Freud: The Secret Passion

Freud: The Secret Passion, also known as Freud, is a 1962 American biographical film drama based on the life of the Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, directed by John Huston and starring Montgomery Clift as Freud. The original script was written by Jean-Paul Sartre, but Sartre withdrew his involvement in the film after disagreements with Huston, and his name was removed from the credits.[2] The film was entered into the 13th Berlin International Film Festival.[3]

Freud: The Secret Passion
Theatrical poster
Directed byJohn Huston
Produced byWolfgang Reinhardt
Written byCharles Kaufman (story) Jean-Paul Sartre (uncredited) Wolfgang Reinhardt
StarringMontgomery Clift
Susannah York
Susan Kohner
Narrated byJohn Huston
Music byJerry Goldsmith
CinematographyDouglas Slocombe
Edited byRalph Kemplen
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • December 12, 1962 (1962-12-12)
Running time
139 minutes
CountryUnited States


This pseudo-biographical movie depicts Sigmund Freud's life from 1885 to 1890. At this time, most of his colleagues refused to treat hysteric patients, believing their symptoms to be ploys for attention. Freud, however, learns to use hypnosis to uncover the reasons for the patients' neuroses through his mentor and friend Josef Breuer. His main patient in the film is a young woman who refused to drink water and is plagued by a recurrent nightmare.

The story compresses the years it took Freud (Montgomery Clift) to develop his psychoanalytic theories into what seems like a few months. Nearly every neurotic symptom imaginable manifests itself in one patient, Cecily Koertner (Susannah York). She is sexually repressed, hysterical, and fixated on her father. Freud works extensively with her, developing one hypothesis after another. Also shown is Freud's home life with his wife Martha (Susan Kohner), with whom he alternately discusses his theories, and patronizes when she reads one of his papers.


Production history

In 1958, John Huston decided to make a film about the life of the young Sigmund Freud, and asked Jean-Paul Sartre to write a summary of a projected scenario. Sartre submitted a synopsis of 95 pages, which was accepted, but later completed a finished script that, if filmed, would have amounted to a running time of five hours, which Huston considered far too long. Huston suggested cuts, but Sartre submitted an even longer script of eight hours, justifying the even longer version by saying, "On peut faire un film de quatre heures s'il s'agit de Ben Hur, mais le public de Texas ne supporterait pas quatre heures de complexes" ("We can make a film of four hours in the case of Ben Hur, but the Texas public couldn't stand four hours of complexes.").[4] Huston and Sartre quarrelled, and Sartre withdrew his name from the film's credits.[2] Nevertheless, many key elements from Sartre's script survive in the finished film, for instance the creation of a composite patient, Cecily, who combines features of Freud's patients Anna O., Elisabeth von R., Dora, et al.[5]


The film heavily compresses events, cases and acquaintances early in Freud's career, spanning from his work at the Vienna General Hospital under Theodor Meynert during the mid-1880s, through his research into hysteria and his seduction theory along with Breuer, up until his development of infantile sexuality and the Oedipus complex around the turn of the century that became the basis for his fundamental Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, first published in 1905.

The character of Cecily Körtner is based upon a number of early patients of Freud's, most heavily drawing on the Anna O. case but also Dora and others. Similarly, the character of Josef Breuer and his role as mentor and friend in Freud's life as portrayed by Larry Parks is in fact a combination of the real Breuer with Wilhelm Fliess.


Critical reception

... it's a fascinating attempt to mix a traditional biopic with more experimental elements, such as rather surreal dreams sequences.
As director John Huston's voiceover suggests, it's a film that's less interested in Freud himself than the possibilities of unlocking the human mind and how that can be shown on screen – how can you portray the ideas of psychology on screen? As a result it plays fast and loose with history in favour of trying to uncover what Freud's ideas mean. It is an interesting and entertaining movie, with a great central performance from Montgomery Clift.

Tim Isaac (Big Gay Picture Show), Freud (DVD)[6]

... a curiously involving biopic about that which interests us all – ourselves and what ails us. ... Freud is a strong and sombre drama about life's psychological traumas and the first man who attempted to quantify and cure them. It's a well-acted and very solid movie but stay well clear if you fancy a bit of diverting amusement. Both Freud and A Dangerous Method deal with the fact that movies about people talking are not exactly visually exciting but Huston (and Cronenberg) pull off the drama within the subject in their own very different and intriguing ways.

Cineoutsider, Alien landscapes – A UK region 2 DVD review of FREUD[7]

A sincere and competent biopic on the early years of Dr. Sigmund Freud (Montgomery Clift) ... Clift makes for a brooding and introspective Freud, obsessed with proving his controversial theories correct. Huston films it as film noir, with Freud the detective. What makes Huston's black-and-white film remarkable is the dream sequences, which are photographed mostly in negative or overexposure. This mise en scéne gave it a tantalizing German expressionist look and made the patient's repressions come to life on the screen, telling more about the subject matter than the narrative's wearisome simplistic didactic tone.

