A look back at this day in film history
November 04
November 4, 1948
The Snake Pit NY premiere

When The Snake Pit, a grim tale of a woman trapped inside a mental institute, opened, some industry watchers feared its harrowing, depressing subject might turn away audiences. But instead, either because of strong reviews, the public’s interest in message films, or the star power of Olivia De Havilland, the film proved to be both a critical and commercial success, going on to grab six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress. While some therapists groused that its portrait of psychotherapy was too simplistic, film critics mostly championed the movie and its intentions. Time magazine praised it for doing “what Hollywood has rarely done before: look harsh reality in the eye.” The New York Herald Tribune applauded the film for dealing with a subject “which has been skirted warily by Hollywood.”  Director Anatole Litvak, a Russian emigrant, who’d worked mostly in noir previously, was deeply moved by reality-based bestseller by Mary Jane Ward, and acquired the film rights for a hefty $75,000. Only when he shopped the book around Hollywood did he realize what a hard sell this would be. Finally, he convinced Darryl Zanuck of Twentieth Century-Fox, who’d recently made a name for himself producing message films, to help shape the film. And, with the encouragement of the book’s author, held out for De Havilland, who despite figuring in many glamorous roles, had fought the studios for more substantial roles. But, most of all, the film raised public awareness about mental institutions. In 1949, Variety’s Herb Stein made the unverifiable claim that “Wisconsin is the seventh state to institute reforms in its mental hospitals as a result of The Snake Pit.”

More Flashbacks
Butterfield 8 November 4, 1960
Butterfield 8 opens

For all the acrimony and anger created by its production, Butterfield 8, Daniel Mann’s adaptation of John O’Hara’s 1935 novel about a part-time prostitute (played by Elizabeth Taylor), should have been a catastrophe.

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November 4, 1998
Condon has a Whale of a Time

Director Bill Condon’s portrait of a Hollywood recluse brings him out into the Oscar spotlight.

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