Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.
A lot of the documents have been sent to me or have come from other web sites. The name of the web site is given where known. If I have unintentionally included an image or document that is copyrighted or that I shouldn't have done then please email me and I'll remove it.
I make no money from this site, it's purely for the love of the films.
[Any comments are by me (Steve Crook) and other members of the email list]
The Killer Reviews
So just how bad were these reviews that did so much damage to the career of a great film-maker?
Here are a few that we've managed to find. There may also be others.
These are included to illustrate the essay on the previous page for purposes of fair comment in a critical context.
London Evening News; 7th April 1960
Review by J. Harman
Michael Powell's first film for three years - Peeping Tom (X, Plaza) has a line of dialogue where somebody says "All this filming isn't healthy"
Producer Powell must have passed the line so he can't blame me for finding it appropriate.
I do find all this filming unhealthy and I am only too sorry to see Powell's fine technical qualities and some good acting lavished on such a dreary idea of entertainment as this is.
Likeable Carl Boehm, of German films, plays the part of a young film cameraman who spends his spare time murdering girls so that he can sit up nights in his laboratory revelling in the films he has taken of their dying, terrified faces.
The producer asks us to be sorry for the nasty-minded youngster because his father, a nerve scientist, had used him as an infant "guinea-pig" in studies of human fear.
I doubt if Powell had much conviction in his melodramatic thesis. The cast which includes Anna Massey, Moira Shearer (one of the victims) and Maxine Audley, didn't convince me that they were convinced either.
The Star; 7th April 1960
Review by Ivor Adams
...takes a deep dive in Peeping Tom (Plaza), a film which, despite its brilliant technical skill, nauseated me.
Here the photographer (Carl Boehm) is what you might call a Freudian photographer. He is by day a cameraman at a film studio, by night a photographer for a dirty postcards newsagent's shop, and by hobby a voyeur, or Peeping-Tom.(sic)
The results are negative
He was apparently frightened as a child by his father's camera and as a result he is obsessed with the psychology of fear.
His favourite experiment is to lure a girl to his dark room, or her bedroom, to stab her with the pointed end of his tripod and to photograph the look of horror of the victim's face.
Michael Powell directs this farrago with devilish skill, and has tremendous fun on film sets and in the photographer's dark room.
But why, oh why, use such skill with such negative results ?
Daily Express; 8th April 1960
Review by Len Mosley
In the three and a half months since my name last appeared at the head of this page I have carted my travel-stained carcase to (among other places) some of the filthiest and most festering slums in Asia.
But nothing, nothing, nothing - neither the hopeless leper colonies of East Pakistan, the back streets of Bombay nor the gutters of Calcutta - has left me with such a feeling of nausea and depression as I got this week while sitting through a new British film called Peeping Tom (Plaza).
I am a glutton for punishment, and I never walk out of films or plays no matter how malodorous. But I must confess that I almost followed suit when I heard my distinguished colleague Miss Caroline Lejeune say "I'm sickened" just before her indignant exit.
For Peeping Tom is the story of a degenerate young man whose father turned him into a pervert by torturing him as a child, and then encouraged him to get a sexual kick out of spying on or photographing courting couples in the throes of slap and tickle.
He works at a film studio by day and in Soho by night, where he makes pocket money taking pictures of female models.
He also has a hobby. He likes to pick up prostitutes or "easy" girls, photograph them as they disrobe, and then skewer them with the sharpened end of his camera tripod - and film them in their death writhings.
He himself commits suicide in this fashion and films his own death agonies. Anyone who can think up a plot starting like this must have a peculiar sort of mind. But what can you say about a man who considers this is a suitable subject to turn into a film? You can praise him if it becomes a work of art. But condemnation should be doubly strong if the film that emerges disgusts and repels.
Mr Michael Powell (who once made such outstanding films as Black Narcissus and A Matter of Life and Death) produced and directed Peeping Tom and I think he ought to be ashamed of himself.
The acting is good. The photography is fine. But what is the result as I saw it on the screen? Sadism, sex and the exploitation of human degradation.
