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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 Nicky Smith
Original at (Guardian website)

Don't blame the critics
Letter from Alexander Walker (one of the assassins of Peeping Tom)
in The Guardian, Friday March 17, 2000

Jonathan Romney is correct in asserting that the notorious Peeping Tom effectively ended Michael Powell's career (Stabbings in the dark, March 15). But it is unjust to impute the blame for this to the hostile critics of the film in 1960 - of whom I was one.

You do not seriously think a film which received such a barrage of notices attributing all manner of sensational perversions to it would have failed to be exploited as loudly and widely as possible by its distributor and exhibitors - or to find an audience? What killed Peeping Tom was the pressure brought to bear on Nat Cohen, boss of Anglo-Amalgamated, which produced and distributed the film in Britain, by members of his own trade.

A few days after Peeping Tom opened, the late Robert Clark, head of Associated British Picture Corporation, in whose ABC cinemas Peeping Tom was showing, told me at a Variety Club lunch: "We've put Nat in the doghouse until he gets rid of that piece of pornography."

The Variety Club was the film industry's establishment, as well as a major charity-raising machine, and its officers feared their chances of appearing in the honours list would be jeopardised by association with such a film. Within weeks, according to Powell's autobiography, Million-Dollar Movie, Nat Cohen, "scared out of his tiny mind" had "cancelled the British distribution". The film critics got the blame; Powell got effectively blacklisted for life; and Nat Cohen died without ever getting a knighthood.

Alexander Walker

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