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Monday, May 14, 2018

Universal On The Couch With Huston and Clift

Wallop To Whimper For Freud (1962)

Hopeful Trade Ad Relies On Critic Kudos
Freud was Universal and John Huston's bio of the "founding father of psychoanalysis" (Variety) that got stuck in an art box and hasn't gotten out since. "Obviously a labor of love," said the trade, but that love wouldn't extend to a mass market, whose idea of fun Freud was not. "Like educational television" was  comparison that could hardly be more damning, whatever praise for "integrity and artistic merit" that went with it. These unfortunately gave off skunk smell to mainstream mob Uni needed to recover money spent on Austria and Germany shooting. Game effort was applied, and for a while it looked like Freud would be a major hit, till it transitioned from site-of-success arties into nabes, or worse, provincial markets where Freud was known or cared about like homework from school. Punishment is passed down via Universal disinterest in letting us see Freud again. There's not a DVD or digital stream in the US, although there are at least three Region Two releases, all of which I rolled dice on, only a most recent being adequate (non-anamorphic transfers being the bane until a latest disc from France). Euros obviously value Sigmund Freud more than Yanks ever did. Was his attribution to sex as motivating force for all we do since infancy a put-off to our acceptance of Freud, man or movie? The Legion Of Decency gave special clearance for explicit content Huston laid down, and yes, Universal finally gave in to friskier title that was Freud: The Secret Passion, but dye was cast ...

A Shock For Us Watching NBC in 1968 When Ilya Kuryakin Turns Out To Be a Sex Pervert

Daring Dailies Had Option To Run This Explicit "Sexual Fantasy" Ad

Freud got by far its biggest audience when NBC had a 2-10-68 premiere, ratings below Saturday Night At The Movies average thanks in part to the pic being black-and-white, plus long. Still, there were millions more watching than were induced to do so when Freud ran in theatres from late 1962 into '63, and what fond memories were generated for many began with NBC that February evening (me included, as spooky Freud played very much like a Euro-horror). Too bad television never uses it now. The title role was done by Montgomery Clift. He had trouble with director Huston that is now stuff of legend. These two were really oil and water. Huston didn't like his script monkeyed with, a prerogative Clift claimed from word go. Susannah York told Focus On Film in 1972 that "constantly we had rewrites," and she "fought quite bitterly" with Huston. Clift developed trouble with cataracts and Universal tried to hang production hang-ups on him in lawsuits filed after Freud's completion. These and other complications could form a fascinating production history, if more people knew or took interest in Freud. Montgomery Clift thought the part should net him a long-awaited Academy Award, and told his brother Brooks Clift so in a telephone conversation that was recorded, and which survives. There wouldn't even be a nomination, sad to say, and Clift would not have opportunity to try such a challenging part again.

Part Of Selling Strategy: Convince Us That We're All A Little Nuts

Freud had begun filming 9-11-61 and took 118 days to finish. Said Susan Kohner, playing Mrs. Freud: "I've been working on Freud so long, I feel like I've been on "Schizo Row." Her chore far from finished at close of production, Kohner was tied to promotion's plow and sent to worldwide points well into 1963 on Freud behalf. Here was familiar instance of a principal player chosen to stick by a film through the selling process, a longer and often tougher haul than doing the pic. Wonder what, if any, extra pay Susan Kohner got for excess of a year she spent pumping Freud. Another cast member to note was Larry Parks, erstwhile Jolson of two biopics who had been drummed out of movies by the HUAC investigation. Here he was back and, for scenes he's in, carries as heavy a thesping load as star Montgomery Clift. I wonder if Monty problems (retaining dialogue, health concerns) caused speeches to be rerouted to Parks. Latter was certainly equipped to do the rescue. Wish someone had asked John Huston re Larry Parks' value to Freud, as I bet it was considerable. Speaking of Clift, here's one for Ripley: several columns reported in early '62 that he was contacted on the Freud location by Doris Day to co-star in her next, The Perfect Set-Up, DD asking "Why haven't we done a picture together?" Why indeed?