What surprises me is the fact that there are so many distinguished members of the acting profession in this nasty little epic.
There is Brenda Bruce, who plays a Soho prostitute. There is Anna Massey, who plays the nice girl who falls in love with the pervert. There is Miles Malleson, who plays a dirty-picture collector. There is Maxine Audley, who plays a blind and maudlin drunk. And there is Moira Shearer, who plays a gay girl who gets skewered and stuffed into a trunk.
I know, I know. These talented players were only doing a job of work. But I hope they will never come together again to make a film like this.
If Peeping Tom is going to be the pattern of British films in the future I am off back to the East.
Guardian; 9th April 1960
There was nothing in the long, occasionally brilliant record of Michael Powell to suggest that he would want to make such as a film as Peeping Tom (at the Plaza). It is a horror film, made all the nastier by its heavily assumed air of psychological studiousness. Carl Boehm, from Austria, is its chief player; Moira Shearer is one of its murderesses. (sic)
New Statesman ; 9th April 1960
Review by William Whitebait
Hold the Nose
For some weeks an Eye has been staring out from newspapers and some buses: now, with Peeping Tom at the Plaza, it is upon us.'Do you know what the most FRIGHTENING thing in the world is...? 'Please, sir! Chap with a cine camera on a tripod, and he comes nearer the girl, photographing her, and then he puts out the tripod front, and there's a knife on the end, and then there's a distorting mirror she must look into, and then he...' 'That's enough Whitebait: don't give away the plot.'
Peeping Tom stinks more than anything in British films since The Stranglers of Bombay. Of course, being the work of Michael Powell, it has its explanation, its excuse. But so had The Stranglers; it was 'history', you remember. Peeping Tom is 'psychology. Why does the murderer with the cinematic itch and the skewering tripod do as he does? Because his father was a famous psychologist who specialised in Fear and kept a cinematic record of his son's fears as he reacted to bright lights at night, a lizard dropped on the bed, and lovers embracing on a seat. Mama's death-bed provided him with a real family-album shot.
So no wonder his son went in for taking feelthy pictures in Soho (though, really, these were exceedingly prim); and went up to street-women after dark with his camera purring under his coat. Marvellous camera: it gets perfect tones in a dark street and in ill-lit interiors, is noiseless, and though bulky, invisible: the envy of any cine-club.
But with the tripod idea he gets more ambitious. And then the girl downstairs grows curious about him; and so does her blind mother, sensing wrong...such wrong that in the end, with girls getting wary and inspectors on his tail, he does himself in on the spike of his tripod, staring into the distorting mirror.
But what worries me is that anyone at all could entertain this muck and give it commercial shape. the combination of the two is particularly nauseous; and it is odd to reflect that the last film of Mr Powell's that we saw was Battle of the River Plate. True, before that, A Canterbury Tale and A Matter of Life and Death more than hinted at morbidity.
Daily Worker; 9th April 1960
Review by Nina Hibbin
Obviously, Michael Powell made Peeping Tom (Cert.X, Plaza) in order to shock. In one sense he has succeeded.
I was shocked to the core to find a director of his standing befouling the screen with such perverted nonsense.
It wallows in the diseased urges of a homicidal pervert, and actually romanticises his pornographic brutality.
Sparing no tricks, it uses phoney cinema artifice and heavy orchestral music to whip up a debased atmosphere.
It even exploits the terror of a tormented child.
From its slumbering, mildly salacious beginning to its appallingly masochistic and depraved climax, it is wholly evil.
The People; 10th April 1960
Review by Ernest Betts
Peeping Tom is about a photographer - Carl Boehm - with a kink.
He's mentally deranged and lures lovely girls like Moira Shearer, Brenda Lee (sic) and Pamela Green to their deaths. Then photographs them before they die.
That's his kink - snapping the fear in their eyes.
Anna Massey, his girl friend, gives a good performance, but her drunken mother, Maxine Audley, puts over an even better one.
Producer-director Michael Powell, one of our finest directors, delivers the thrills all right, but they are far beneath his talents.
