The Masters  
The Powell & Pressburger Pages

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]

  Steve's Logo

The Killer Reviews

First, the most famous killer review ...

"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. 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 alternately 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 A Canterbury Tale. In PT his self-exposure goes even further. He not only plays the sadistic father but uses his own child as the victim."
- Derek Hill, Tribune, 29 April 1960.
[What was vulgar in AMOLAD?]

Then a few others ...

"It's a long time since a film disgusted me as much as Peeping Tom... I don't propose to name the players in this beastly picture."
- C. A. Lejeune, The Observer, 10 April 1960.
[Caroline walked out before it finished]

"Perhaps one would not be so disagreeably affected by this exercise in the lower regions 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. Peeping Tom is another matter. It is made by a director of skill and sensibility, the same stylist's view it is which now and then makes the torturer's stuff of the new film look like the true imaginative thing, the Edgar Allan Poe horror, instead of the vulgar squalor ut really is. The director whose daring and inquiring eye gave us the superb camera obscura sequence and the entry into the operating room in A Matter of Life and Death. 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."
- Dilys Powell, The Sunday Times, 10 April 1960.
[But see also Dilys Powell's 1994 reappraisal where she forgives him and apologises]

"The sickest and filthiest film I remember seeing"
- Isabel Quigly, The Spectator

"sadism, sex and the exploitation of human degradation"
- Leonard Mosley, Daily Express

"From its slumbering, mildly salacious beginning to its appallingly masochistic and depraved climax, it is wholly evil"
- Nina Hibbin, Daily Worker

"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 exercise in shock tactics which displays a nervous fascination with the perversion it illustrates. It exploits fears and inhibitions for the lowest motives. It trades on the self-same kind of obsession that it relates."
- Alexander Walker, Evening Standard, 7 April 1960

"In the last three and a half months... I have carted my travel-stained carcass to 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."
- Len Mosley, Daily Express

What they have said since (quoted in Premiere, October 1999) ...

Derek Hill: "I've not seen Peeping Tom again, and I don't think my reaction would be very different. What I remember finding so abhorrent was that [Powell] seemed to relish toying with material that demanded a more responsible approach."

David Robinson: "I was one of the antis at the time, then I warmed to it and now I've gone a bit cold on it again. I think that at that time, 35 years ago, one was much more surprised, particularly in British films, by something which was so personal. To a perceptive eye it was quite an extrordinary piece of Sadism and up to that time there really hadn't been any overt expressions of kinkiness in the commercial cinema. It was more startling then. I think Sadism would still make me uneasy, as it did then, not because I object to the portrayal of Sadism - I love Bruñrl's L'Age d'Or - but because it was so personal and one felt like one was prying".

Alexander Walker: "If I were writing a review of the film today I would probably take a more sophisticated view of it, but I wouldn't essentially change my opinion because I do think that there is an unhealthy fascination with the material in the film. I saw it about a year ago and it jogged my memory about how they were going to make cuts in the film. I think some of the cuts might have made it a better film if they'd been left in because they may have provided a certain psychological validity that ought to be in the film."
[I wonder which cuts he's referring to? Alexander Walker was also interviewed about Peeping Tom for the documentary A Very British Psycho (on the Criterion DVD) and he kept referring to it as Britain's first "snuff movie". That's despite the fact that the only death we see is that of the killer.]

Reviews of Peeping Tom have always been mixed and confused. The New York Times ignored it in 1962, dismissed it in 1979, but in 1999 they decreed "visually elegant, endlessly perverse...its status as the kinkiest of cinema-conscious classics remains assured."

Back to index