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Chick Young

I've enjoyed your blog immensely. I was anxious to see the 1948 post go up as 1948 was the year my favorite film of all time was released. The odds that you would choose that film were minuscule! The Snake Pit is a wonderful film and a great choice for this year. Please keep up this ambitious project, your blog is a real treat.

Oh, my fave film of all time? Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein!

Cheers

Chick Young

oh, and PS: regarding your query on films of mental illness? Several come to mind, but perhaps the one that hits far too close to home and whose potency has only increased since its original release would be, for me, Frederick Wiseman's Titicut Follies (1967).

Thom

Hello there Mr. Young, thank you for sticking with the blog. It really makes me feel good to know you enjoy it 'cause films of the past are among my favorite subjects and it's twice as nice to talk about them with fans and experts.

Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein happens to be a favorite of the author of one of my favorite blogs, Frankensteinia.Writing about it here would've been a real treat. What are some of things about it that make it a favorite of yours? Is it the spectacle of seeing A&C and the Universal monsters in the same flick, the look and feel of the picture, or a particular bit that stands out, or something else?

I'm a fan of another Abbott and Costello picture, The Time of Their Lives (1946) because it combines their slapstick shenanigans with the supernatural, and they take a break from the great but familiar material found in a lot of their pictures. There are a number of well-executed trick shots in that picture too--so Lou (one of the ghosts) can walk through walls and doors, for example. Have you seen that one? No Universal monsters show up, but it's a funny ghost story all the same.

--by the way, TCM is showing slapstick movies all day today. No A&C, but plenty of Chaplin.

Thom

Chick - I recall my parents being disturbed by a presentation of, or about, Titicut Follies that aired on PBS a long while ago, but I haven't seen it myself. IMDB trivia mentions that it was banned. Is it a fly-on-the-wall style documentary or something else?

Incidentally, I remember reading about Let There Be Light (1946), a documentary John Huston made about depression and other illnesses affecting soldiers returning from WWII, back when I was immersed in the war movies a few months ago. I think that was banned or suppressed too. I've been looking for that one.

Jacqueline T Lynch

Another great post, and welcome back. Your mention of psychiatric care for returning vets possibly influencing the film industry to take up the subject of mental illness is probably key among other driving forces. We had, after the horrors of war, grown up enough to tackle such a sensitive subject.

Before this, as far as the movies were concerned, mental illness was just madness and madness was just a plot device. Usually it was "mad scientists." It must have been tricky for those involved with this film not to resort to cliche, even in unthinking habit. Having just reviewed "Witness to Murder" (1950), this movie has the flavor of wanting to depict mental health care as progressive, but failing miserably. It is no expose, as is "The Snake Pit". It's just cliche.

Perhaps "The Three Faces of Eve" comes close to "The Snake Pit" in discussing mental illness and its treatment in a serious and thoughtful way. Still, the publicity for these films remains rather lurid, doesn't it?

Thom

Thanks Jacqueline. Indeed the publicity does sometimes seem to edge toward the lurid. Though that one sheet for The Snake Pit I added to the post avoids making it seem like a horror picture, the CU of de Havilland's frightened face certainly has shock and fear attached to it. I guess that's one way, to put it vulgarly, to put butts in seats. But Litvak said he wanted to avoid "pandering to morbid curiosity in dramatizing mental illness" in the Times article cited above, and he optioned Ward's book years before, while he was still in Capra's film unit at the end of the war, so I tend to think he was sincerely interested in the public debate over mental illness and how society chose to deal with it. In the late '40s that meant confinement in public or private mental hospitals and the various methods of treatment I mention in the post above. Litvak shows that part of the problem with this manner of treating the mentally ill was that public hospitals were under-funded and overcrowded. The advent of antipsychotic drugs and dehospitalization were still years away when this film was released and have troubling problems of their own--I hope a filmmaker examined these changes so I can write about the film and the subject again in a future FotY post.

