Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Saying One Thing and Meaning Your Mother

Film: Freud (Freud: The Secret Passion)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

When I started reviewing movies on this blog in 2010, I didn’t have a particularly high opinion of Montgomery Clift. Honestly, I think I was just unlucky in picking movies of his I didn’t like much, or roles of his I didn’t like much. As the years have gone by, I’ve discovered I have an appreciation for the man’s work. With Freud (also known as Freud: The Secret Passion), pretty much everything is about Clift and his performance. If he can’t hold the movie together, there’s nothing to hold together.

That’s an issue here, because I’m not a huge fan of the work of Sigmund Freud (played by Clift). I realize that it was in vogue for a number of years, but as far as I know quite a bit of it has been seen as the first blind stabbings into the inner workings of the mind. Freud may have been onto a few things, but for a long time Freudian analysis was considered a panacea for mental disorders, and it’s certainly not that. Not everything is driven by sexuality and not all mental illnesses are caused by repressed memories. That’s not what this film would have you think, incidentally.

Freud doesn’t cover all of the ins and outs of all of Freud’s work. There’s no mention of the id/ego/superego here. Instead, the film covers the important years of the development of Freud’s various theories and (one presumes) fictionalizes at least partly the account of his ideas of the Oedipal complex he accuses everyone of having. A substantial amount of his work seems to stem from his time with a patient named Cecily Koertner (Susannah York). Most of what doesn’t come from her comes from his own analysis. There’s a little bit that comes from an early analysis of a man named Carl von Schlossen (David McCallum), but the majority stems from Cecily’s relationship with her parents and his own relationship with his parents.

The film also dips into dream analysis, which means that we’re going to get some unusual and surreal dream sequences, both from Freud himself and from Cecily Koertner. Additionally, and inexplicably, there are instances of inner narration from Freud, but spoken by director John Huston instead of Montgomery Clift. It’s a little weird.

I’m not sure what I was expecting with Freud. I think I expected this to be either a hell of a lot weirder than it is or a hell of a lot more like a straight biopic. It’s somewhere in between. It naturally takes everything that Freud theorized as fact, and gives us a few very truncated leaps of intuition that gets Ol’ Sigmund to his various theories. Like I said, this is certainly a fictionalized account of how Freud developed these various ideas and put them forth. I don’t know enough of Freud’s actual history to know how much of this is accurate and how much of it is merely cinematic license. Frankly, I kind of don’t care.

This isn’t to say that Freud is a bad film; it’s not. It’s just not as interesting as I hoped it would be. It goes along at a pretty good clip and doesn’t specifically feel like its 130-minute-plus length. But it does feel like it chases its tail quite a bit. There’s a great deal of Freud theorizing various things and not really getting to where we more or less know he’s going to get to. And this is even with the truncated versions of some things. In one scene where he analyzes Cecily, she drops a couple of classic Freudian slips…and suddenly he’s got a completely new insight that seems to be a complete hypothesis formed on the spot.

It’s also worth noting that Susan Kohner is stuck here in the pretty thankless role as Freud’s wife Martha. She seems to exist mostly in the background except for those moments when Freud wants to condescend to her trying to read his papers and her blanching at the thought of him learning about the sexual desires of his patients. In an equally thankless role is Larry Parks as Freud’s colleague Joseph Breuer. Breuer seems to be in the film to give Freud patients that develop his theories and to otherwise doubt everything that Freud comes up with.

I can’t imagine wanting to experience Freud a second time. It’s not a bad film and it’s one that demonstrates that Clift (who was conflicted in ways similar yet very different from Freud) had skills under those movie star looks. This film was made after Clift’s accident and after his face was reconstructed. He didn’t have the looks to fall back on, and he still manages to be magnetic on the screen. It’s worth seeing for him; it’s just not worth seeing twice.

Why to watch Freud: It’s as prurient as you expect it to be.
Why not to watch: It’s about as goofy as you’d expect Freudian material to be.


  1. I felt much as you did about this. I was interested mostly in the cast more than Freud's story which was good since it didn't really delve deeply into his theories.

    Poor Susan Kohner such an interesting actress stuck in a nothing role, this was her last theatrical feature no wonder she decided to walk away if this was what she was being offered.

    It was sad to see Clift so diminished, though nowhere near as wrung out as he did in his next, and last, film The Defector. Even though he looked like hell he did a decent job with the role. I seem to recall reading somewhere that Huston decided to add those internal thoughts after filming was completed and Clift wasn't up to returning to do them. He might have even been institutionalized, that happened with increasing frequency as he fell apart in his final years.

    1. I'm really trying to think if this would be any different if Susan Kohner wasn't in it. I don't think it would be. Such a waste of a role and an actress!

      But I agree--this is more interesting for the cast than for the subject matter.

  2. Sounds like an interesting film. Not a huge fan of the man, either, but he does give us a jumping off point for lots of what's followed. So much work has been done in an effort to either prove or disprove him, he is of utmost importance. Can't say that I will be looking to see this movie, though.

    1. It's one you can safely miss. If you're a fan of Montgomery Clift, it's worth your time. Beyond that, there's not a great deal here worthy of your time.

  3. I've not seen this but I recently listened to some excerpts of the Jerry Goldsmith score. It was his first Academy Awards nomination. The ethereal theme sounded like it would fit those dream sequences you mentioned.It reminded me of Planet of the Apes at times.

    1. The soundtrack is pretty good, although I can't say I found it particularly memorable.