Robert: Tell me, what have you been doing all these months? Virginia: Working 18 hours a day and being lonely 24.

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Mrs. Greer: Good afternoon, my dear. I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of seeing you here before.

Virginia Stuart Cunningham: I’m Virginia Cunningham. I came from Five.

Mrs. Greer: Nobody comes to One from Five. Even I had to spend a few days in Two before coming here. And I, my dear, have money.

Virginia Stuart Cunningham: That must be convenient.

Mrs. Greer: My husband, Mr. Greer, is very wealthy. I have more jewels than I can possibly wear. You, of course, are a charity patient?

Virginia Stuart Cunningham: Oh, no. It so happens that my husband, Mr. Cunningham, is very wealthy. My diamonds simply weigh me down.

Mrs. Greer: I have the Hope Diamond!

Virginia Stuart Cunningham: I have the Hopeless Emerald! It carries the Cunningham curse. You’ve probably read about it.

Mrs. Greer: Mr. Greer…

Virginia Stuart Cunningham: Your husband?

Mrs. Greer: Mr. Greer, my husband, considered buying it, but it has a flaw. You see, you can’t put an imperfect stone on the most beautiful hands in the world.

In an interview, Olivia de Havilland described her research: “I met a young woman who was very much like Virginia… a schizophrenic with guilt problems. She had developed… a warm rapport with her doctor, but what struck me most of all was the fact that she was rather likable and appealing… It was that that gave me the key to the performance.”

A detailed chronicle of a woman during her stay in a mental institution.

Mary Jane Ward‘s book, the basis for this film, was an autobiographical account of the author’s experiences in psychiatric hospitals. The book caused considerable controversy upon its publication in 1946, as it was a scathing indictment of the treatment of psychiatric patients, a subject considered taboo in the 1940s. Naturally, the book was a runaway bestseller.

Director: Anatole Litvak

Writers: Frank Partos (screen play), Millen Brand (screen play) | 1 more credit »

Stars: Olivia de HavillandMark StevensLeo Genn | See full cast & crew »

Virginia Cunningham finds herself in a state insane asylum…and can’t remember how she got there. In flashback, her husband Robert relates their courtship, their marriage, and her developing symptoms. The asylum staff are not demonized, but fear, ignorance, and regimentation keep Virginia in a state of misery as pipe-smoking Dr. Mark Kik struggles through wheels within wheels to find the root of her problem. Then a relapse plunges Virginia back into the harrowing ‘Snake Pit’. Written by Rod Crawford <

Director Anatole Litvak insisted that the cast and crew spend three months visiting mental institutions and attending psychiatric lectures to prepare themselves for the film. Olivia de Havilland willingly threw herself into the research. She attended patient treatments at the institutions, and observed electric shock therapy and hydrotherapy first-hand. When permitted, she sat in on doctor-patient therapy sessions. She also attended social events for patients at the institutions. After seeing the film, a “Daily Variety” columnist questioned whether any mental institution would really allow violent inmates to dance with each other at a social event. De Havilland personally called the columnist to confirm that she had attended several such dances at institutions.

The Snake Pit (1948)-Electroshock Treatment

Anatole Litvak scheduled the hospital scenes first in the shooting schedule, then gave Olivia de Havilland a month-long break before filming the flashbacks. For the hospital scenes, he gave orders that none of the actresses playing patients were to wear brassieres or girdles. He also forbade them to go to the hairdressing department. To make her character look suitably ill, de Havilland went on a diet designed to take her below her ideal weight.

Doctor Mark Kik: A snake pit?

Virginia Stuart Cunningham: It was strange, here I was among all those people, and at the same time I felt as if I were looking at them from some place far away, the whole place seemed to me like a deep hole and the people down in it like strange animals, like… like snakes, and I’ve been thrown into it… yes… as though… as though I were in a snake pit…

Virginia Stuart Cunningham: Later, weeks later, I understood. I remembered once reading in a book that long ago they used to put insane people into pits full of snakes. I think they figured that something which might drive a normal person insane, might shock an insane person back into sanity. Did you ever hear of that?

Doctor Mark Kik: Yes.

Virginia Stuart Cunningham: Well, it was just as though they’d thrown me into a snake pit. And I was shocked into thinking that maybe I wasn’t as sick as the others… and I really might get well.