Sunday Dispatch; 10th April 1960
....I found their first offering a welcome antidote to Michael Powell's dreadful new melodrama Peeping Tom (Plaza, "X"). This account of a young psychopath (Carl Boehm) who butchers girls with an ingenious killer-camera, then watches their last moments on a home screen, is not only drivel, it is crude unhealthy sensation at its worst.
A sad discredit to a fine producer's reputation, - and I was appalled to find such delightful artists as Moira Shearer and Anna Massey mixed up in this sickly mess.
Sunday Times; 10th April 1960
Review by Dilys Powell
Focus puller: not, as you might suppose one of the tax-dodging types being got at in the Budget, but a useful and indeed indispensible member of a film studio camera crew. Anyway the hero, or perhaps the villain, of Peeping Tom, (Plaza; director Michael Powell; Eastman Colour (sic); X) is a focus puller; and the job is getting him down. Every now and then he pulls a knife (confusing it, no doubt, with the focus). I know I don't usually tell the story, but I will make an exception of this horror.
Focus and focus pulling, or at any rate photography, runs in the young man's family. When not in the film studio our cameraman (Carl Boehm) is sitting in his private studio, running through the film his father, an authority on nerves and a dab at torture, made of him as a child: little boy climbing fence to spy on Park lovers: little boy woken by bright light deliberately flashed in his eyes: little boy terrified by lizard planted on his bed: little boy forced to inspect death-bed of mother, to observe mother's hasty successor, to turn on her a camera presented by father (a player in whom one discovers, dimly since the focus has intentionally not been pulled, the director, Michael Powell himself; the child, I am told, is his own son).
Grown up, the son has no subject for nervous vivisection handy, but one can be made. The idea is to film someone in the process of being murdered. To do that you need to murder someone. More than one person, really. There's many a slip: maddening, after going through all that bother to find later on that the light had failed or something, just as the victim was tripping backwards into the open trunk.
* * *
Still, the special equipment works a treat: the camera tripod-leg with the cap which conceals the knife, the distorting mirror in which the victim sees her own panic. And everybody is most obliging. The ambitious stand-in (Moira Shearer), presenting herself in the deserted studio for her secret test, executes a jolly dance to fill in the time before her throat is slit; nobody observes the lights burning on the set. The girl upstairs (talented Anna Massey) never notices the focus puller is as crazy as a peewit: the only character possibly crazier being the visiting psychiatrist.
Perhaps one would not be so disagreeably affected by this exercise in the lower reasons of the psychopathic were it handled in a more bluntly debased fashion. One does not, after all, waste much indignation on the Draculas and Mummies and Stranglers of the last few years: the tongue-chopping and blood-sucking, disgusting as they may be, can often be dismissed as risible. Peeping Tom is another matter. It is made by a director of skill and sensibility: the director whose daring and inquiring eye gave us the superb camera obscura sequence and the entry into the operating theatre in A Matter of Life and Death
The same stylist's view it is which now and then makes the torturer's stuff of the new film like the true imaginative thing, the Edgar Allan Poe horror, instead of the vulgar squalor it really is. The dark-room with its mysterious ticking machines, the film set barred in by light like flaming swords, the murderer silhouetted against the screen on which the voiceless face of the victim yells, the dreadful grey little film of the scared child set in the lurid night colours of the photographer's studio. After paying due tribute to the camerawork of Otto Heller, one still recognises the director's old delighted intentness on curious detail, the old triumphant capture of the fearful moment.
Then one remembers that even in his best period Michael Powell would suddenly devote his gifts to a story about a maniac who poured glue over girls' hair. He has got beyond glue here. He has got to the trick knife lovingly embedded in the throat, to the voyeur with sound effects, to a nauseating emphasis on the preliminaries and the practice of sadism - and I mean sadism. He did not write Peeping Tom; but he cannot wash his hands of responsibility for this essentially vicious film.
Evening Standard; 7th April 1960
Review by Alexander Walker
If a Peeping Tom is to be the hero of a film, then what makes Tom peep ought to shed a humane and useful ray of understanding on what makes Tom, Dick and Harry peep.
