Peeping Tom

Peeping Tom

Come on, sonny; make us famous.

Well, now that we’ve spent some time with our families and indulged in the holiday spirit, let’s watch a film about a serial killer, shall we? Michael Powell is one half of one of my favorite directing finds from the list, Powell & Pressburger. Well, the pair would go their separate ways in 1957, which might’ve been for the best, as I’m not sure such a wholesome and respectable filmmaking duo would’ve taken the chance that Powell takes alone in making a film such as this. This film is such a dark film, both in the subject matter and in how it is presented, that watching it in light of the airy lighthearted fare that came earlier in his career is to subject yourself to a heck of a cinematic whiplash.

Carl Boehm is Mark Lewis, the titular voyeur and serial killer. His modus operandi: filming his victims as they meet their deaths through a spike attached to the end of one of the legs of his tripod. Specifically, it is the nature of fear that he hopes to capture, or as he puts it, is “making a documentary” on; an almost scientific obsession instilled in him by similar experiments done to him as a child by his psychologist father. There really isn’t much more to that plot than that; there’s the arbitrary romantic angle with one of the tenants of his house, Helen, that threatens to throw a wrench in the cold-heartedness of his killings, but it isn’t really built up or explored all that much. This one is just content to marinate in the mind of a serial killer, not even really exploring it, but just letting it be. Significant time is spent on delving into his past and why he is the way he is, but most of the running time is the lead-up to the actual killings themselves. For such a dark and morose film, the colors in this one were surprisingly vivid, popping out of the screen in ways almost the exact opposite of fellow 1960 serial killer film Psycho. The acting was also memorable; Carl Boehm plays Mark as almost a boy trapped in a man’s body, constantly hesitant when faced with any uncomfortable or unknown situation, yet headstrong and fierce when in more familiar and passionate territory.

This film proved to be such a change of pace for Michael Powell that critics eviscerated the film and caused fans to turn away from the theater, and Powell would never again have a major theatrical release of the kind that he used to have with Pressburger. It’s a sad reminder that, in the industry, you’re only as good as your last film; make a bomb, and it doesn’t matter how many hits you had. Still, even though he would have a handful of other low-key films after this one, this is still a pretty nice way to go out. The years have been far kinder to this film than a lot of other films of its kind, and the critical reassessment of this one is a shining example of posthumous redemption for the director. In hindsight, it might seem that this just fell through the cracks, overshadowed by Hitch’s far more popular and accessible work, but this is a pretty darn good film in its own right.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

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One thought on “Peeping Tom

  1. I prefer this film to Psycho. That might put me in the minority, but I stand by it. I like it better because it’s so much more audacious. In Psycho, we are forced to sympathize with the killer. In Peeping Tom, we sympathize with the killer while knowing that he’s the killer all along.

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