Peeping Tom

views updated May 14 2018


UK, 1960

Director: Michael Powell

Production: Anglo Amalgamated; Eastmancolor, 35mm, running time: 109 minutes, other versions include 90 minutes and 86 minutes. Released April 1960, London.

Producers: Michael Powell with Albert Fennell; screenplay: Leo Marks; photography: Otto Heller; editor: Noreen Ackland; sound: C. C. Stevens and Gordon McCallum; art director: Arthur Lawson; set decorator: Ivor Beddows; music: Brian Easdale.

Cast: Karl Boehm (Mark Lewis); Moira Shearer (Vivian); Anna Massey (Helen Stephens); Maxine Audley (Mrs. Stephens); Esmond Knight (Arthur Baden); Bartlett Mullins (Mr. Peters); Shirley Ann Field (Diane Ashley); Michael Goodliffe (Don Jarvis); Brenda Bruce (Dora); Martin Miller (Dr. Rosan); Pamela Green (Milly); Jack Watson (Inspector Gregg); Nigel Davenport (Sergeant Miller); Brian Wallace (Tony); Susan Travers (Lorraine); Maurice Durant (Publicity chief); Brian Worth (Assistant director); Veronica Hurst (Miss Simpson); Miles Malleson (Elderly gentleman); Alan Rolfe (Store detective); Michael Powell (Mr. Lewis); John Dunbar.



Gough-Yates, Kevin, Michael Powell, London, 1971.

Durgnat, Raymond, Films and Feelings, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1971.

Durgnat, Raymond, A Mirror for England, London, 1971.

Christie, Ian, editor, Powell, Pressburger, and Others, London, 1978.

Armes, Roy, A Critical History of British Cinema, New York, 1978.

Cosandey, Roland, editor, Retrospective: Powell and Pressburger, Locarno, 1982.

Gottler, Fritz, and others, Living Cinema: Powell and Pressburger, Munich, 1982.

Christie, Ian, Arrows of Desire: The Films of Michael Powell andEmeric Pressburger, London, 1985.

Martini, Emanuela, editor, Powell and Pressburger, Bergamo, 1986.

Powell, Michael, A Life in Movies: An Autobiography, London, 1986.

Cintra Ferreira, Manuel, Michael Powell, Lisbon, 1992.

Howard, James, Michael Powell, North Pomfret, 1996.

Salwolke, Scott, The Films of Michael Powell and the Archers, Lanham, 1997.


Green, O. O., "Michael Powell: Filmography," in Movie (London), Autumn, 1965.

Chamberlin, Phillip, in Film Society Review (London), January 1966.

Gough-Yates, Kevin, "Private Madness and Public Lunacy," in Films and Filming (London), February 1972.

Collins, R., and Ian Christie, "Interview with Michael Powell: The Expense of Naturalism," in Monogram (London), no. 3, 1972.

Romer, J. C., in Ecran (Paris), July-August 1973.

Renaud, Tristan, in Cinéma, (Paris), October 1976.

Humphries, Reynold, "Peeping Tom: Voyeurism, the Camera, and the Spectator," in Film Reader (Evanston, Illinois), no. 4, 1979.

Stein, E., "A Very Tender Film, a Very Nice One: Michael Powell's Peeping Tom," in Film Comment (New York), September-October 1979.

Canby, Vincent, in New York Times, 14 October 1979.

Sarris, Andrew, in Village Voice, (New York), 15 October 1979.

Sayre, N., in Nation (New York), 10 November 1979.

Johnson, V., "Peeping Tom: A Second Look," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1980.

McDonough, Maitland, "The Ambiguities of Seeing and Knowing in Michael Powell's Peeping Tom," in Film Psychology Review (New York), Summer-Fall 1980.

Thomson, David, "Mark of the Red Death," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1980.

Dubois, P., "Voir, la mort, ou l'effet-Méduse de la photographie au cinéma," in Review Belge du Cinéma (Brussels), Summer 1983.

Powell, Michael, "Leo Marks and Mark Lewis," in Cinématographe (Paris), December 1983.

Dumont, P., in Cinéma (Paris), January 1984.

Revault D'Allonnes, F., in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1984.

Findley, J., in Film Comment (New York), May-June 1990.

Morris, N. A., "Reflections on Peeping Tom," in Movie (London), Winter 1990.

Bourget, E., "Colonel Blimp; Le voyeur," in Positif (Paris), no. 379, September 1992.

Bick, Ilsa J., "The Sight of Difference," in Persistence of Vision (Maspeth), no. 10, 1993.

Redman, Nick, and Tomm Carrol, and Ted Elrick, "They're Baaack: More Definitive Laser Versions," in DGA Magazine (Los Angeles), vol. 19, no. 5, October-November 1994.

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Wollen, Peter, "Dying for Art," in Sight & Sound (London), vol. 4, no. 12, December 1994.

Schundt, T., "The Films of Nat Cohen and Stuart Levy," in Delirious (Cleveland Heights), no. 4, 1995.