For a morbid desire to gaze is one of the commonest obsessions in life.
Unfortunately, Michael Powell's new film is just a clever but corrupt and empty exercise in shock tactics which displays a nervous fascination with the perversion it illustrates.
Played by Austria's Carl Boehm, Peeping Tom is a cameraman in a film studio who not only peeps but kills - stabbing women, among them Moira Shearer as a stand-in, with his cine-camera's sharpened tripod.
He then films the fear in their faces as they die - a nightmarish notion which Leo Marks's overwrought screenplay trumps with an even more grotesque motive.
For Tom, it seems, is out to excel father, whose experiments in fear stopped short of murder - but let him use his son as a guinea-pig to be frightened out of sleep with lizards in the bedclothes.
Even brilliant colour photography by Otto Heller cannot reconcile me to a film as this.
It exploits fears and inhibitions for the lowest motives. It trades in the self-same kind of obsession that it relates.
News Chronicle; 8th April 1960
Review by Paul Dehn
Why, oh why did not Michael Powell adopt the same approach, or an entirely realistic one, to his Peeping Tom (Plaza: X)?
This is an ostensibly serious thriller about a young man (Carl Boehm) who derives sexual satisfaction from seeing rather than doing.
Stimulated by the spectacle of ladies showing fear, he hits on the novel notion of concealing a movie camera under his mac while murdering his victims with the prong of a collapsible tripod.
The stimulation is provided not by the act of murder but by the victim's reactions being subsequently projected on a screen in a private theatre at his home.
The film takes considerable technical and scenarial pains to urge this curious whim's plausibility.
But the results are amateurishly repellent, since Mr Powell's attempt to show us what makes a Peeping Tom psychiatrically tick is as melodramatic as it is clinically untypical.
Let me be constructive and there-fore, of necessity, forthright.
It is a fact that certain so-called voyeurs believe that they are too old or too ugly to be attractive to the target of their desires and so prefer diffidently and unselfishly to be onlookers rather than partakers.
This could be a valid and moving cinematic theme; but Mr Powell has brushed it commercially aside for the sake of ponderous, paper-backed horror.
With his high reputation, he has tried to palm off mock turtle as real turtle; and I doubt whether any equally reputable director would have directed what he has written - or whether an equally reputable writer would have written what he has directed.
Daily Mail; 8th April 1960
Review by Fred Majdalany
In moments of disillusion I have sometimes thought that Georgie Porgie (who kissed girls and made them cry) and Peeping Tom were the only men who had the right idea about women.
This view is rather spoiled by Peeping Tom (Plaza), a thoroughly nasty piece of horror non-comic by the gifted but wayward Michael Powell.
Peeping is something of an under-statement for the speciality of the Tom (Carl Boehm) this film is about. A demented cameraman, his compulsion is filming the terror on girls' faces at the moment he is killing them.
He achieves this by concealing a bayonet in one of the legs of the camera tripod, and bringing it up to the girl's throat in the course of what has started as a chummy bit of private filming.
There has always been a morbid streak even in Powell's best films - Red Shoes and Black Narcissus were two of them - but this time all is morbid, even to the point of photographing Moira Shearer, Anna Massey, and Maxine Audley as though he had a grudge against them.
The sorry theme has been dolled up in a flurry of trick effects with camera and lighting - another of Mr. Powell's infatuations.
The Times; 8th April 1960
THE MURDEROUS CAMERA-MAN
The central character of Peeping Tom at the Plaza Cinema, was to all intents and purposes driven mad by his scientist father, who used him throughout his childhood as material for experiments into the psychology of fear. Now he can satisfy himself only by filming the actual terror of death, which means that he must ingeniously murder his victims while filming them. His situation is complicated by a love affair and the suspicions of his girl-friend's blind mother.
So far so good, and Mr. Michael Powell, who produces with the finesse one expects of him, works all this up into a sufficiently nasty climax; earlier horrors, one feels as they arrive, are curiously muted, but their quietness allows a hard turn of the screw at the end, and the encounter between Miss Maxine Audley, the blind mother, and Mr Curt (sic) Boehm in the film's centre reminds us that Mr Powell is a director who knows where he is going; if he makes a thriller, it will thrill.
