Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

John Huston, Montgomery Clift and "Freud"

Hauntingly evocative Spanish-language theatre poster
Freud (also know as Freud - The Secret Passion)
In 1962, a herculean task in movie history was undertaken -- creation of a film about one of history's giants, Sigmund Freud.  Who better to tackle this project than another giant in his own field, John Houston? And who better to create the character of this complicated, tortured, gifted man than another in his own field, Montgomery Clift?  Few films are able to carry in a one-word title such expectation of things to come, but the name of Freud alone carries the weight of a genius who changed the identification and treatment of mental illness forever.  The theories of Sigmund Freud are a source of friction as much in our time as in his own.  Elements of Freud's original theories about the motivations of the subconscious mind have come under fire by some in modern psychiatry, yet are still widely-considered by others to be a major source of blinding truth as powerful as when this great man first postulated his theories.  In particular, Freud's theories of sexuality as the major psychic force, have been argued for generations.


Freud in 1885
 John Huston's film deals with the five-year period of 1885-1890 during which Freud began his journey into the field of mental illness with patients who had been termed "hysterical."  These patients, the most recognizable being women, suffered from physical maladies for which no organic cause could be found.  Doctors of the time erroneously assumed this to be exclusively the province of women, thus using the word hysteria which has its roots in the Greek regarding female.  The patients were written off as overly-dramatic females looking for attention.  Freud disagreed strongly, realized that this strange malady is also suffered by men, and was drawn to find the real root causes.  In these beginning years of discovery with regard to mental illness Freud made use of hypnosis, at the time a very controversial technique, to probe the mind for origins of mental trauma so heinous as to cause such debilitating problems as blindness and the inability to walk.


Montgomery Clift as Freud
 This early evolution of Freud's journey from hospital neurologist to ground-breaking theorist and practitioner is the subject of John Huston's Freud.   The years of Freud's career from 1885 to 1890 are considered the birth of psychoanalysis, and it is this period of time which with the film concerns itself.  Montgomery Clift, simply put, gives a masterful performance as Freud.  Clift, at only age 42, was nearing the end of his too-short life  The alcoholic, mental and physical  health problems affecting Clift caused such difficulties during filming that Universal Studios sued him for the cost of delays caused by him.  Fortunately, the trial took place after release of the film, showing it to be so successful and money-making for the studio, due mainly to the draw and performance of Clift, that the court ended up awarding a settlement to Clift, not the studio.  His great performance notwithstanding, some moviegoers were unhappy with his appearance in the film, disliking the moustache, beard and stiff-collared clothes designed to give Clift the realistic look of Freud.  Certain fans were not impressed, expecting to see the same clean-shaven, modern, handsome actor to whom they were accustomed.  More discerning moviegoers appreciated the experience that for the length of the movie, they might have been seeing Freud himself.

John Huston
Epic director Huston took a narrative approach to the movie, with his own distinctive voice as narrator, which I believe was an asset to the feel of the film as an almost documentary-type depiction of a piece of true history.  An absorbing screenplay by Charles Kaufman (Bridge to the Sun, When Tomorrow Comes) included, without shrinking, the often disturbing words of patients and doctor probing intimate sexual secrets. (Originally, the famed Jean Paul Sartre was slated to write the screenplay.  His work was found to be too long, complicated and unusable.  Huston and Sartre did not share the same vision, nor did they get along well.  Sartre eventually published his own screenplay as a book, "The Freud Scenario.")  Stark black and white cinematography, utilizing shadows and odd camera angles to depict a cave-like atmosphere in scenes depicting nightmares and memory, was beautifully created by Douglas Slocombe (Lion in WinterRaiders of the Lost Ark).  Perhaps the most unusual behind-the-scenes story is the musical score by Jerry Goldsmith (prolific writer of movie scores, as well as many Twilight Zone episodes).  I had not seen Freud for many years, and in watching it recently, the music was very familiar to me, only not in the context of the score of that movie.  After much thought and not a little frustration, I realized where I had heard it before.  It was a famous part, note by note, of the score to the 1979 movie Alien.  I discovered that Jerry Goldsmith also composed the score for Alien.  Goldsmith did not, however, intend for his score from Freud to be used either in part or whole.  It was a studio decision to use his previous work for a particularly important scene in Alien, and Goldsmith was not happy about it.