Thanks for offering some examples of films that deal with the subject. Since viewing the split storytelling of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari I've been fascinated with the ways filmmakers have portrayed mental illness on film. Litvak chose to show us Virginia's behavior while allowing us to hear the paranoia of her inner voice so we know how she perceived herself and the things happening around her. It appears to be a novel approach to filming mental illness. Maybe there was an earlier use of this approach, maybe by Hitchcock (?), but I'm unaware of it.

Chick Young

Hi Thom,

Oh yes, I think I had seen every Abbott and Costello film by the age of 8. They played on Sunday mornings in the mid 70s for YEARS. The Time of Their Lives was and is a very personal favorite for two main reasons in addition to the ones you mention. First Marjorie Reynolds was a super cutie and second, it was one of the rare occasions where Bud and Lou were not teamed up (Little Giant also comes to mind) - and as such they really shine as separate personas. You may have caught that my online moniker of CHICK YOUNG is a nod to Bud Abbott's character in A and C meet F!

I wound up catching the Chaplin documentary, narrated by the late Sydney Pollack the other day, I had only partially caught it when it first aired. Thanks for reminding me about the Chaplin-a-thon!

As for Titicut? Well, your parents were quite right. It's far more unsettling than anything narrative cinema could "aspire" to. I haven't seen it in a few years and am particularly grateful for that. A few times was enough for me.

The Huston documentary you refer to is unknown to me. I shall make some inquiries of my own as to its scarcity. Perhaps its archived in a collection somewhere (UCLA, for example). I'll look into it -

All the best and thanks again for such a unique and interesting forum.

movie_star

Thom -

Another fantastic post! I was anxiously awaiting your return on August 1 and this post was definitely worth the wait. One of my favorite movies with a mental illness theme is "He loves me, He loves me not" starring Audrey Tautou. It's a movie where I thought I was watching one thing but it turned out to be quite different in the end.

When I was trying to figure out some of my favorite movies with this theme, I brainstormed a huge list and soon realized that this is an immensely popular topic that spans so many different genres. Why are we so fascinated with the mentally ill? They are portrayed as funny (the entire cast of "Crazy People"), eccentric (Jack Nicholson in "As Good As It Gets"), criminal (Dr. Octopus) , terrifying (Pick any horror movie with a psychotic killer), and genius (Russell Crowe in "A Beautiful Mind"). Maybe the fascination is because for most of us, mental illness is a great mystery and although we can see shades of "crazy" behavior in our own everyday lives (I have my paranoid moments!), we mostly keep things in check. Mostly...

Keep up the good work. Your loyal fans appreciate it! :)

Maya

One of my favorite films. And, as ever, an excellent treatment. Welcome back to the fold.

Thom

Movie_Star - I like your diverse list of characters and genres because it reinforces what Jacqueline commented about above. Since mad characters don't necessarily need other motivation for irrational behavior it's no wonder screenwriters have so often turned to them. Besides writing a character like that must be interesting if not fun. The flip side would appear to be pictures with psychoanalysis in them. Those I've seen from the 1940s, Spellbound (1945), Possessed (1947), The Snake Pit (1948), all place emphasis on a rational explanation for a character's irrational behavior. I expect that logical approach to continue as this blog moves into the next decade, but at some point overuse must inspire a turn to parody.

Thanks also for illustrating the universality of the theme in genre pictures. If we agree that the human significance of a concept is reinforced and reflected by the number of words we have for it (I found some thirty-one synonyms, including slang, for mental illness in a thesaurus) might we say the same about the number of motion pictures about it?

Thom

Michael - Thanks pal. I am s l o w l y catching up with your terrific blog too.

This picture is favorite of yours, eh? Is it the subject, the execution, or are you a de Havilland fan? Or all of the above? I haven't had a chance to bring de Havilland up in the comments section yet. I didn't realize she had such acting chops and somehow she looks even better on screen without makeup. She's excellent at sharing her character's disorientation, fear, desperation, and later determination in this picture, and deserved the Oscar imho. To be fair, I haven't seen Wyman's performance in Johnny Belinda (1948).

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