That this does so only intermittently is due to a clinical interest in the hero's psychopathology, which plants a good deal of text-book evidence for the obvious and gives us ample time to inspect it. There is, too, a fair amount of parochial humour about the film industry, for the photographer is a camera-man. The acting does its best to supply the missing tension: Miss Moira Shearer is a notable victim with an unusual (for her) dancing sequence, Miss Anna Massey an appealing innocent, Miss Audley as terrifying in her quietness as the eldest of the Fates. Mr Boehm sees the subtleties of his part and plays well, creating a good deal of sympathy by his realization that he cannot escape from his mania.
Daily Telegraph; 9th April 1960
Review by Campbell Dixon
The word for Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (Plaza, "X") is, quite simply, nasty. Its concern is, fashionably, with voyeurisme, the central character being a young man who likes to kill women while recording their reactions during the process with a cine-camera.
His idea of a pleasant evening, apparently, is to play back the films thus obtained in his attic laboratory along with tape-recordings of intimate conversations and unpleasant episodes from his own childhood, thus getting up, I suppose, enough enthusiasm to go out and murder a new subject.
As well as being as unpleasant as they come, the film is also silly, probability never being established, although those concerned would, no doubt, defend themselves by saying it is to be taken with a pinch of salt as a satire on the psychological sort of thriller.
Some scenes finding their fun in the behaviour of film actresses and directors do, in fact, momentarily amuse. They arrive from the psychopath being employed as a camera-man at some film studios.
It takes him some time to get the pretty stand-in (Moira Shearer) defunct in a trunk, but then he's ready to knock off one of the models he photographs in the nude as a hobby before he turns his attention to the girl down-stairs (Anna Massey)
So it goes on towards his own suicide, with telling touches of sadism, masochism, voyeurism and the rest, all of which appear to be invoked just for the hell of it. Altogether a work of great "curiosity" as the book trade would say. Sick minds will be highly stimulated.
The Observer; 10th April 1960
Review by C.A. Lejeune
It's a long time since a film disgusted me as much as Peeping Tom (Plaza). This so-called entertainment is directed by Michael Powell, who once made such distinguished films as A Matter of Life and Death and "49th Parallel". The central character is a young photographer, who works in a film studio by day, and at night takes filthy pictures for profit and amusement. His father tortured him in childhood, and he has grown up as a pervert, a sadist and a murderer. His greatest pleasure is to skewer young women with the sharp leg of his camera tripod, and photograph the look of terror on their faces. Afterwards he relaxes in his snuggery, projects and gloats over the"rushes" of their dying agonies. I don't propose to name the players in this beastly picture.
Sunday Express; 10th April 1960
Review by Derek Monsey
Peeping Tom (Plaza) is a bout a young man who suffers from scopophilia (the morbid disease which makes Peeping Toms peep), allied to a particularly beastly form of sadism.
The young man in question, son of an English scientist who had an unhealthy interest in the psychology of fear, is a fair-haired duffel-coated cameraman in the film industry who takes dirty pictures as a sideline.
He never goes anywhere without his camera, he snoops with his cameras on the morbid, the secret, the erotic, wherever he can find it, and develops, prints and projects his films in the huge laboratory he calls home.
His final aim is to film the actuality of "the most frightening thing in the world" - fear.
To this end he films his pick-up by a prostitute, his climb after her up the stairs to her room, the moment at which he kills her.
He repeats this on a young starlet (Moira Shearer), whom he persuades to stay late at the film studio. She dances for him as he sets the scene and lights it so he can film her murder with all the professional trimmings.
The young man is played by a tough blond Austrian actor called Carl Boehm. I don't know why: perhaps no English actor cared for the part.
The director is Michael Powell (of Red Shoes fame), and he has made the film with some distinctive touches of technical brilliance.
Why he has made it, however, I do not know. As a thriller, it fails to thrill. As a shocker, it succeeds only in being nauseating for the sake of nausea. This is a sick film - sick and nasty.
