Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Directed by Michael Powell and written by Leo Marks, Peeping Tom is the story of a man who kills women through a camera to capture their expression of terror. The film is a suspense thriller that explores the world of voyeurism and obsession through the mind of a man carrying a film camera. Starring Carl Boehm, Moira Shearer, Anna Massey, Maxine Audley, Pamela Green, and Esmond Knight. Peeping Tom is a provocative yet unsettling film from Michael Powell.
The film explores the life of a troubled young man who stalks women and kills them for his own viewing pleasure as he befriends a young woman who lives in his house with her mother. It’s a film that follows the life of this young man who was the son of a renowned yet cruel psychiatrist who made his son his own lab rat to study the concept of fear. All of those experiments has seeped into the mind of Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) who lives in his family home all by himself while renting rooms to people as he spends most of his time working as a focus puller for a filmmaker and doing photography for nudie magazines. Upon meeting his tenant Helen (Anna Massey) on her 21st birthday, he is reluctant to have a friendship with her as he is still eager to kill women and film their deaths as an investigation occurs.
Leo Marks’ screenplay is full of complexities as well as some unique character study into who Mark Lewis is as this young man that wants to become a filmmaker but is troubled by his past as he is also sexually repressed. His fascinating with women and their sex appeal has him wanting them but his own sexual repression leads to having them killed and film it as if he is capturing the same fear that his father had inflicted. Upon meeting Helen, he is charmed by her upbeat nature but is also unsure if he wants to have a relationship as Helen’s blind mother (Maxine Audley) is suspicious about Mark. Once the murders start to become more public knowledge, a chief inspector (Jack Watson) ponders what is going on as he has suspicions about Lewis. All of points to many intricacies over Lewis’ own state of mind as Helen wonders why he is so secretive about his life as she tries to get him to be more outgoing.
Michael Powell’s direction is very interesting in the way he opens the film where it’s shot from Lewis’ point of view as he is holding his camera to stalk his victim. The way the camera zooms slowly into a close-up to showcase the kill is very unique where Powell never shows a character be killed but rather the aftermath where the body is as it leads to the sense of mystery for an inspector to try and figure out. Much of Powell’s direction is quite simple with its close-ups and medium shots as well as explore some of the things that goes in filmmaking as Lewis is working for a director who is trying to make a very mediocre comedy. There’s some humor in the way Powell creates the idea of a comedy as it is the absolute opposite of the film that Lewis is creating which is full of terror but also has the feel of something that is very personal.
Powell’s direction also has this sense of danger in the way he would create these suspenseful moments where Lewis would kill someone. It’s clear that Powell wants the audience to know what is going to happen but it’s the way he sets it up and maintaining that sense of unpredictability that is really intriguing to watch. Most notably a scene where Lewis meets with Helen’s mother who is very suspicious about his activities where it is clear that she knows how troubled Lewis is and who his father is. It adds an ambiguity into whether Lewis could find redemption or fall into his own troubled mind. Overall, Powell creates a very harrowing yet mesmerizing film about a serial killer whose obsession with capturing fear forces him to face his own fears.
Cinematographer Otto Heller does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography as it is full of color and some unique lighting schemes to play into some of the film‘s nighttime interior/exterior scenes to create some moods in the suspenseful moments of the film. Editor Noreen Ackland does superb work with the editing as it features some unique dissolves as well as some rhythmic cuts to play into its suspense and terror. Art director Arthur Lawson does brilliant work with the set design as it features the look of the film sets as well as the rooms that Lewis lives in.
The dresses that Helen wears are made by Polly Peck to showcase her good-natured persona while John Tullis designs the clothes that the stand-in Vivian wears to play into more her extroverted personality. Sound editor Malcolm Cooke does fantastic work with the sound to create some tension and terror in some of the film‘s suspenseful moments as it is a major highlight of the film. The film’s music by Brian Easdale is amazing as it features this very eerie and often dissonant piano score to play into its dark tone while there’s jazz pieces in the film that adds an offbeat element to the film’s music as it’s another of the film’s highlights.
The film’s marvelous cast features some notable small roles from Michael Powell through film footage as Lewis’ father, Powell’s son Columba as the young Lewis, Martin Miller as a psychologist hired by the police, John Barrard as Lewis’ boss at the newsstand, Shirley Anne Field as the starring actress in the film Lewis is working on, and Miles Malleson as an elderly man at the newsstand who is trying to hide what he’s buying. Other notable small roles include Esmond Knight in a terrific role as a film director trying to create a comedy, Jack Watson as a chief inspector trying to solve the case as he suspects Lewis, and Pamela Green is superb as a model who often poses in the nudie magazines that Lewis works for. Moira Shearer is fantastic as the stand-in Vivian who is eager to become a major actress as she asks Lewis for help.
Maxine Audley is amazing as Helen’s blind mother as a woman who can observe a person by the way he walks and such as she is suspicious about Lewis as she becomes concerned for her daughter’s well-being as well as realizing Lewis’ own sense of repression and troubled state of mind. Anna Massey is excellent as Helen as a young woman who is intrigued by Lewis as she befriends him as well as try to understand as she is a representation of innocence that entrances Lewis but also scares him. Finally, there’s Carl Boehm in a remarkable performance as Mark Lewis as a troubled aspiring filmmaker who is obsessed with capturing fear through film as he falls for his new tenant as he struggles with who he is and hiding his secrets.
Peeping Tom is a phenomenal film from Michael Powell. Armed with a great cast as well as chilling score, the film is definitely one of the most overlooked suspense films of the 1960s as well as a film that never got its due in its original release. Especially as it still has this sense of shock as well as being very dangerous which makes the film very timeless. In the end, Peeping Tom is an outstanding film from Michael Powell.
Powell/Pressburger Films: The Spy is Black - (The Lion Has Wings) - Contraband - (An Airman’s Letter to His Mother) - 49th Parallel - One of Our Aircraft is Missing - The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp - (The Volunteer) - A Canterbury Tale - I Know Where I'm Going! - A Matter of Life and Death - Black Narcissus - The Red Shoes - The Small Black Room - (Gone to Earth) - The Tales of Hoffman - (Oh… Rosalinda!!!) - (The Battle of the River Plate) - Ill Met by Moonlight - (They’re a Weird Mob) - (Age of Consent) - (The Boy Who Turned Yellow)
© thevoid99 2013
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I've been wanting to see this for a while. Great review.
It was on TCM recently as I DVR'd the film and I knew I had to see it. The transfer wasn't great but it was still engrossing to watch. I really hope Criterion puts it out next year w/ a newly restored print.
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