David McCallum
 
Clift and Susannah York

Freud's nightmare - delving deeply into the subconscious mind

In his beginning treatment, particularly of two patients, Freud began to develop his theory of the interpretation of dreams, the act of free association of words, and finally his discovery of "talk therapy," the infant name for the treatment of mental illness which Freud eventually termed "psychoanalysis."  The first of Freud's significant patients, Carl, is played by young David McCallum in his first movie role.  The deep-seated problems of this young man disturb the young doctor so badly that he cannot continue his treatment.  An eerie nightmare scene shows the extent of Freud's own intimate secrets and his reluctant discovery of the concept of infant sexuality and the origin of the Oedipus complex.  The short scene with McCallum and Freud's subsequent nightmare are disturbing, even now when we think we have seen everything.  The second patient, Cecily, played by Susannah York, forms the main basis for Freud's discoveries of feelings and events that had no name before he came along -- repression, false abuse memories, dream interpretation as a tool for deep memory, intensive talk therapy rather than hypnosis, and the transference of love from patient to therapist which is common in psychoanalysis.  York is excellent, although if Jean Paul Sartre had had his way, Marilyn Monroe would have played the part. In her early youth, Monroe could have played such a part well, as she did the part of the mentally disturbed young woman in 1952's Don't Bother To Knock.  However, by 1962 she was a mature woman and well-known sex symbol, no longer suitable for the part of a sick young girl.

The supporting cast is quite good, including Susan Kohner in a rather wasted part as Freud's wife Martha; Larry Parks as Dr. Breuer, Freud's partner and champion; and Eric Portman as Dr. Meynert, a man who was secretly aware of his own neuroses, yet worked to destroy Freud in the medical community.  A special nod should be given to character actor Fernand Ledoux as Dr. Charcot, a practitioner of medical hypnosis who was a great influence on Freud's development of the psychoanalytic method. 

Freud in later years
During his lifetime, Freud developed many explanations for the workings of the human mind, perhaps the most famous being his categorization of the three elements of the unconscious mind -- the id, the super-ego and the ego.  Fans of the classic science fiction film Forbidden Planet will remember "monsters from the id" --- the portion of the psyche without strictures of conscience, struggling to break through and act without thought of consequence.  Freud called the second element of the psyche the super-ego, entirely opposite of the id, and acts strictly as the moral compass for the mind.  The third element, the ego, Freud believe to be the psychic element of balance for the other two.  Later in his career came another theory still fervently argued today, the aspect of deep-seated feminine envy of the male.  Indeed, to tell the whole story of Freud would require more than one movie can fulfill.

Freud is rarely shown on television and difficult to find for renting.  I was unable to find out why in my research.  It was a well-received, though controversial movie in 1962.  I was lucky enough to find the entire movie on Youtube.  The most enlightening and sexually open discussion of Freud's belief that sexuality is the driving force of human motivation is given in a scene of Freud's presentation to the medical society. The Victorian-era doctors are horrified and totally outraged.  I have set forth below the clip that includes this marvelous scene, a better example of both Clift's performance and the impact of the theory than I could ever write. To view the scene, forward to 2:37 and watch to 6:05.  It is a worthwhile four minutes for anyone who admires Huston's direction, Montgomery Clift's acting talent, great writing and unstinting truth.  Actually, those are the four best reasons to find and watch this extraordinary movie.

 

 

26 comments:

  1. I've never heard of this movie and I now want to see it. I think Clift would have a lot to bring to the role of Frued what with his life circumstances. Great Post Becky!

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  2. I've never seen this either, Becky. But I loved your post anyway. Available on youtube? Good to know.