Larry Parks Learns About The Freud Campaign From Universal Ad Staff

The Twin Art Address Where Freud Had Gotham Premiere --- and On Both Screens

Universal knew from beginning that Freud would need special handling. First off: Who knew Freud? Was he a person or some plant-vegetable? Ask any youth or most adults and they'd go blank. "Freudian slip" was a term you'd hear, but how many assumed that was a ladies garment rather than reference to the long-gone head doctor? Best then to launch Freud among the intelligencia, whatever of that was left stateside, ideal nest for eggheads being Dartmouth College, where a new auditorium had opened amidst splendor of the school's $7.5 million "Hopkins Center," to which John Huston and eveready Susan Kohner would show for a preview plus event where "politicians and personages" would be on hand (Variety, 11-14-62). Free-lancing shill and seen-it-all Arthur Mayer was there to moderate. What he didn't know about the selling game, nobody did. Prestige could be sniffed in the air, and Universal chose Freud sites that would best reflect special-ness of the venture, Gotham's Cinema I and II on December 12, 1962, then L.A.'s Beverly Hills Music Hall three days later. Scheme was to qualify Freud for Academy Award nominations, that necessitating playdates before year end. Advance chatter made Freud seem a cinch for the gold, critic-wise if not commercially.

Blank check from the Legion Of Decency took onus off the sex theme, their endorse for "sensitive restraint and conspicuous regard for good taste" a buffer against complaints Universal might be in for from regions turned off by the good doctor's reading of s-e-x into every move we make. Well ain't it the truth, Universal figured, but how to let folks know Freud was hotcha in addition to school-bookish? A title tweak was considered early on (10-3-62) --- maybe "Freud --- The Dark Passion," but that could backfire and undo seriousness applied to the pic's making. Gotham opening got hobbled by a newspaper strike, plus cold-as-whizz December. Universal turned to TV and small mags to spread word. That might have been preferred way to go in any case, as Freud proved a wow at the Cinema I and II (both sides of the twin played it). Behind this came "gigantic" haul from L.A., $12K a first week from the BevHills Music Hall which had but 720 seats. Variety reported that "the crix rate beaucoup credit from Universal" for Freud's liftoff. Yes, critics were useless ... unless they were useful. Freud was said to have outgrossed everything on Broadway for run-up toward the holidays. Universal put forty "mobile units" (trucks, cars, whatever) out on streets to trumpet Freud, side banners daily freshened with review excerpts. Montgomery Clift appeared as a "mystery challenger" on What's My Line (1-20-63), a priceless artifact today (and on You Tube) as he and host/panelists talk about Cinema I and II's engagement plus the newspaper strike that had imperiled business. Freud stayed three-four months on both coasts, sock receipts for whole of time, but acid test was seeing if Freud would widen beyond embrace by these NY/LA premieres.

It's Official As Of October 1963: Freud Was Now Freud: "The Secret Passion"

John Huston flew in from his Ireland estate to promote Freud's late February bow at key venues across the country, most of which he'd engage with conference calls to press and interviews on radio. Flap over accuracy of Freud came from the title figure's son, Ernst, plus a nephew who was teaching at Cambridge. It got press, but not enough to queer momentum Freud had built at initial bookings. What sounded alarm was bottomed-out biz in Minneapolis, where Freud did so poorly that subsequent sites cancelled their runs, a bad portent as what was Minneapolis but indicator of how the rest of middle America might turn? "Exhibs said that too many of their potential patrons were unacquainted with the discovery of psychoanalysis and the title was detrimental to business" (Variety, 10-9-63). What to do but sweeten the title? --- which Universal did, to warmer prospect of The Secret Passion. Reward was immediate: "The nabe houses have started to book it, and what's more, to their surprise, it's drawing exceedingly well for them." This was all salvage work, for Universal had earlier (July) written off Freud as an overall disappointment along with '63 releases The Birds and The Ugly American, their so-far biggest hit for the year To Kill A Mockingbird. Hope for remaining months of 1963 hung on October opener The Thrill Of It All, and sure smash for Christmas, Charade. Freud would not make Variety's "Top Rental Features" list of 1963 (published 1-8-64). Among U releases that did: 40 Pounds Of Trouble, The List Of Adrian Messenger (directed by John Huston), and King Kong vs. Godzilla. Maybe ongoing corporate perception of Freud as a flop is what kept it off DVD release charts. In any case, this very worthy show remains unavailable to US buyers.


Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

If I'm John Huston, would I want Monty Clift and Susannah York monkeying around with my script? Probably not.

Why not pair Doris Day and Montgomery Clift? Depends on the property, Stinky supposes, but to Stinky, Clift is an actor with some charm but little humor. And by this time, an unwatchable bundle of tics and neurosies.

12:06 PM  
Blogger opticalguy said...

When FREUD ran on TV I really enjoyed it. I had already managed to see the few "art films" that were available to me in the Norfolk, Virginia area … few as they were … and "underground" films (God bless Canyon Cinema Cooperative and the local museum) and I loved them! I would pay good money for the KINETIC ART FESTIVAL collection of shorts were ever available on DVD. Ditto a lot of the films distributed by Pyramid Films in 16MM.

FREUD played like a horror film (the atmosphere and score) so for someone who loved both genre stuff and"art films" it was right up my alley. As "Stinky" posted Cliff had become a "bundle of tics and neurosies" which made him perfect for the title character but a bit of a chore for John Huston.

2:13 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

The only time I was able to watch this film, I was in Argentina like 30 years ago. I managed to see a broadcast from O'Globo (Brazil) that came in its original language with Portuguese subtitles. But I don't remember anything about it because it was very late and I was tired, except for the black and white cinematography that I liked.

If this movie surfaces again one of these days, it could be on Fernando Martín Peña's Filmoteca, which starts a new season tonight and I will be able to see it streaming online for free again, except may during the weeks of the World Cup. They are starting the season with unusual British horror films from the 60s and 70s.

4:58 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I wish I had VCR'd "Freud" when it ran one-time only on AMC circa 1990. The DVD I bought four years ago (the version from Spain) was missing a key sequence -- Freud's dream about a train pulling into a station. The reason it resonated with me was because it looked exactly my own dreams; I don't know how Huston did it. Very spooky.

I ran the DVD for my daughter a few weeks before she went to college, when she was considering a major in psychology. She switched majors after her first term, but said the movie came in handy during her Psych 101 class -- she was already up to speed on everything the teacher was talking about.

"Freud" has touches of old Hollywood -- Freud's father bragging about his son, his wife urging him to put down the books and eat a sandwich -- but is fascinating nonetheless; entertaining and educational throughout. And Larry Parks is excellent.

PS: Why the heck doesn't Universal (or somebody!) release the complete "Freud" in the USA?

5:10 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

By 1966, "Bewitched" could do an episode where Sam and Darrin were reading too much into each other's actions, leading to Sam summoning the spirit of Sigmund Freud to decree that Darrin's loud sports jacket symbolized nothing more than bad taste.

Long before "Freud" there were movies like "Spellbound", "Lady in the Dark", and even "Carefree", all of which presented psychiatry as straightforward as a whodunit or even a rebus puzzle. But Freud himself was never invoked.

Not having seen "Freud", my favorite screen representation is Alan Arkin in "The Seven Percent Solution", trying to cure Sherlock Holmes (Nicol Williamson) of cocaine addition and eventually teasing out the sleuth's deeper demons.

5:26 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

I believe Norman Fell (Mr. Roper in "Three's Company") played Freud in that "Bewitched" episode.

6:41 PM  

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