Review: Unconventional 'Freud' is a Potent Biopic

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday November 2, 2021

I consider Montgomery Clift ("A Place in the Sun," "Judgment at Nuremberg") one of the greatest screen actors of all time, if not the greatest. And yet, I have avoided watching "Freud." It is the only Monty film I haven't seen. Not because it's been unavailable on any format in the U.S.; I have all the bootlegs. But because it's the film that ruined his career and started him on a self-destructive journey that would contribute to his early death. Blame can be thrown on Universal Studios, as well as director John Huston ("The Maltese Falcon," "Prizzi's Honor"), specifically for his homophobia.

I need to mention that, despite all this, I am a huge fan of Huston's work. He was a genius behind the camera. But as a man, he could be the worst. He was a man's man, and if you weren't masculine enough, he had no use for you. Strangely, he and Clift got along filming "The Misfits" just a year earlier, but on "Freud," Huston "developed homosexual animosity towards him after discovering that Clift had sex with another man while staying at Huston's castle in Ireland," according to many sources including the doc, "Making Montgomery Clift."

But the Blu-ray release of "Freud (a.k.a. "Freud: The Secret Passion)" meant I had to swallow hard and experience the film, if only for Clift's penultimate performance onscreen. And it's a fascinating one.

The first part of the film, which begins in 1885 in Vienna, shows how the Austrian neurologist must fight his hypocritical colleagues at every turn just to prove hysteria exists. As he pursues reasons behind trauma, with the help of his mentor Dr. Joseph Breuer (an excellent Michael Park in his final film), who is treating a very disturbed patient (a powerhouse Susannah York), Freud begins to form his theory about how all neuroses stem from sexual repression.

"Freud" is a difficult film. As biopics go, it's potent, unconventional and is refreshingly about ideas, but feels unfinished as if the film (at 140 minutes) is merely a prelude to a longer story. Clift's performance is eerily effective and pensively restraint. Too often, though, I felt aware of many cut away shots, as if Huston was deliberately focusing on the other actors instead of Clift — almost deliberately sabotaging his performance. In places where his close-up was vital, it was missing. Perhaps it's because of what I came in knowing. Perhaps, not.

One of the most powerful sequences involve a young David McCallum (TV's "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.") as a patient who doesn't understand why he tried to kill his father. Under hypnosis, Freud is startled to learn how attached the patient is to his mother, thus giving birth to his Oedipus Complex concept.

The film was shot in gorgeous black and white by Oscar-winner Douglas Slocombe ("The Lion in Winter," "The Great Gatsby," "Julia"), and is fabulously preserved via a terrific visual transfer by Kino Classics that shows only a few mild streaks. The audio, boasting a thriller-like score by Jerry Goldsmith, is clear.

The film received two Oscar nominations, for Goldsmith's score and the screenplay by Charles Kaufman and Wolfgang Reinhardt (Jean-Paul Sartre was uncredited, but co-wrote the story).

The audio commentary is by film historian Tim Lucas, who calls the film a "genuine masterpiece." He mentions that filming was "unbearable" for Clift, and reiterates the story about how Huston abused him and felt "polluted" by his homosexual behavior. Lucas also has a lot to say about Freud, the man.

"Freud" is a must for Montgomery Clift fans. It's a complex portrait of a paradoxical genius. Just know this one just about killed him. And know why.

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • Brand New 2K Master
  • New Audio Commentary by Film Historian Tim Lucas
  • "Trailers from Hell" with Howard Rodman
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English Subtitles


    "Freud" is available on Blu-ray on November 2, 2021.

    Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com) and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute