Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Few figures loom larger in the history of human introspection than Sigmund Freud. His more outlandish theories may have been subject to heavy criticism in the years since his death, yet there is no doubting his importance in modernising the treatment of the mentally ill and promoting the concept of talking therapy. This biopic perhaps over-eggs the pudding a bit in comparing him to Darwin and Copernicus, but its melodramatic approach is perfectly suited to the themes of his work.

Gorgeously shot in noirish style, the film tells the story of the critical period in Freud's life during which he developed the theories that would make him famous, presented them to disapproving professional colleagues, and developed an obsessive relationship with one of his patients (here played by Susannah York). Montgomery Clift presents Freud as a rather more dashing figure than we are used to seeing but his dark eyes and furrowed brow are ideal for conveying the intensity at the heart of the tale. In Kaufman's telling - penned with the aid of Jean-Paul Sartre, no less - the psychoanalyst's journey is very personal, centred as much on his own relatonship with his mother as anything pesented in the present tense.

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It's interesting to see a historical film with so little regard for realism. Dream-like imagery (with ironically Jungian qualities) here plunges us furiously into the past or sweeps us along with the psychoanalyst's many musings as he strives to get to the bottom of the mystery York's character represents. The sinister spectre of child abuse is given added presence by York's troubled turn, later echoed by Faye Dunaway in Chinatown. Historical perspective will make many modern viewers less certain that Freud will ever find his way. Still, his bold steps in the darkness form the core of a gripping narrative.

This bombstic technique is difficult, even for Huston, to maintain throughout, and in places the film lapses into Sunday afternoon on BBC 2 territory. At other points it is genuinely chilling. The sumptuous visuals and some eerie sound work are a treat for cinephiles and those with an abiding interest in its subject will find it gives them plenty to talk about.

Reviewed on: 04 May 2012
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A noirish biopic of the father of psychoanalysis.
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Director: John Huston

Writer: Charles Kaufman

Starring: Montgomery Clift, Susannah York, Larry Parks, Susan Kohner, Fernand Ledoux

Year: 1962

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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