Movie Mirrors Index

The Snake Pit

(1948 b 108')

En: 6 Ed: 7

Based on an autobiographical novel by Mary Jane Ward, a woman in an insane asylum gradually learns by psychoanalysis how she became mentally ill.

Virginia Cunningham (Olivia de Havilland) finds herself locked up in an asylum, and she does not recognize her husband Robert Cunningham (Mark Stevens), who tells Dr. Mark Kik (Leo Genn) their story. Robert meets the writer Virginia for lunches and concerts in Chicago until on a date she leaves him. They meet again in New York, and Robert asks her to marry. Virginia has trouble sleeping and gets upset and irrational.

Robert gives Dr. Kik permission to try shock treatments. Virginia is shocked several times but is still confused. Dr. Kik tells her she is better. Virginia does not remember much. Dr. Kik lets Robert visit her, and they have a picnic on the lawn.

At lunch doctors tell Dr. Kik that they are overcrowded. Dr. Kik gives Virginia an injection and asks why she left Robert in Chicago. Virginia says she went with Gordon (Leif Erickson) in his car, and he asks her to marry. She declines, and the car crashes. Dr. Kik wants to keep Virginia in the hospital, but Robert wants to take her to his mother's farm. Virginia goes before the staff, and she suspects that Dr. Kik wants to get rid of her. Dr. Curtis (Howard Freeman) questions her and wags his finger in her face, making her upset.

In a crowded ward a nurse tells Virginia to stay off the new rug. Robert tells Virginia that she bit the finger of Dr. Curtis and that Dr. Kik did not think she was ready to leave. Virginia says she has a pain so that she can see Dr. Kik. Virginia is moved to a room in one, prior to release. She trades cigarettes for a doll. Nurse Davis (Helen Craig) tells her to give it back, but Dr. Kik lets her keep it. Virginia recalls her childhood. After she broke her doll, her father died.

Nurse Davis brings Virginia a typewriter and says she is to write. Virginia says that Davis hates her because she is in love with Dr. Kik too. Virginia hides in a locked bathroom. Nurses say Robert is there, and she comes out and is captured. Dr. Kik tells Virginia that Dr. Terry (Glenn Langan) is now her doctor in a different ward. Virginia is in a large room with lunatics, and she tells Dr. Kik it is like a snake pit. Dr. Kik tells her she felt unloved and that Gordon was like her father. She blamed herself for their deaths. Dr. Kik says she could not face marriage.

At a dance the women and men mix. Virginia dances with Dr. Kik, and they all sing "Going Home." Before the staff Dr. Curtis asks Virginia the origin of her illness, and she speaks of her childhood. Virginia says goodbye to silent Hester, who says goodbye. Virginia tells Dr. Kik that she is well because she is no longer in love with him. Virginia leaves and asks Robert for her wedding ring.

This realistic drama exposes the conditions in mental institutions during this era that experimented with electric shock therapy. However, more healthy results seem to have been obtained by applying Freudian psychoanalysis. A kind and intelligent doctor is much more beneficial than insensitive doctors and nurses.

Copyright © 2006 by Sanderson Beck

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