed to psychiatric hospital. We follow her treatment, diagnosis, and suffering as she climbs out of and falls back into the snake pit (in ancient times, the film explains, an insane person was lowered into a pit of snakes, the rationale being any sane person would be driven insane by the process, thus the opposite would occur for the insane). De Havilland is so amazing it's easy to overlook the story (which is quite well-written) or the direction (which is also amazing). In spite of all this, the film only won one oscar, for best sound recording. In the history of classic film, this one can get lost in the shuffle, and that's a shame.
    Devon B Super Reviewer

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