Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom

Released: 1960 by Michael Powell Theatre
Produced by: Michael Powell
Screenplay: Leo Marks
Starring: Carl Boehm, Anna Massey, Maxine Audley, Moira Shearer, Esmond Knight, Shirley Anne Field, Jack Watson, Nigel Davenport, Martin Miller, Miles Malleson, Pamela Green, Susan Travers, Bartlett Mullins, Michael Powell
Music: Brian Easdale and Wally Stott
Directed by: Michael Powell

Until very recently, it was not possible for the average person to compare Peeping Tom to Psycho. For more than three decades, the former film was lost in a cinematic purgatory, having been relegated to that fate by the demigod critics who found it wanting. Thanks to the efforts of Martin Scorcese, who rescued Peeping Tom from its untimely fate, we can now compare the merits of each film.

Director Alfred Hitchcock deliberately chose a black and white milieu in which to film Psycho, perhaps in a tribute to the great Universal Pictures horror films. Director Michael Powell, like Britain.s Hammer Studios, chose a vivid color palette to express Peeping Tom.s scenes of horror. There.s also a difference in cultural style between the two films. Psycho is every inch an American film, while Peeping Tom is peculiarly British. As an American, I am conscious of this as I watch each of the films. It may go a long way toward explaining the reaction of the British critics to Peeping Tom. They were coming at it from a whole different cultural direction. One has to wonder what they thought of Psycho when it came to Britain

Powell starts Peeping Tom with a bang. We witness a murder from the vantage point of the killer [Carl Boehm] as the film opens. Boehm looks clean-cut and innocent, and seems so tormented, that he develops a great deal of sympathy in the viewer. We find it hard to believe that he is a stone-cold murderer. Without using a single outright shock, director Powell nevertheless causes us to squirm in our seats at the intensity of watching a psychotic mind at work. The pace is indeed slower but all the more arduous for its leisurely exposure of depravity. The ending is far more final, since the killer dies (unlike Psycho where the killer merely winds up in an asylum). Perhaps Powell did not want any possibility of a sequel to exist. Psycho, as you may recall, spawned two inferior sequels.

The British critics made much of how utterly despicable Peeping Tom was. Because of Peeping Tom, Powell became a pariah and never really worked as a director in Britain again. Yet, put it alongside the horror films of today, its thrills seem mild. Perhaps Peeping Tom offered too unblinking a look into the aberrant, psychotic mind. Maybe the British critics found some intrinsic core of decadence in the subject matter of Peeping Tom, while the more freewheeling American critics enjoyed Psycho.s less psychoanalytical roller coaster thrills. I feel, however, that the hysteria over Peeping Tom was unwarranted.

Peeping Tom is known to many by a very brief appearance of the model/actress Pamela Green. Though her screen time is very limited, she.s a memorable presence. Michael Powell approached her for the film due to her large oeuvre of nude photography and because she would, unlike her female peers in the film, do an actual nude scene. The scene in question is extremely brief, given the year of its release but it adds an unforgettable touch of realism to the film. It.s too bad Pamela wasn.t allowed more screen time, for she certainly seemed to be as accomplished an actor as anyone else in the film.

Peeping Tom is a treat for any serious horror fan. A well thought out plot, combined with masterful direction, make the film a satisfying experience. I suppose some more time must pass before Peeping Tom can rightfully take its place beside Psycho. It is certainly as well crafted a film. It cost Michael Powell his cinematic career to create his unique vision of horror. I think Peeping Tom deserves a chance with today.s horror audience. Watch Peeping Tom and Psycho together and enjoy some good, old-fashioned thrills from both sides of The Pond.


Peeping Tom (Digitally Restored) [DVD] [1960] (DVD)

Director: Michael Powell
Starring: Karlheinz Böhm, Moira Shearer
Rating: To Be Announced

United Kingdom released, PAL/Region 2 DVD: LANGUAGES: English ( Mono ), English ( Subtitles ), WIDESCREEN (1.66:1), SPECIAL FEATURES: Cast/Crew Interview(s), Commentary, Interactive Menu, Remastered, Scene Access, Trailer(s), SYNOPSIS: Filmmaker and photographer Mark Lewis (Karl Heinz Böhm) spends days searching for just the right female models for his films which are studies of fear. He was raised by a psychologist father who used Mark as a subject for his own studies of fear and the exposure has left him marked psychologically so that he now is compelled to continue his search for women he murders for the camera as he films their reactions. Mark lives in the upper floors of his family house where he also has his photo lab and rents the downstairs to Helen Stephens (Anna Massey) and her blind mother Mrs. Stephens (Maxine Audley) whom he avoids until one day on Helen's birthday when the young nubile girl introduces herself to the photographer and they feel a connection. Mark trusts Helen enough to show her the films that his psychologist father took of him as a boy and the images disturb the girl but draws her closer to Mark. Mark's jobs as studio camera man for a film studio and cheesecake photographer for a local photo shop allows him easy access to women whom he murders while photographing to show their reactions to fear. When Helen accidentally sees some of his killing films she is appalled but wants to help Mark but the release of his secret is too much to bear as the police close in. ...Peeping Tom ( Face of Fear ) ( Röntgenci )
List Price: £15.99 GBP
New From: £8.73 GBP In Stock
Used from: £21.92 GBP In Stock

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