Set in a private mental institution, Chestnut Lodge in Rockville, Maryland, the film tells of a trainee occupational therapist, a troubled ex-soldier named Vincent Bruce (Beatty), who becomes dangerously obsessed with seductive, artistic, schizophrenic patient Lilith Arthur (Seberg). Bruce makes progress helping Lilith emerge from seclusion and leave the institutional grounds for a day in the country and accompanies her on other excursions in which she is alone with him. She attempts to seduce him, and eventually Bruce tells Lilith he is in love with her. Lilith also seduces an older female patient and enchants a couple of young boys on one of her outings. Bruce triggers the suicide of another patient (Fonda) out of jealousy over the patient's crush on Lilith. This brings up memories in Lilith of her brother's suicide, which she implies was due to an incestuous relationship that she initiated, and she goes on a destructive rampage in her room and winds up in a catatonic state. Bruce presents himself to his superiors for psychiatric help.
Chestnut Lodge would not permit filming on location so those scenes were done in a vacant mansion rented by the production company, Centur Productions, on the North Shore of Long Island (Locust Valley). Location shooting in Maryland was done in a private home in Rockville as well as in the downtown area, plus scenes at Great Falls on both the Maryland and Virginia sides of the Potomac River, as well as a staged carnival scene at Barnesville, Maryland. This was Rossen's last film.
The Academy Film Archive preserved Lilith in 2000.
Warren Beatty as Vincent Bruce
Jean Seberg as Lilith Arthur
Peter Fonda as Stephen Evshevsky
Kim Hunter as Dr. Bea Brice
Anne Meacham as Mrs. Yvonne Meaghan
Jessica Walter as Laura
Gene Hackman as Norman
James Patterson as Dr. Lavrier
Robert Reilly as Bob Clayfield
In The New Biographical Dictionary of Film David Thomson describes Lilith as "an oddity, the only one of [Rossen's] films that seems passionate, mysterious and truly personal. The other films will look increasingly dated and self-contained, but Lilith may grow."
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists: