While my review of Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island won't be online until tomorrow afternoon, seeing this psycho-thriller, with its homages to movies from Spellbound to Shock Corridor, made me geek up and list my six favorite movies set in mental institutions.
1) Bedlam (1946) That 18th-century grandaddy of asylums, London's St. Mary's of Bethlehem (known colloquially as "Bedlam'), occasions a crusading Quaker (Anna Lee) to challenge the cruel administration of the warden (Boris Karloff) in the Val Lewton production directed by Mark Robson.
2) Spellbound (1945) Repressed psychiatrist Ingrid Bergman analyzes colleague Gregory Peck, who may be a murderer but unlocks her libido and opens the doors of her heart in this Hitchcock classic with a dream sequence by Salvador Dali.
3) The Snake Pit (1948) Olivia de Havilland is heartbreakingly fine as a mental patient who submits to shock therapy, is released from the hospital before she's ready, and is sent back to a ward for even more extreme patients, only to repeat the slow process of reordering her disordered mind.
4) The Cobweb (1955) Vicente Minnelli's Freudian melodrama set in a leafy mental institution where the only way to tell the difference between the patients and doctors is that the patients get well. With Richard Widmark, Gloria Grahame, Lillian Gish and Charles Boyer in a story that maintains decor can drive people mad.
5) Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) In Joe Mankiewicz's adaptation of the Tennessee Williams melodrama, Elizabeth Taylor is institutionalized after her cousin Sebastian is brutally murdered on their vacation. Does she need help or does her aunt (Katharine Hepburn) have reasons to want to keep her in mental lockup? With Montgomery Clift.
6) Shock Corridor (1963) Sam Fuller's pulpy psychodrama about a reporter (Peter Breck), hungry for a Pulitzer, who pretends he's mad in order to gain entry to an asylum to solve a murder mystery. The patients there have more than a passing resemblance to J. Robert Oppenheimer and James Meredith.