Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Olivia de Havilland in The Snake Pit

Legendary Olivia de Havilland received her fourth Academy Award nomination (third in the Best Actress category) for playing Virginia Cunningham, a woman having an ugly nervous breakdown in the Best Picture nominated film of Anatole Litvak, The Snake Pit. I'm quite sure that Olivia had an excellent chance of winning that Oscar. It must have been a big competition between her and Jane Wyman (and probably the overdue Dunne and Stanwyck stole some votes), but I guess the "she's already won" factor came in to the picture.

The Snake Pit is a very much loved movie as I noticed, however I was not as impressed by it as everyone else. Sure, it was way ahead of its time, yet I did not feel that it was very harrowing. I guess they have to follow the demands of the censors and the audiences. Too bad. All the actors are giving very good performances, it was especially nice to see Betsy Blair in her very small role (she has two words altogether). We can make the conclusion that The Snake Pit is The Olivia de Havilland show.

This performance is probably one of her most popular and beloved works, despite the fact that nobody can deny that she was the best in The Heiress. The part of Virginia is the prototype of deglam roles (just like Catherine Sloper in The Heiress). The beautiful superstar becomes unattractive, even ugly, no lipstic or makeup etc. It's no wonder that people went (and still go) crazy for Olivia's acting in this one.

I always felt that by attitude towards an actor or an actress always influences my opinion about her actual work. I know that it's unfair, but after all we are human who are biased. I like de Havilland and always enjoy her in everything she does and The Snake Pit was no exception. Her acting is charismatic, loveable and makes you care about her character and feel sympathy for her. Olivia's best decision througout her career was that she was never afraid to disappear as a star. When I watch a say Kate Hepburn performance, I always feel that it's Kate Hepburn as her personality shines through the material, however in Olivia's case, I always feel that I'm watching the character and not her.

That being said, I can talk about her actual acting in this movie. My only (and unfortunately) big complaint about her is that she does not have as much weight and strength as she should. You can always grab the attention of the audience when you're playing a crazy person and yet I never felt that Olivia really hit me hard. Of course, the tenderness and weakness comes from her character, but I could never really be amazed by her as she wasn't able to always grab my attention.

And yet I feel that the tenderness also helps her acting. Although she did not give me chills as I expected, I was impressed by her charm and dignity on-screen. She might have been weaker than she should have been, but she still shined (to a degree). Although in general she was very good and I liked her a lot, a cannot really mention one outstanding scene. Her big scene with her childhood is effective, but not amazing. Again: it lacks some strength. I remember Liz Taylor's big monologue in Suddenly, Last Summer. I think overall she was worse than Olivia, but that scene was way more powerful. Her strongest moments are when she gets to the snake pit where she's able to give more than in the other scenes and yet it's not very satisfying either. Again, her first scenes are very well-acted, but not THAT brilliant. I must say though that she's terrifying when she's forced into the bathtub.

I really don't know what else to say about her. She's courageous, charming and yet far from amazing or very memorable. I think that this performance might grow on me, but now I'm disappointed. Had I not heard that much about her, I would have been satisfied, but this way I'm feeling a bit awkward. Nevertheless, this is a very good performance, which is easy to like but I don't know how you would appreciate it. My grade is the one I feel the most comfortable with, so I guess it will do. Nice work from de Havilland, but definitely not her best.

Ingrid Bergman's next. What do you think? Do you love Olivia more than me or you totally hate her? I'm also interested in your predicitions. To see The Snake Pit click here


Louis Morgan said...

Much lower than I expected. I think I would give her a little more credit than you did here even though I do not exactly like her performance that much more.

Fritz said...

It's been years since I saw it (but I have it on DVD so I will rewatch it someday)

joe burns said...

I thought this would be a five, but I suppose not. I really liked her in Gone With The Wind and The Heiress. This increases Jane's chances, I think.

dinasztie said...

Joe I also thought that it would be a five. :) I had too high expectations I guess. Those are truly brilliant performances (and add Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte to her greatest works).The Snake Pit (and To Each his Own) simply did not impress me that much unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Her friend, Bette Davis, once said: "While I think Meryl Streep is today's great actress, in my opinion Olivia de Havilland gave two of the greatest performances by an actress on the screen in "The Snake Pit" and "The Heiress."

And btw, I agree with Bette. Olivia was marvelous in both roles.