Freud: The Secret Passion – Blu-Ray Review

Freud, or Freud: The Secret Passion, was one of the oddest films in John Huston’s long and varied career. It’s a loose biopic of the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, and stars Montgomery Clift. It would end up becoming the penultimate role for Clift and his last real performance of note—his final film would end up being The Defector, which was a soon-forgotten euro spy thriller.

There are four reasons to see this film: John Huston, Monty Clift, Susannah York  and Jean-Paul Sartre. The choice of Clift for the role of Freud was fascinating. Clift’s own struggles with his homosexuality have became the Clift myth, but if you watch the recent documentary Making Montgomery Clift (which would’ve been a fantastic extra on this disc!) he was actually fairly comfortable about his sexuality, and that was not what “destroyed” him in the end. The self-medicating with booze and various drugs was the culprit, and this was mainly due to the chronic pain he suffered after a horrific car crash he was in—he would have died if it weren’t for Elizabeth Taylor, who quite bravely rescued him from the crash.

Huston enlisted Sartre, who wasn’t a fan of Freud—and by the end of their meetings, Huston wasn’t a fan of Sartre’s, and vice versa. However, that is somewhat understandable, as reportedly Sartre turned in a script that was in the excess of 800 pages, Naturally Huston considered it unfilmable, and he enlisted writers Charles Kaufman and Wolfgang Reinhardt, although much of Sartre’s work remains in the finished film. The composite character of Cecily Koertner (Susannah York) was entirely Sartre’s creation, but was mostly based on Freud’s patient Bertha Pappenheim.

The Freudian insanity of this film continues with the fact that everybody wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Cecily, and she toyed with the idea. Marilyn’s analyst, Ralph Greenson, was friends with Freud’s daughter Anna, who urged Ralph to get Marilyn to turn the role down, which she did. They had a very strange and complicated relationship: the decor in the house Monroe died in was modelled on Greenson’s house. Huston’s previous film, The Misfits, starred both Monroe and Clift, although it was a troubled shoot and allegedly Monroe told Clift to never work with Huston again because she thought Huston was “a sadist” on set. Monroe also infamously said that Clift was “the only person I know who is in even worse shape than I am,” although in fact she would be long dead before Freud was released in December 1962.

Clift and Huston’s relationship reportedly deteriorated on Freud, which found Huston playing Freudian mind games on Clift by constantly asking him about Freud’s concept of “repression,” an obvious nod to Clift’s sexuality. However, Clift worked through whatever Huston allegedly did to him. When he died, Clift was signed up to star in Reflections in a Golden Eye with Elizabeth Taylor with Huston directing, a film that is all about repressed homosexuality, so perhaps the rumours of Huston’s homophobic teasing may have just reflected some kind of method-acting game. Marlon Brando, an actor who was surprisingly open about his own bisexuality for his time, ended up inheriting the Reflections in a Golden Eye role.

The finished product is a hot mess, but a fascinating one. Clift is outstanding, and it’s a performance that suggests Freud himself probably should’ve laid off the cocaine (Freud’s chronic coke problem is never depicted in the film, sadly) and undergo some psychoanalysis himself. After the accident, Clift always felt like a broken man, and physically his was. The beard he has here is clearly hiding some of the scars on his face, and his has an icy look in his eyes due to his failing eyesight. It adds to the intensity of the performance, which is what really salvages the film. It feels like an expressionist horror film at times, complete with surrealistic dream sequences, crossed with a stuffy period drama, and ultimately the film doesn’t know what direction to take. It would make an interesting and very long comparison with the more successful melding of surrealistic horror under the guise of a “biopic” in 2022’s Blonde. Although the idea of Monroe playing the role is very tantalizing, Susannah York is a more than satisfying replacement. It’s an impressive performance for what was York’s first major part in a Hollywood film.

Freud is a curio in Huston’s filmography, and while not one of his best films by any means, it’s completely worth checking out. The score by Jerry Goldsmith is outstanding, and predates some of his more atonal and dissonant work in Seconds, which could also be an interesting double feature with Freud. Ridley Scott actually reused some of the Freud score for Alien, which angered Goldsmith greatly—initially it was just a temp score but like many filmmakers, Scott fell in love with it too much and rejected the new music Goldsmith wrote for some scenes. The cinematography from Douglas Slocombe, who shot many of the most important British films of the ’50s and ’60s, is also impressive, and the patient’s repressions on screen come to life with his vivid photography. David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method is probably the better “Freud biopic,” partly because he certainly has read more than Huston, but still this is worth seeking out.

The extras include the fantastic documentary Let There Be Light, which Huston made about returning soldiers during WW2 suffering PTSD—if you’ve seen Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, itpractically remakes scenes from this film. The other extras include audio interviews with Clift and Huston, and the Guardian Lecture with Susannah York, which serves as an alternative commentary track. Journalist and historian Matthew Sweet regurgitates rumour and heresy about the production in his interview, Howard A. Rodman’s Trailers from Hell commentary is very entertaining, and the film’s trailer sans commentary is also included along with a stills gallery. The booklet features a new essay by John Bleasdale, John Huston’s official statement on the making of Freud, extracts from Huston’s autobiography An Open Book, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and Huston on the production and suppression of Let There Be Light


Ian Schultz

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