The Snake Pit (1948)-Thrown into the pit

Dr. Jonathan Gifford: Now now, doctor, we’re not trying to minimize the importance of the treatment you’re giving your patient.

Dr. Curtis: The trouble is for you each case is ‘the one,’ and for us it’s one of thousands.

Doctor Mark Kik: Yes, Curtis, one of thousands, even millions. But only by trying to make each case ‘the one’ can we really help the patient.

Dr. Curtis: I happen to have here some of the more recent statistics. Ah yes, here they are. Sometimes even we doctors must face reality.

The Committee of American Psychologists praised the picture for “awakening the public to the deplorable conditions existing in public institutions for the mentally ill” and gave it an award for “outstanding contribution by the entertainment industry to the field of mental health.” In addition, the California Citizens Committee for Mental Hygiene gave the film a scroll, honouring it for awakening “millions to a greater knowledge and appreciation of the causes of mental illness.”

In his autobiography, writer Arthur Laurents said that he had been hired by director Anatole Litvak to rewrite the first draft of the screenplay by Frank Partos and Millen Brand, which he did. Partos and Brand wanted the WGA to rule that they were the only writers and to delete Laurents’ credit, so they submitted the script to an arbitration and presented carbon copies of Laurents’ work as their own. The WGA removed Laurents’ credit, even though several years later Brand admitted to Laurents that he and Partos had created forged carbons to make Laurents’ work look like theirs.

Stephen King has said that watching this film on TV as a child deeply disturbed him and made him feel that he could suddenly go insane, directly contributing to his macabre interests and subsequently his writings.


Olivia Mary de Havilland

Olivia de Havilland
American actress

Alternative Title: Dame Olivia Mary de Havilland
Olivia de Havilland, in full Dame Olivia Mary de Havilland, (born July 1, 1916, Tokyo, Japan—died July 26, 2020, Paris, France), American motion-picture actress remembered for the lovely and gentle ingenues of her early career as well as for the later, more-substantial roles she fought to secure.

Joan Fontaine, Olivia de Havilland

The daughter of a British patent attorney, de Havilland and her younger sister, Joan Fontaine, moved to California in 1919 with their mother, an actress. While attending school, de Havilland was chosen from the cast of a local California production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to play Hermia in a 1935 Warner Brothers film version of that play. As the sweet-tempered beauty to Errol Flynn’s gallant swain, she appeared in many costume adventure movies of the 1930s and ’40s, including Captain Blood (1935), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and They Died with Their Boots On (1941). She also played romantic leading roles in Strawberry Blonde (1941), Hold Back the Dawn (1941), and The Male Animal (1942) and portrayed Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939).

In 1945 de Havilland won a precedent-setting case against Warner Brothers, which released her from a six-month penalty obligation appended by the studio to her seven-year contract. Free to take more-challenging roles, she gave Academy Award-winning performances in To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949). She also gave a superb performance in The Snake Pit (1948). De Havilland moved to France in 1955 and worked infrequently in films after that, most memorably in Light in the Piazza (1962), Lady in a Cage (1964), and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). She also appeared in a number of television plays.

Dame Olivia Mary de Havilland DBE

In 2017 de Havilland was portrayed in the FX television series Feud: Bette and Joan, about the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, the former of whom was a close friend. Later that year she sued FX and the production company, alleging that they had misappropriated her “name, likeness and identity without her permission and used them falsely in order to exploit their own commercial interests.” A California appellate court dismissed the lawsuit in 2018, and she appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

De Havilland was the recipient of numerous honours. She received the American National Medal of Arts in 2008, and two years later she was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honour in France, where she lived. In 2017, shortly before her 101st birthday, she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE).

The film The Snake Pit was held back from distribution in England for a year because the British Board of Film Censors forbade films dealing with insanity. Initially, efforts to soften that stand were fought by nursing organizations, who feared the film would discourage young women from going into that profession. Finally, Fox cut the most extreme scenes of Olivia de Havilland‘s treatment to get past the censors. They also included a written prologue explaining that all of the cast were actors and that the film did not reflect conditions in British mental hospitals. The film then won rave reviews in England and broke box office records.

Edited by: EZorrilla.

CONTRIBUTOR:The Editors of Encyclopaedia BritannicaTITLEOlivia de HavillandPUBLISHEREncyclopædia BritannicaDATE PUBLISHEDJuly 27, 2020URL DATENovember 08, 2020

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