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.

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Submitted by Roger Mellor

All Movie Guide Reviews

Michael Powell's controversial meditation on violence and voyeurism effectively destroyed his career when it was first released, but later generations have come to regard it as a masterpiece. Karl-Heinz Boehm stars as Mark, the son of a psychologist who kept a video journal of the boy's upbringing for research purposes. The constant intrusions profoundly affected the boy, who grew up to be a photographer himself; but his principal subject matter consists of women whom he murders before the camera. He then runs the films of his victims in their final throes so that he can study their reactions to death-a perverse extension of his father's experiments, which tormented Mark to analyze his reactions to raw fear. The British press had long been hostile to the unorthodox films of Powell and his partner Emeric Pressburger; when Peeping Tom came around, they used the film to castigate him as "sick" and tawdry. The passage of time has proven Peeping Tom as profound and accomplished as any of Powell's earlier films, and it ranks with Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958) as a landmark exploration of the links among voyeurism, violence, and male sexual desire. Powell himself plays the evil father in the flashback sequences, and his son Colomba plays Mark as a child.
- Hal Erickson

It takes a pretty special film to destroy the career of one of Britain's greatest directors practically overnight, and Peeping Tom is just that sort of film. While its content isn't terribly shocking by today's standards (at least compared to the floodgates of gore opened by Blood Feast a few years later), psychologically Peeping Tom has lost little (if any) of its original, disturbing impact. Director Michael Powell, with tongue slightly in cheek, once described Peeping Tom as a film about a film fan, and behind Powell's jest lies the key to the film's impact. Mark Lewis (Karl-Heinz Boehm) is a murderous voyeur who obsessively films the deaths of young women (whom he stabs with the sharpened leg of a tripod); in the first few minutes, as we watch one woman's agonies through the viewfinder of Mark's camera, Powell forces us to watch Mark's crimes through his own eyes. And later, as Karl views the deadly images projected onto a screen in rapt silence, we see an unpleasant reflection of ourselves; if the appeal of the cinema is to a large degree voyeuristic, as the camera allows us to silently observe the lives of the figures on screen, then Mark Lewis is the ultimate extension of the ugly side of the filmgoing experience, taking erotic pleasure in the pain and fear of the people he films, and Powell is all too willing to indicate the audience's complicity as they follow Mark's actions. And while the standards of its day imposed certain limits on Powell, Peeping Tom doesn't shy away from a clear focus on the fetishistic voyeurism inherent in the story: Mark supplements his career as a focus puller by doing cheesecake photography (at a time when the legality of girlie magazines was still questionable in England); one bit of comic relief is pegged on a timid man's buying under-the-counter pornography from a tobacconist; and the U.K.'s most famous nude model of the day, Pamela Green, appears in a small role (the relative equivalent of, say, giving Linda Lovelace a supporting role in Frenzy). While Powell carefully documents the emotional conditions that made Mark what he is, he also clearly intimates that his twisted psyche merely amplifies (and distorts) the voyeuristic impulse that lurks in us all, making Mark Lewis unexpectedly sympathetic and the audience an unwitting accomplice in his crimes. While often compared to Psycho, another ground-breaking terror film of the same year, Peeping Tom is a more daring and audacious film than Alfred Hitchcock's masterful whodunit, and it has more in common with Hitchcock's Rear Window. An unusually frank and non-judgmental portrayal of deviant psychology and sexuality (Mark's actions are not condoned, but he's more a tragic victim than a villain), the film asks questions and raises issues guaranteed to make nearly any audience uncomfortable.
- Mark Deming

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