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  3. I have been aware of FREUD for years, but have never seen it...after your sterling write-up,I will give it a chance...merci Dieu!!! Sartre did NOT write the screenplay!!

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  4. Pat and Yvette: Thank you, and I do hope you get to see this movie.
    Hi,Doc: Sartre did write a screenplay that was not used -- as I said, Kaufman wrote the screenplay that was used. Sartre publisihed his own screenplay as a book. Thanks for your lovely compliment about the write-up - I appreciate that. Hope you do get to watch it.

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  5. Long time reader, first time poster.

    How does this compare to Hitchcock's 'Spellbound,' and do you plan to see the new movie about Freud (and Jung), 'A Dangerous Method'?

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  6. Becky, a most enlightening post on a movie I've heard good things about and wanted to see for years but have never been able to locate. Your description of it just piqued my interest further.

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  7. Becky - what a great review. I saw this picture ages ago and don't think I appreciated it enough. Your article is well written and full of insights that make we want to retrace my steps on this film. Great job!

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  8. Becky, I also, have never heard of this movie. After reading your wonderful review, I will have to give it a chance.

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  9. Rich: I appreciate you very much as a reader, and am glad to meet you through a comment! It is a little difficult to compare "Freud" with "Spellbound" in a short comment, simply because one is biographical and one completely fictional. Both are excellent movies. "Spellbound" incorporates a lot of Freud's theory, indeed is really about the earlier years of the 20th century and how psychoanalysis was viewed, but is romantic in nature and more dramatic than a true bio could be. "Freud" has definite dramatic elements, also exciting elements, just not as romantic in nature. I think I did hear about "A Dangerous Method" and will be in line the first day to see it. Jung entirely disagreed with Freud's theories, whereas Huston's film is a testament to agreement, so the new one should be fascinating.
    R.D.: Thanks, and do try to watch it, even it it's just on Youtube. It's so engrossing you won't care if you have to sit at a desk to do so, as I did!
    Flickchick: You are most complimentary to my article, and I love it! LOL! Like you, I saw Freud so long ago, probably my early 20's, that I'm sure I appreciated it more this time around.

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  10. Dawn: Your comment must have slipped in while I was responding to others! I'm glad you liked my review, and thank you for that. "Freud" is well worth the watch!

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  11. Most interesting post, Becky. I watched this years ago but remember little about it. I was never a big fan of Freud's, suspecting that sexuality might be the driving force in HIS motivation (and being a Jung fan) and, probably for that reason, never revisited the film. However, as a fan of Clift and Huston - and swayed by your stimulating take on the film, it's time I took another look.

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  12. Hi Eve! "Freud" is a movie that brings out a lot of feeling and opinion, that's for sure! Freud himself still upsets people, especially within the feminist movement and fundamentalist believers. Thank you so much for your compliment on my article -- whatever one's take on Freud's theories, the movie is just wonderful!

    Oh, did you see the comment above by Rich saying that a movie is coming soon about Freud and Jung? Can't wait for that one!

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  13. Becky, very educating post: I never knew about Universal's suit against Montgomery Clift nor that Sartre was involved with the film FREUD (wow, that's hard tom imagine). It's an interesting film, but I always felt that Clift was miscast and preferred his performance as a psychiatrist in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. Still, it's an ambitious film on a difficult subject. Have you seen THE SEVEN PER CENT SOLUTION with Alan Arkin as Freud?

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  14. I applaud your thorough and intriguing review of an important and interesting film.

    The pioneer is often scoffed, and the bravery of standing up for beliefs, whatever they may be, is inspiring.

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  15. Becky, your FREUD blog post had me fascinated. I was outraged when I read about Universal trying to sue Montgomery Clift, and cheered when the Universal executives finally found themselves paying Clift damages -- good for you, Monty! I was moved not only at your moving, thought-provoking discussion of the real Freud's work, but also at the similarities of the difficulties that Freud experienced, as well as the parallels with Clift's own personal problems. It's intriguing to imagine that both Jean-Paul Sartre and Marilyn Monroe were involved in this production to one degree or another! I've always thought Monroe had more range than she got credit for, but I agree that casting a younger, lesser-known actress was a better idea. Excellent post, Becks!

