Released: 1960 by Michael
Produced by: Michael Powell
Screenplay: Leo Marks
Starring: Carl Boehm,
Anna Massey, Maxine Audley, Moira Shearer, Esmond Knight, Shirley
Anne Field, Jack Watson, Nigel Davenport, Martin Miller, Miles
Malleson, Pamela Green, Susan Travers, Bartlett Mullins, Michael
Music: Brian Easdale and
Directed by: Michael Powell
Until very recently, it was not possible for the average person
to compare Peeping Tom to Psycho. For more than three decades,
the former film was lost in a cinematic purgatory, having been
relegated to that fate by the demigod critics who found it wanting.
Thanks to the efforts of Martin Scorcese, who rescued Peeping
Tom from its untimely fate, we can now compare the merits of each
Director Alfred Hitchcock deliberately chose a black and white
milieu in which to film Psycho, perhaps in a tribute to the great
Universal Pictures horror films. Director Michael Powell, like
Britain.s Hammer Studios, chose a vivid color palette to express
Peeping Tom.s scenes of horror. There.s also a difference in
cultural style between the two films. Psycho is every inch an American
film, while Peeping Tom is peculiarly British. As an American,
I am conscious of this as I watch each of the films. It may go
a long way toward explaining the reaction of the British critics
to Peeping Tom. They were coming at it from a whole different cultural
direction. One has to wonder what they thought of Psycho when it
came to Britain
Powell starts Peeping Tom with a bang.
We witness a murder from the vantage point of the killer [Carl
Boehm] as the film opens. Boehm looks clean-cut and innocent,
and seems so tormented, that he develops a great deal of sympathy
in the viewer. We find it hard to believe that he is a stone-cold
murderer. Without using a single outright shock, director Powell
nevertheless causes us to squirm in our seats at the intensity
of watching a psychotic mind at work. The pace is indeed slower
but all the more arduous for its leisurely exposure of depravity.
The ending is far more final, since the killer dies (unlike Psycho
where the killer merely winds up in an asylum). Perhaps Powell
did not want any possibility of a sequel to exist. Psycho, as
you may recall, spawned two inferior sequels.
The British critics
made much of how utterly despicable Peeping Tom was. Because
of Peeping Tom, Powell became a pariah and never really worked
as a director in Britain again. Yet, put it alongside the horror
films of today, its thrills seem mild. Perhaps Peeping Tom offered
too unblinking a look into the aberrant, psychotic mind. Maybe
the British critics found some intrinsic core of decadence in the
subject matter of Peeping Tom, while the more freewheeling American
critics enjoyed Psycho.s less psychoanalytical roller coaster thrills.
I feel, however, that the hysteria over Peeping Tom was unwarranted.
Peeping Tom is known to many by a very brief appearance of the
model/actress Pamela Green. Though her screen time is very limited,
she.s a memorable presence. Michael Powell approached her for
the film due to her large oeuvre of nude photography and because
she would, unlike her female peers in the film, do an actual nude
scene. The scene in question is extremely brief, given the year
of its release but it adds an unforgettable touch of realism to
the film. It.s too bad Pamela wasn.t allowed more screen time,
for she certainly seemed to be as accomplished an actor as anyone
else in the film.
Peeping Tom is a treat for any serious horror
fan. A well thought out plot, combined with masterful direction,
make the film a satisfying experience. I suppose some more time
must pass before Peeping Tom can rightfully take its place beside
Psycho. It is certainly as well crafted a film. It cost Michael
Powell his cinematic career to create his unique vision of horror.
I think Peeping Tom deserves a chance with today.s horror audience.
Watch Peeping Tom and Psycho together and enjoy some good, old-fashioned
thrills from both sides of The Pond.