Jivani, Alkarim, "Fantastic Voyeur," in Time Out (London), no. 1422, 19 November 1997.

Massumi, B., "To Kill is Not Enough: Gender as Cruelty," in Continuum, vol. 11, no. 2, 1997.

Singer, James, "England's Glamour Parade," in Outré (Evanston), vol. 1, no. 7, 1997.

Maslin, Janet, "Next to This, Norman Looks Sane," in New YorkTimes, 29 January 1999.

* * *

Almost the most remarkable thing about Peeping Tom is the critical reception it provoked. This film, disingeniously described by its director Michael Powell as "a very tender film, a very nice one," was uniformly abused in its own country. Derek Hill's infamous claim that "the only really satisfactory way to dispose of Peeping Tom would be to shovel it up and flush it swiftly down the nearest sewer" may have been the most violent of critical assessments, but it was all too typical. Powell's career as a feature-film director never recovered from the assault, and the road to critical re-assessment of Peeping Tom has been long and hard. Anyone concerned with the whys and wherefores of this process need look no further than Ian Christie (ed.) Powell Pressburger and Others, where the nature of the affront Powell offered to orthodox criticism is clearly analyzed. Peeping Tom was only the climactic case in a long series.

None of this is to suggest, however, that Peeping Tom is not a disturbing movie. In narrative alone it is immediately problematic: any story about a man who murders women with the sharpened leg of a tripod, filming them as they die, is likely to attract adverse attention. When the young man in question is played straight, as someone with whom we are invited to empathise, and not as some rolling eyed gothic horror, then the difficulties are redoubled. How can we empathise with such perverse pleasures? And when the film-maker involved is such a well-established talent, how can we reconcile his presumed "seriousness" with what is conventionally the subject for a shocker?

Today such difficulties would not be quite as pressing as they were in 1960. Ranges of acceptability have widened, and the line between Art and Exploitation is no longer so easily drawn. Yet even today Peeping Tom is genuinely disturbing. For all our familiarity with violent movie murder, with sexuality, with the psychology of perversion, Powell's movie can still leave a spectator profoundly uneasy. For Peeping Tom refuses to let us off the hook after the fashion of so many horrific movies. Its elaborate structure of films within films implicates us as spectators in the voyeurism that fuels Mark's violence. We see the murders through his viewfinder; later we see them on screen as he projects them for his pleasure. We see his father's filmed record of experiments on the young Mark, experiments which have turned him into a voyeuristic killer. We see the movie studio where he works, the setting where he will murder (of all people) Moira Shearer, star of Powell's The Red Shoes. As the internal cross-references multiply (and they are endless) the implication insinuates itself into our awareness. In watching film, all film, the pleasures that we take are finally no different to Mark's; the gap between his and our voyeurism is too small for comfort.

It was Powell's misfortune to make Peeping Tom at a time when commitment to a one-dimensional notion of realist cinema was at its height. Peeping Tom, like all of Powell's cinema, is founded on a highly self-conscious manipulation of film itself, and it is impossible here to do justice to the resonating visual complexity of films like A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, and, of course, Peeping Tom. In this cinema it is the medium that is the source of pleasure and the focus of attention, not some instantly apparent moral ingredient. Peeping Tom turns that cinematic awareness back on itself, offering aesthetic satisfactions along with their disturbing implications. It is a film that is paramountly about cinema, about the experience of cinema, a film which makes voyeurs of us all. That is genuinely disturbing.

—Andrew Tudor

Peeping Tom

views updated May 17 2018

Peeping Tom ★★★½ Face of Fear; The Fotographer of Panic 1960

Controversial, unsettling thriller in which psychopath Mark Lewis (Boehm) lures women before his film camera, then records their deaths at his hand. Unnerving subject matter is rendered impressively by British master Powell, who plays the part of Mark's abusie father who's shown in home movies tormenting the boy. A classic of its kind, but definitely not for everyone. Critical brickbats effectively derailed Powell's career and the original uncut version was not released until 1979. 88m/C VHS, DVD . GB Karl-Heinz Boehm, Moira Shearer, Anna Massey, Maxine Audley, Esmond Knight, Shirley Anne Field, Brenda Bruce, Pamela Green, Jack Watson, Nigel Davenport, Susan Travers, Veronica Hurst, Martin Miller, Miles Malleson, Michael Powell; D: Michael Powell; W: Leo Marks; C: Otto Heller; M: Brian Easdale.

Peeping Tom

views updated Jun 11 2018

Peeping Tom the man said to have watched Lady Godiva ride naked through Coventry; his character is in fact a 17th-century addition to the story. From the late 18th century, peeping Tom has been used to denote a person who gets sexual pleasure from secretly watching people undressing or engaging in sexual activity; in the US, an act outlawing intrusive voyeurism is known as a peeping Tom statute.

peeping Tom

views updated May 29 2018

peep·ing Tom • n. a person who gets sexual pleasure from secretly watching people undressing or engaging in sexual activity.