While it’s long and measured in its story-telling, John Huston’s Freud offers a complex look at the young Sigmund Freud as he crawls and claws his way to some of his early psychological conclusions on sexual instinct as the basis of human personality.
The Production: 4/5
John Huston’s Freud is not actually a biographical overview of the esteemed doctor’s life; rather, the movie concentrates instead on a five-year period during the young doctor’s career when he began making his first breakthroughs in the examination and treatment of neuroses through the unconscious mind, findings and conclusions that were at once rejected by a great majority of the scientific community.
Intense and probing, twenty-nine year old Sigmund Freud (Montgomery Clift) in 1885 begins to differ in scientific belief and methodology with his mentor Dr. Theodore Meynert (Eric Portman) once he sees with his own eyes how exploration of neurotic patients’ unconscious minds through hypnosis could lead to astounding breakthroughs in the treatment of their various physical ailments. While Meynert humiliates him in a meeting of his peers while washing his hands from any further involvement with him, Dr. Joseph Breuer (Larry Parks) enthusiastically embraces Freud’s beliefs as they begin treating Breuer’s most afflicted patient Cecily Koertner (Susannah York). As Breuer gives over his patient more and more to Freud’s treatment and as Freud has another huge revelation in treating another seriously ill patient Carl von Schlosser (David McCallum), the beginnings of his explorations into Oedipal theories and unconscious childhood sexual feelings begin to dominate his practices, once again alienating a large swath of his peers.
The Oscar-nominated screenplay by Charles Kaufman and Wolfgang Reinhardt doesn’t attempt a full biographical look at Freud’s very controversial professional life (his personal life apart from his own neuroses, on the other hand, seems to have been very quiet and happy which is noted in the five years covered in this screenplay). Moreover, several of the characters here are fictional concoctions combining several patients or several doctors into the characters Freud interacts with during the movie. Neither lessens the dramatic impact of the film. Since these five years were so pivotal in Freud’s construction of his psychological belief system, the script takes a very methodical approach to seeing how the famed doctor arrives at his theories, very much a baby steps approach taken by the writers and director John Huston which may bore some viewers and mesmerize others. Huston and his cinematographer Douglas Slocombe use differing motifs to portray Freud’s neurotic dreams (blown out imagery with heavy contrast) and those memories of Cecily Koertner (gauzy edges framing sharp central focus). All of it and Jerry Goldsmith’s jarring, sometimes atonal music (which has echoes of his work at this time on The Twilight Zone) combine to make a most unusual and involving cinematic experience.
Physically and psychologically, Montgomery Clift probably wasn’t in the best shape to tackle such a demanding part at the time (and he was more than a decade older than the age he’s playing in the movie and looks it), his many demons and abuses rendering his performance sometimes brittle and shaky and other times magnificent. (One wonders what the pre-accident Clift of From Here to Eternity might have done with this role.) While still early in her career, Susannah York is glorious as Cecily Koertner, alternately tormented, calculating, pitiful, and savage, fully earning the Golden Globe nomination she garnered for her work here. The most engaging work in the movie is done by Larry Parks, warm and welcoming as Freud’s champion (for a time) Dr. Joseph Breuer. Susan Kohner offers solid support for her screen husband as Martha Freud and Rosalie Crutchley is equally good as Freud’s mother Amalia. In a very early role David McCallum is devastating as the outwardly carefree, inwardly tormented Carl von Schlosser. Eileen Herlie and Joseph Furst as Koertner ‘s concerned mother and mysterious father and Eric Portman as Freud’s disparaging mentor likewise add weight and importance to the proceedings.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. This is a gorgeous encode with incredibly sharp and detailed images and a grayscale of deep blacks and pure whites that couldn’t be more impressive. Apart from the moments where contrast is meant to be blown out or the images are deliberately smeared with Vaseline on the lens, the picture is as clear and clean as can be with no dust specks or other debris to mar the viewing experience. The movie has been divided into 9 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is exactly what one would expect from a non-roadshow studio film of this era. Dialogue has been clearly recorded and has been mixed with Jerry Goldsmith’s music and the expected sound effects with great surety. There are no problems with age-related hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter.
Special Features: 3/5
Audio Commentary: film historian Tim Lucas gives an exceptional analysis of the movie discussing its merits in a thoughtful, reasoned, and well-researched manner. Due to the film’s length, there are some silent spaces where he allows scenes to play out before speaking, but he certainly gives the film the examination it deserves.
Trailers from Hell Introduction (2:41, HD): host Howard Rodman briefly introduces the film.
Theatrical Trailer (3:22, HD)
Kino Trailers: Judgment at Nuremberg, The Killing of Sister George, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Moby Dick, Phobia.
While it’s long and measured in its story-telling, John Huston’s Freud offers a complex and highly interesting look at the young Sigmund Freud as he crawls and claws his way to some of his early psychological conclusions on sexual instinct as the basis of human personality. The Kino Lorber Studio Classic release is a beauty giving this long underrated film its best platform for a much overdue rediscovery. Recommended!
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