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THE SNAKE PIT

Region 2 Edition - Reviewed by Matt West

Director Anatole Litvak

Featuring:  Olivia de Havilland, Mark Stevens, Leo Genn, Celeste Holm

Anatole Litvakís 1948 Oscar nominated film The Snake Pit starring Olivia de Havilland has been released by Optimum DVD at a respectable budget RRP of £9.99.

The story follows Virginia Stuart Cunningham (de Havilland) and her time spent in a mental hospital trying to piece together how she got there, why she got there, and how she will get out.

This is no easy hundred minutes and you have to wonder what sort of audience the film was aimed at given that at just 3 years after the end of the second world war, most audiences were probably in the mood for a bit of cheer.

We start the film with Virginia already in the hospital trying to concentrate on the voices in her head. Itís clear from the start that the film will depend entirely on de Havillandís performance and she certainly doesnít hold back. The key is to make the audience care about her character enough to see her through to the end of her journey. This isnít easy when weíre not really shown her at her best for some time. But eventually the real Virginia begins to emerge and itís de Havillandís skill and effort which keep you hanging on. She shows compassion for others in the hospital, concern for her husband outside, a black sense of humour and a very quick tongue. All these likable traits donít emerge until a good fifty minutes into the film.

On its release The Snake Pit didnít exactly storm the box office, it did however gain notoriety as being shocking and hard hitting. In many ways it still is, even with modern day films like One flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Girl Interrupted and even Crazy People showing us more grit. In fact concentrating on the latter one can see where the character of Hello George comes from when watching The Snake Pit.

De Havilland was nominated for an Oscar for this film and while she didnít win it the sound recordist walked home with a little gold statue. In fact The Snake Pit was nominated for six Oscars in 1949 and for that youíd expect a slightly more impressive DVD release.

What we have here is a film on a disc. No trailer, no production notes, no film historianís commentary. But then it doesnít really need it. A good film should be enough to make you buy a DVD and if you only buy the discs for the extras then perhaps you should rethink your collection.

The disc features a very nice transfer, the black and white print holds up extremely well with just a little bit of sparkle and minimal print damage showing. The audio is superb for a film of this age (perhaps that sound recordist did deserve his Oscar!) and is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 at a rate of 192 kbps. The discís bitrate flits between the middle 4.0Mb/s range, occasionally peaking at 5Mb/s. This is all it really needs.

The menu is a static, rather surreal image with just the two options of ďplay allĒ or ďscene selectionĒ.

If this is a sign of things to come from Optimum then the future looks good. Iíd rather pay £9.99 for a well presented film than £19.99 for a poor transfer and 2nd disc of poor unrelated extras. Having said that, the Region 1 version from Fox is even cheaper, and comes with a commentary track by film historian Aubrey Solomon, some newsreel footage, stills gallery and trailer.

Certainly one to watch at least once Ė but it does leave you wondering what the judges saw in Jane Wymanís performance that made them award her the Oscar over de Havilland!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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