Financial Times; 11th April 1960
Review by David Robinson
Peeping Tom is probably the first authentic British Sadiste film. It is about a young man turned sadist and voyeur by his youthful sufferings at the hands of a sadistic father, a scientist who wrote theses on The Psychology of Fear (Mr Powell, the director, chose to play this role himself). The script is by Leo Marks. However intriguing psychologically, the film is frankly beastly. De Sade at least veiled his relish with pretensions to being a moralist. It might have been even worse but for the discreet playing of Carl Boehme (sic) in the main role. Brenda Bruce and Moira Shearer appear for long enough to be murdered. Maxine Audley plays an enigmatic lady, blind and alcoholic, who carries a stick with a spike on the end.
The Spectator; 15th April 1960
Review by Isobel Quigley
Peeping Tom (Plaza)
Given some of the home-grown films we have had lately it's hard not to sound repetitively querulous. What-are-we-coming-to questions are apt to sound nannyish, like complaints about muddy boots, but after a film like Peeping Tom ('X' Certificate) it's a question to ask quite straight. What are we coming to, what sort of people are we in this country, to make, or see, or seem to want (so that it gets made) a film like this? Horror films are usually so crudely made that belief is never quite suspended and the disintegrating corpse or acid-bath can't really be taken much to heart.
But this is different: it is directed by a man who was once respected, Michael Powell (Red Shoes, A Matter of Life and Death), who still has remarkable technical gifts and a distinct - though to me irritating - style: and it has a 'point of view', attitudes and sympathies, and tries to get the best of both worlds by using 'scientific' jargon in an atmosphere of violently slanted emotionalism. And so with all this - a certain panache and skill in the making, and obviously deliberate intentions - it turns out to be the sickest and filthiest film I remember seeing. Some weeks ago we had Franju's Eyes Without a Face which I thought set a record for highbrow horrors. It was perhaps more directly ghastly - there were worse visual horrors (the operating scenes) - but it didn't involve you, it made little attempt at direct emotional realism, as Peeping Tom does; you had the creeps, but remotely, and often with amusement.
Peeping Tom didn't make me want to streak out of the cinema shrieking, as Franju's film did at times; it gives me the creeps in retrospect, in my heart and my mind more than in my eyes.
We have had glossy horrors before (The Fly, for instance) but never such insinuating, under the skin horrors, and never quite such a bland effort to make it look as if this isn't for nuts but for normal homely filmgoers like you and me. British film-makers with a stake in horror seem like children playing 'dares'. You doing Japanese atrocities? OK, I'll do mass murders. You doing rape of little girls? Pooh, that's nothing (says Michael Powell in this film), I'll put spikes through big girl's throats so that our hero can photograph them as he watches them die, and they watch themselves die in an extra mirror provided for the purpose; and of course, the hero is a voyeur, whose childhood led him inevitably to some sort of nuttery by being taped, filmed, recorded, wired and analysed from babyhood on, particularly in experiments to do with fear, horror and sexual curiosity. You had an old man peering through field-glasses at children? Fine, I'll have a child peeping at courting couples and filmed by his father as he does so. I'll have the father waking him at night to film his terror at the light shone suddenly in his eyes, or at lizards crawling about his bed; or filming his reactions to his mother's corpse or (straight afterwards) the bikinied body of his father's mistress. And as an orchestral accompaniment to the hero's death (self-spiked, of course) I'll have records of his screams at every age. 'Myself at four' says the hero, turning on a tape full of appalling yells. 'Myself at eight' ...and we have a room full of the shrieks of childhood at every stage of understanding. Again, children's terror used as entertainment, atrocious cruelty put on the screen for fun. And the main character, the madman murderer, is played all through as hero - handsome, tormented, lovable, a glamorous contrast to the heroine's alternative youths - and dies in the sort of well-it-was-worth-it huddle with his girl that Cocteau used at the end of L'Eternel Retour - a sort of Wagnerian climax.
