Release Date(s)1962 (November 30, 2021)
Studio(s)Universal-International (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
John Huston’s 1962 film Freud is not so much a biography of the legendary figure in the field of psychoanalysis as it is an analysis of the analyzer—more broadly, an analysis of analysis. Like most Hollywood biopics, it plays fast and loose with the actual details surrounding that period of Freud’s life, omitting important elements, fictionalizing others, and rearranging the chronology to suit its needs—enough so that Sigmund Freud’s daughter Anna denounced the film as “neither historic nor scientific truth about the person, Sigmund Freud.” But Huston wasn’t interested in literal historical truth as much as he was presenting his view of psychological truth; he considered the film to be more of a mystery than a biography—an “intellectual suspense story,” in his words. With that goal in mind, he found the perfect Freud in the perpetually troubled Montgomery Clift, who would make just one more film after this before his untimely death in 1966.
Huston originally commissioned a script from existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, but the first draft was far too lengthy for a feature film. When Huston suggested cuts, Sartre responded by submitting an even longer version instead, filled with content which would have been unfilmable in 1962. As a result, the actual shooting script was written by Charles Kaufman and producer Wolfgang Reinhardt, though it did retain Sartre’s basic structure, as well as few of his ideas. Perhaps most importantly, it retained Sartre’s central figure of Cecily (Susannah York), who was a composite of several pseudonymous patients in Freud’s writings. While there are other patients at the margins of the film, Cecily forms the key figure throughout, and Freud’s analysis of her parallels his growing understanding of his own repressed traumas—the more that he learns about her, the more that he discovers about himself. As his one-time antagonist Professor Meynert tells him, “What a splendid thing to descend to hell and light your torch from its fires.”
To make that point clear, Huston’s Freud is repeatedly rejected by father figures including Meynert (Eric Portman) and Dr. Joseph Breuer (Larry Parks), which mirrors his feelings of rejection by his own father. The final scene of his humiliation at a lecture was the invention of the writers, but it drives home this central theme of the film, and the coda provides a sense of closure for it. The final narration from Huston makes that point explicitly:
“’Know thyself’. 2000 years ago, these words were carved on the temple at Delphi. ‘Know thyself.’ They’re the beginning of wisdom. In them lies the single hope of victory over man’s oldest enemy: his vanity.”
Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe shot Freud on 35 mm photochemical film using spherical lenses, framed at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for its theatrical release. Kino Lorber describes the transfer as a “Brand New 2K Master,” but there’s no other information available regarding the elements used. Aside from the expected softness during optical work, detail is otherwise solid, with an even sheen of grain. There’s some damage such as occasional small scratches, but nothing too distracting. The grayscale looks accurate, with good contrast and black levels. The stylized dream sequences appear much harsher and blown out in comparison to the rest of the film, but that’s how Slocombe and Huston intended them to look.
Audio is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. There’s just a touch of excessive sibilance with some of the dialogue, but not in a consistent manner, meaning that it may have been recorded that way. Otherwise, it’s a clean track, and Jerry Goldsmith’s superb Oscar-nominated score sounds very good, even when presented in mono. (The title theme will be instantly recognizable to fans of Ridley Scott’s Alien, as that film borrowed multiple cues from this score, over Goldsmith’s objections.)
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary by Tim Lucas
- Trailers from Hell with Howard Rodman (HD – 2:41)
- Trailer (HD – 3:22)
- Judgement at Nuremberg Trailer (SD – 3:02)
- The Killing of Sister George Trailer (SD – 3:01)
- They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Trailer (SD – 3:05)
- Moby Dick Trailer (HD – 3:14)
- Phobia Trailer (HD – 1:52)
Film historian Tim Lucas’ commentary is one of his typically well-researched and carefully scripted efforts, filled with a wealth of information about Freud, right down to minutiae such as identifying the paintings in the background of the opening titles. He examines the themes as presented in the film, describing it as “a work of resonant, creative, and personal history”—the relationship of a standard biopic to Huston’s film would be like the difference between one of Freud’s books, and a book of commentary about Freud. He explores Huston’s struggles to bring the story to the screen, and gives details about the actual production. He provides biographical details about the actors as well as the characters that they’re playing, and also spends time examining both Slocombe’s cinematography and Goldsmith’s score. He closes by looking at Freud’s release in 1963, including the studio shortening it by 20 minutes (the version contained on Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray is the original full-length 140-minute version), its box office failure, and the generally positive reviews. It’s a very thorough commentary track which should enhance anyone’s appreciation for the film.
In the Trailers from Hell commentary, Howard Rodman briefly discusses Sartre’s involvement, notes that it was Montgomery Clift’s penultimate role, and points out how a film about neuroses was appropriately filled with neurotic actors. The actual trailer for Freud included among the other trailers is not the same one used in Trailers from Hell, but instead features John Huston appearing on screen to address the audience directly and describe what he wanted to do with the film. It’s essential viewing for any fan of the legendary writer, director, and actor, who has always been one of Hollywood’s most memorable hyphenates.
Just as knowing himself proves elusive for the Sigmund Freud of the film, Freud has been elusive on home video in North America. Tim Lucas points out that it has never been on home video in any format in the United States, not even VHS, Beta, or LaserDisc, and the only import versions were missing footage. So it’s definitely a cause for celebration to have the original uncut version available in high definition on Blu-ray.
- Stephen Bjork
(You can follow Stephen on Facebook at this link)