THE SNAKE PIT
Region 2 Edition - Reviewed by Matt West
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
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
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!