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  16. Rick: I was interested to learn about some of the history behind the movie too. I can't agree with you that Clift was miscast because I thought he was wonderful, but you are so right about his performance in Suddenly, Last Summer, as the one voice of sanity in that insane situation. And I LOVE the Seven Per Cent Solution, one of my favorites. Alan Arkin is good in anything, and very good in that!
    Caftan Woman: Thanks so much for your kind words. Too true about the pioneers...they may not be right about everything, but they had the great minds to recognize and speak out!
    Dorian: I'm so glad you liked the piece. Great ending to the lawsuit, wasn't it? And I found the involvement of two such opposites as Monroe and Sartre too interesting! It's too bad Marilyn became such a sex symbol in some ways - it stopped her really from doing a lot of parts she showed herself capable of when she first started out.

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  17. Brava, Errolette! Magnificent review of a movie that I'd certainly like to see again because it's been too, too long to revisit it. Huston is, of course, one of my favorite directors (definitely in the top five) and though my personal favorite of Clift's performances is in Wild River I really like him in this one as well. I always enjoy watching actors be fearless and take roles that are out of their comfort zone...and when they excel in these parts, it's just that much more icing on the cake.

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  18. I love that you liked my review -- and that you also enjoy seeing actors take risks. I think Clift lived up to the part, though not everybody agrees. Boy do I love Wild River -- wonderful movie, Clift just fantastic. Now that you've reminded me, I'll have to dig out my tape and watch it again. Jo Van Fleet is the icing on the cake in that one!

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  19. Good job once again Becky !
    An immersive , provocative piece on an equally provocative film .

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  20. Anonymous, if you are the same Anon who posts comments here every once in a while, I think we have a lot in common! What a lovely compliment. This movie and the history behind it have always been a great interest of mind. Thank you so much!

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  21. What made M. Clift a fascinating Freud for me, is the actor's apparent compassion. I loved the scene when Dr. Freud takes responsibility for the female patient's near-suicide. That was most touching, for me, and during the end of Clift's career, when he was no longer cast as the ingenu (think of films like Miss Lonelyhearts and Suddenly Last Summer, Wild River) he reveals a deep empathy for characters that are often marginalized. Think of Maureen Stapleton in "Lonelyhearts", Susannah York in "Freud", and Jo Van Fleet in "Wild River." Instead of dismissing these people as losers, Clift's compassionate men try to save them.

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  22. Welcome Anonymous Apple (love that name...) I don't think I've seen you here before.

    Excellent catch on Clift's later career and his compassionate characters and acting. I never put that together before, and you are quite right. His performance in Wild River was one of his best, and the relationship between him and Jo Van Fleet just heartbreakingly caring. The others as well. I think for people who have any heart and soul, getting older and losing the beauty of youth can create a more compassionate aspect to their personality. Clift was one of them.

    I love to hear about other aspects of film and actors I didn't think of myself! Please come again...

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  23. I have enjoyed all of Montgomery Clift's movies; he puts his heart and soul into each performance. It is frustrating that Freud and Lonely Hearts are not available on DVDs that will play in North America. With all the mediocre material on DVDs, why not classic movies from great actors and directors? Thank you for an interesting post.

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  24. Cliftfan, I completely agree. I was lucky to be able to watch this movie on YouTube. Glad to have you visit my blog.

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  25. Loved reading your write-up. I had watched this movie probably when I was 12/13 years old. The images of this movie were glued to my mind for all these years. (Like 'Cria Cuervos, from Carlos Saura). I enjoyed and was intrigued by it. I started thinking of this movie in other situations, and looked it up and found your post. It was great to learning on this and to gather so much more perspective on the development of the movie. I'll be watching you blog. Thanks for that...

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  26. I'm glad you found this article on my blog, Stella. I too had remembered Freud from long ago. It's very special. Please do come again!

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