Monday, October 11, 2010

Olivia Enters the Asylum

As we near the end of our Olivia de Havilland Festival, we have saved the best for next to the last (we have one more to go after this one). It's The Snake Pit - Olivia's Academy Award nominated performance as the tortured Virginia Stuart Cunningham, whose mental collapse lands her in a mental institution.  This is truly a tour-d-force performance.  What Ms. de Havilland does with a brief glance, other actors could not do with their entire bag of tricks.  Watch her reactions change from ignorance to disbelief to suspicion to anger in the briefest second - it is truly magnificent.  That Ms. de Havilland did not win the Oscar for 1948 is due perhaps to the fact that her competition was fierce - she lost to Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda.  

This film is full of wonderful performances, and features some of the premiere actresses of the day.  Let's start with Celeste Holm and Betsy Blair as Grace and Hester, the bookends to Virginia's confinement.  Holm's Grace cares for Virginia as she begins her confinement; as Virginia heals, she becomes mentor to the disturbed Hester (Blair).  Other patients in the hospital are portrayed by Beulah Bondi, Ruth Donnelly, Lee Patrick, and Isabel Jewell. Though their parts are small, each adds to the atmosphere of the hospital in their own unique way. Another interesting performance is that of Natalie Schafer as Virginia's mother, certainly high on the list of dysfunctional parents!

On the distaff side, we have Leo Genn as Dr. Kik, Virginia's psychiatrist, Mark Stevens as her husband Robert, and Leif Erickson as her one-time boyfriend, Gordon.  The men however, merely serve as window-dressing.  It is the women who rule this picture. It is their performances you will remember.

Here, we see Virginia interacting with fellow patients, and we see her delusions unfolding:

 

Next time, our final Olivia picture.

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