Dennis Schwartz's Movie Reviews, FREUD (aka: Freud: The Secret Passion)[8]

Montgomery Clift delivers a superb, yet troubled and complex interpretation that benefits from remarkable direction. Probably too risky for its day, the film was a surprise sleeper hit: theatres in the mid-west 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.

Le Monde, Freud, passions secrètes (1962) de John Huston[9]

Huston's problem was to render an intellectual quest, one that wants to be told in words, in images suited to film. He chose a metaphorical structure that runs all through our literature, from the Odyssey to Star Trek: THE MIND IS A BODY MOVING THROUGH SPACE. ... The substitution of face for body, body for mind, movement through space for movement in thought — there is a pattern of substitutions running throughout Freud. ... My point about Freud, the movie, then, is finally that it is a tremendous success — if you look straight at it. I think that it is not only an extraordinarily good film as a visual experience, as acting, as structure, but it also embodies a highly personal vision of psychoanalysis and its founder. My vision of Huston's vision in Freud is that psychoanalysis reveals human life as an endless series of displacements from what we really and originally desire and seek. It is a vision that profoundly expresses Huston's own "as if" view of life. Huston is indeed an auteur, a genius, at least by his own definition. He enables you and me to see Freud and psychoanalysis in a strikingly new, but highly intelligent way."

Norman N. Holland (A Sharper Focus), John Huston, Freud, 1962


Freud was nominated for two Academy Awards at the 35th Academy Awards: Best Original Screenplay (lost to Divorce Italian Style), and Best Original Score (lost to Lawrence of Arabia). Among other awards, the film was also nominated for 4 Golden Globe Awards: Best Motion Picture - Drama, Best Motion Picture Actress - Drama (Susannah York), Best Motion Picture Director (John Huston), and Best Supporting Actress (Susan Kohner).

Reception in France

Élisabeth Roudinesco comments that Freud: The Secret Passion, "did not have any success. And yet the black and white photography of Douglas Slocombe recaptures superbly the baroque universe of fin de siècle Vienna. As for Montgomery Clift, he portrays an anguished, somber and fragile Freud, closer to the James Dean of Rebel without a Cause than to the mummified figure imposed by the official historians of psychoanalysis: a character, in any event, more Sartrean than Jonesian. The work was distributed to the movie houses of Paris at the beginning of June 1964, two weeks before Lacan's foundation of the Ėcole freudienne de Paris. It went completely unnoticed by the psychoanalysts of Paris, who failed to find in it the hero of their imagination."[2] Sartre did not see the film.[10]


The mostly dissonant, atonal score to Freud was one of the earliest works by composer Jerry Goldsmith. It garnered Goldsmith his first Oscar nomination, which he lost to the score Lawrence Of Arabia that was done by fellow rookie composer Maurice Jarre, who, like Goldsmith, would go on to become one of the film industry's most successful and respected composers. The "Main Title" from Freud, as well as the tracks Charcot's Show and Desperate Case[11] were later purchased and reused without consent of Goldsmith by director Ridley Scott for the acid blood scene and others in the film Alien (1979), also scored by Goldsmith.[12]

Home media

Having previously been unavailable in a home media format, Freud: The Secret Passion was eventually released in the UK by Transition Digital Media in a 1.78:1 letter-boxed, non-anamorphic 4:3 format, on a Region 2 DVD edition on April 23, 2012.

See also


  1. Freud: The Secret Passion at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. Roudinesco, Elisabeth. Jacques Lacan & Co: A History of Psychoanalysis in France, 1925–1985. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990, p. 166
  3. " Awards for Freud: The Secret Passion". Retrieved February 13, 2010.
  4. Sartre, Le Scénario, 10; Scenario. viii.
  6. Isaac, Tim (2012). Freud (DVD), Big Gay Picture Show, April 23, 2012
  7. Alien landscapes – A UK region 2 DVD review of FREUD,, May 28, 2012
  8. Schwartz, Dennis (2006). FREUD (aka: Freud: The Secret Passion), Dennis Schwartz's Movie Reviews, March 9, 2006
  9. Freud, passions secrètes (1962) de John Huston, Le Monde, June 13, 2012 (translated from French)
  10. Cohen-Solal, Annie. Sartre: A Life. London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1987, p. 385
  11. Kirgo, Julie (2009). Booklet to the 2009 Deluxe Edition of the OST to Freud, published by Varèse Sarabande Records and USI B Music Publishing (BMI)
  12. Alien soundtrack review at Retrieved February 22, 2011.

Further reading

  • Holland, Norman N. (1994). John Huston, Freud, 1962 (adapted essay from an earlier version published in How to See Huston's Freud: Perspectives on John Huston, Ed. Stephen Cooper. Perspectives on Film Series. New York: G. K. Hall, 1994. 164-83.)

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