Freud (1962)

“Leave to the night what belongs to the night.”

Freud Poster

Young Sigmund Freud (Montgomery Clift) — mentored by father-figure Dr. Joseph Breuer (Larry Parks) — develops his controversial psychoanalytical theory while caring for a variety of mentally ill patients, including a hysterical woman unable to walk or drink water (Susannah York).


Considered by many to be a flawed if interesting failure, John Huston’s condensed tale of Freud’s evolution as a theorist and practitioner in the nascent field of psychoanalysis tells a surprisingly taut mystery story, one grounded in the ever-elusive search for traumatic origins. Through an exploration of Freud’s interactions with several strategically constructed hysterical patients — interwoven with potent flashbacks from Freud’s own dreams and past — we understand how he came to develop, one insight at a time, his highly controversial theories of repression and neurosis. Because so much has been (and continues to be) learned about psychology and the unconscious, it’s easy to dismiss Freud’s valuable contributions to the early field of psychotherapy; yet Huston’s biopic is less an adulation of Freud (who comes across as appropriately neurotic) than an exploration of how wide-reaching theories evolve and face criticism within a certain era and social milieu.

Grounding the film are strong central performances by Clift and Susannah York, as well as wonderfully atmospheric cinematography (by Douglas Slocombe) and creative direction. The flashback scenes, while occasionally contrived, appropriately convey the panic and confusion often felt in one’s dreams and in the slippery memories of childhood. The literate script, though talky, is surprisingly absorbing; according to Jonathan Rosenbaum’s review in The Chicago Reader, the film was actually “scripted mainly by Jean-Paul Sartre”, who “withdrew his name from the project after his second draft — which would have made a much longer film — was radically condensed”. Keeping in mind that biopics can never fully or adequately cover the scope of a famous individual’s life, Freud nonetheless remains a worthy entry in our understanding of this controversial figure.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Montgomery Clift as Freud
    Freud Clift
  • Susannah York as Cecily
    Freud York
  • Highly effective b&w cinematography by Douglas Slocombe
    Freud Cinematography2
    Freud Cinematography1
  • Masterful direction
    Freud Direction2
    Freud Direction
  • A smart script:

    “Hysteria is another name for lying; pity there’s no therapy for that.”
    “Hail Sigmund Freud — the conquering hero of neurosis!”
    “I know why you’re attracted to other people’s madness: because it makes you forget your own!”
    “Angels and saints slay dragons; I’m neither.”

Must See?
Yes, as an unusual and compelling psychological thriller by a master filmmaker.



One Response to “Freud (1962)”

  1. Must-see. As per my post in ‘Film Junkie’ (fb):

    “Truth is a dangerous prescription.”

    ‘Freud’ (1962): Huston’s now strangely obscure film can be all but impossible to find – not even TCM shows it, it seems. I just found it online and watched it. (I’d seen it years ago.) Cronenberg took his own stab at Freud (‘A Dangerous Method’) – also an impressive work – but seeing Huston’s film again reminded me of its strength. Wikipedia quotes ‘Le Monde’: “Probably too risky for its day, the film was a surprise sleeper hit: theatres in the midwest had to ditch scheduled features when audience demand quadrupled – such was the morbidity of the times. An overlooked gem even to this day, this is an unfortunate loss since ‘Freud: The Secret Passion’ is a remarkable film.” …I agree. It’s a rich experience; complex and intelligent – with a marvelous cast backing up a superb Montgomery Clift in the title role.

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