The Snake Pit (1948) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Snake Pit (1948)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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 (10) | Top Critics (2)

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.

November 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.

February 9, 2006 | Full Review…

This powerful film packs such a dramatic wallop that I don't recommend it to highly nervous or emotionally excitable people.

January 14, 2022 | Full Review…

Occasionally, a picture comes along so powerful in its impact that it leaves you gasping. The Snake Pit, taken from the novel of writer Mary Jane Ward, belongs in that category.

August 20, 2021 | Rating: 3/3 | Full Review…

...where grim scenes of rec room madness are cemented by the excellent and vast supporting cast.

August 7, 2020 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

[Olivia] de Havilland does as much as she can with what she's given.

December 5, 2016 | Rating: 6/10 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Snake Pit

An underrated gem. It's all about the performance and de Havilland's is utterly brilliant!

Randy Tippy
Randy Tippy

Super Reviewer


Olivia de Haviland gives a brilliant performance as Virginia Stuart Cunningham, a young woman committed to a mental institution after a "nervous breakdown". This is one of the first flims to deal with mental illness on a serious adult level, and it is sometimes sad and sometimes harrowing to watch. Virginia spends several months in various wards of the hospital -- the higher the ward number, the worse off you are -- moving up and down in wards as she recovers and then relapses. She receives treatment such as hydrotherapy and shock treatments, which are treated much more gingerly that most other, more graphic, examples in other films. While the plot of this film is interesting, what held my attention were the other patients in minor roles and background. Various mental illnesses and symptoms are featured, including bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia and paranoia, delusions of grandeur, aural hallucinations and persecution. To know that there are people all over the world who suffer as these women did in this film is painful to imagine. The film is a slower version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, without the black humor. And it does move slow at times, when the doctor is explaining in detail the possible explanations for Virginia's illness. The only thing that keeps it from being five stars is the slightly manipulative scene between Virginia and Hester, the distrustful mute girl Virginia has befriended, and a few times when de Havilland fell back into the posturing that so many actresses in the 40s adopted. Otherwise, director Anatole Litvak should be commended for this fine film.

Cindy I
Cindy I

Super Reviewer

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 Bott
Devon Bott

Super Reviewer

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