The delightful Anna Massey, whose screen presence is something the British industry could very well do with, plays the girl in love with the monster so innocently and ordinarily that for the time she is about you almost forget what it's all about, or get lulled into thinking it not so bad, the same way as you see little wrong with her home life, so charmingly and cheerfully does she tuck up her drunken mother (Maxine Audley) up in bed or make pleasant little jokes about the whisky bottle. I'm not sure that her healthy and normal niceness about the place isn't just an added bit of nastiness in the film, just another piece of indecent contrast; and in the end her romantic sprawl beside the beloved killer is implicitly sickening. Mark, the hero, is played by Carl Boehm. Someone suggested that the absurdity of having a German actor with a thickish accent playing a British hero might be explained by the idea that no-one would want to see a local boy in such a part, but that if it could be shoved off on to someone else (and ideally, on to a German) it would be consoling to know that in the story the hero was a Londoner by birth, in 'real life' (the sort of infra- or ultra-reality given to fictional people - the Archers say) he is an outsider, as you know the minute you see he's Hardy Kruger's double or he opens his mouth to say a word. I have elaborated a bit on what seemed to me a quite likely suggestion. Moira Shearer is the main victim and doesn't quite manage to suggest that she is just a film-star's stand-in, sweet and, if not exactly cheap, at least not very expensive. And so all sorts of talented people have been used to hideous effect.
Then there's the real killer review!
The Tribune; 29th April 1960
Review by Derek Hill
The only really satisfactory way to dispose of Peeping Tom would be to shovel it up and flush it swiftly down the nearest sewer. Even then the stench would remain.
Every now and again we're assured by industry representatives, the British Board of Film Censors or some equally suspect authority that the boom in horror films is over. The truth is that there has been little if any decline in the number produced. It's merely that distributors are no longer prepared to put them before the critics. One can only assume that Anglo-Amalgamated were unusually proud of Peeping Tom, for their Circus of Horrors oozed into the London Pavilion a week later without a press show.
Peeping Tom concerns a young film technician who kills girls by stabbing them through the throat with the sharpened leg of his tripod. While he does this, he films their expression as they see their reflection in a distorting mirror attached to the camera.
The reason for all this is that as a child he was made the subject of his father's experiments in fear and the nervous system. He was filmed - and this we see, of course - reacting to lizards dropped onto his bed during the night and to his mother's corpse. He was recorded screaming at all the terrifying inventions his father could devise.
Finally, three corpses to the good, he impales himself on the tripod, simultaneously setting off automatic devices to photograph, film and record his end as he sprawls bloodily across the hysterical heroine.
Other twists in the warped plot include the hero's spare-time pornographic photography, where his favourite model is a girl with a smashed lip; his romance with a girl whose first kiss prompts him to suck his camera lens turret; and his encounter with the girl's blind, drunken mother who reveals that the end of her stick is sharpened to match his own. (She also has the most memorable line: "My instinct says all this filming isn't healthy.")
Obviously there's a legitimate place in the cinema for genuine psychological studies. But this crude, sensational exploitation merely aims at giving the bluntest of cheap thrills. It succeeds in being alternatively dull and repellent.
It is no surprise that this is the work of Michael Powell, who displayed his vulgarity in such films as A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffmann, and the more bizarre tendencies of his curious mind in A Canterbury Tale where the story consisted of Eric Portman pouring glue into girl's hair. In Peeping Tom his self-exposure goes even further. He not only plays the sadistic father, but uses his own child as the victim.
Last week Powell explained on the radio, in the first of a BBC series unbelievably called "Artist at Work", that the author of the original story and script, Leo Marks, had been shocked when Peeping Tom had been suggested as a title. "He thought it might attract the wrong people" said Powell. Marks himself was upset that that the film had suffered several censor cuts "including the parts which appealed most to me" Carl Boehm, who plays the lead, told the enthusiastic compère of the programme that his role represented for him the position of youth in the world today.
The immediate answer to trash like Peeping Tom is not more censorship, for that could only worsen a position rapidly growing impossible. The box-office is the real test - and not the West End box-office where anything that causes a stir in the press stands a chance of attracting a queue, but the provincial and suburban box-offices. And that's where you come in - or rather, I hope, you don't.
Back to index