Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
Alternate Title: The Secret Passion
USA, 1962. Bavaria Film. Story by Charles Kaufman, Screenplay by Charles Kaufman, Wolfgang Reinhardt. Cinematography by Douglas Slocombe. Produced by Wolfgang Reinhardt. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. Production Design by Stephen B. Grimes. Costume Design by Doris Langley Moore. Film Editing by Ralph Kemplen.
John Huston undertook one of his most challenging projects when he paid tribute to Viennese neurologist Sigmund Freud’s discovery of psychoanalysis, which as the prologue (voiced by Huston himself) states, had as powerful an impact on human life as the invention of the printing press. Freud (played by Montgomery Clift in his second last film role) is examining patients suffering physical ailments under what his supervising doctor (Eric Portman) calls hysteria when he begins to consider the possibility that the human mind contains more than just our conscious will. He experiments with the very controversial practice of hypnosis to access his patients’ dream life and is rejected by his colleagues for doing so, having only one medical mentor, Dr. Joseph Breuer (played by Larry Parks) in his corner. Breuer introduces him to a challenging patient of his, a young woman named Cecily (played by a very young Susannah York) suffering severe paralysis and haunted by nightmares of her childhood and Freud makes a connection between the two, believing the woman to be experiencing the result of repressed trauma. Cecily is a combination of cases that Huston researched when compiling the events of the script, initially handing writing duties to no less a profound thinker than Jean-Paul Sartre before firing him over creative differences (namely that Sartre refused to cut down his hours-long script). In attempting to make visual the exploration of the subconscious mind, Huston comes up with some compelling sequences, particularly the dreams that York details as taking place in a hospital that then turn out to be a different place, and in focusing on the subject of mental health, Huston also pushes miles ahead of contemporary films that were interested in a similar subject. That this cinematic effort now feels dated is nothing to hold against it, but outside of its key breakthrough moments, there’s not much else to cherish dramatically beyond the usual prestige biopic cliches: Clift doesn’t seem more than mildly amused in the role (and reportedly had a difficult time during shooting) and has very few interesting conflicts with his peers outside of two disastrous public lectures and the conflict with Portman which is resolved early in the proceedings. Intellectual treatises on psychoanalysis don’t make for exciting cinema when they’re not housed in a narrative rich with fiery interactions, and Freud’s battles with his wife, a severely underwritten role played by Susan Kohner, don’t deliver, while his personal challenges, mainly putting his theories to the test, focus too much on the eureka moments to ever feel exciting or tense. Excellent production design and a marvelous score by Jerry Goldsmith, earning his first Oscar nomination, are definite pluses.
Academy Award Nominations: Best Original Story and Screenplay; Best Score-Substantially Original
Golden Globe Award Nominations: Best Picture-Drama; Best Actress-Drama (Susannah York); Best Supporting Actress (Susan Kohner); Best Director (John Huston)
Berlin Film Festival: In Competition