snake pit

The Snake Pit

The Snake Pit is a 1948 film which tells the story of a woman who finds herself in an insane asylum and cannot remember how she got there. It stars Olivia de Havilland, Mark Stevens, Leo Genn, Celeste Holm, Beulah Bondi and Lee Patrick.

The movie was adapted by Millen Brand, Arthur Laurents (uncredited) and Frank Partos from the novel by Mary Jane Ward. It was directed by Anatole Litvak.


Virginia, the wife of a wealthy financier, is hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. Unable to perceive what is going on, for a long time she is not even sure where she is. The film follows her progress through the various wards and her psychotherapy sessions with an understanding doctor. In flashbacks she returns to her childhood and explores incidents which might have caused her breakdown. Over time she gains insight and self-understanding, and is able to leave the hospital. The film also depicts the bureaucratic regimentation of the institution, the staff -- some brutal and ignorant, some kindhearted -- and relationships between patients, from which Virginia learns as much as she does in therapy.


The film has come under fire from some women's rights authors for a seeming misportrayal of Virginia's difficulties and the implication that accepting a subservient role as a wife and mother is part of her "cure". Other film analysts view it as successful in conveying Ward's view of the uncertainties of post-WWII life and women's roles.


It won the Academy Award for Best Sound, Recording, and was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Olivia de Havilland), Best Director, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay.



Gene Tierney was the first choice to play Virginia Stuart Cunningham, but was replaced by Olivia de Havilland when Tierney became pregnant.


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