With the release earlier this year of David Cronenberg’s excellent A Dangerous Method it seemed fitting to re-release the forgotten John Huston picture, Freud, starring the tragic Hollywood star Montgomery Clift in the lead role.
Freud: The Secret Passion, to give the full title, isn’t really a biopic in the traditional sense. The narrative concentrates on a specific period in the psychoanalyst’s life and condenses a lot of theories and individual cases into a solitary patient, which does seem a bit ridiculous as a dramatic device.
This film’s origins, as a collaboration between French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and the American director, are fascinating. Huston asked Sartre to work on the picture but disagreements soon wormed there way into the production and Sartre took his name off the project and apparently never even bothered to see the film when released. The crux of the argument seemed to be one of length. Sartre’s screenplay was too hefty and wouldn’t cut it down. Huston said (probably) ‘Jean-Paul cut this down!’ Sartre, with Gauloise hanging doggedly from his bottom lip, replied: “Non’, then shrugged in that quintessential French manner.
Montgomery Clift as Freud delivers a very committed and intense performance (which isn’t unusual from the method man whose career was cut short by a heart attack at only 45). The major problem with this picture is one of drama: there’s not much of it. Instead we get demonstrations of theories and some dream sequences (Freud suffers a Freudian nightmare!) and the search for the secrets of the mind. Freud is only ever worthwhile in the same way a lecture is worthwhile. You learn things but then think ‘Hang on, this is meant to be a drama … not a class’. Christopher Hampton’s play, The Talking Cure, found a way to liven the biographical aspects by throwing in Jung and Sabina Spielrein and the eventual schism between Freud and Jung. It would make for a fascinating biography but doesn’t work on screen given Huston’s rather dense and claustrophobic direction.
Where the film boasts some excellence is in Jerry Goldsmith’s spooky score (which apparently Ridley Scott used for a sequence in Alien years later) and Douglas Slocombe’s expressionist photography. These two elements are striking and certainly imbue Freud with a sense of Viennese baroque. As a piece of drama and/or entertainment, there’s no doubting a ‘very interestink’ film could be made from this material; this life, and the mysteries of the human mind, but Freud isn’t it. Huston’s venture into the complexities of a man whose ideas changed the world and our understanding of the unconscious forces is worth seeing if only as a curious, ill-fated sort of picture … A Dangerous Bore?
UK Release Date: out now