Peeping Tom


Viewed – 28 January 2011  Blu-ray

50th Anniversary Edition

Michael Powell’s 1960 thriller was much maligned by critics at the time, referred to as ‘sick and filthy’, although many have now called it a misunderstood classic.  Looking on it now it feels tame considering the subject matter, but remains a very disturbing and effective experience.  Carl Boehm plays a quiet, nervous focus puller at a local film studio who supplements his income shooting glamour photographs at seedy Soho newsagent.  Yet following a troubled childhood where his scientist father used to film his every movement and play cruel tricks on him, he begins stalking and murdering beautiful women in an attempt to capture their last moment on film.

With plenty in common with Hitchcock’s much more celebrated Psycho, I found this a fascinating oddity in the history of British cinema.  Shot with a garish colour scheme and with theatrical, caricature performances, Powell’s film is both creepy and uncomfortably amusing.  Carl Boehm is certainly an unsettling presence, his dead-eyed stare chilling.  Supporting cast, although little more than set dressing fill the film with personality, and as an experience I found it very watchable and gripping, if a little ‘safe’.  In comparison to many a movie that followed, the violence is very restrained and the often sexualized women, severely lack any titillation factor, and nudity is (almost) non-existent.  Director’s such as Brian De Palma, Dario Argento etc would have had a gruesome field day with such material, but I actually think it is just as effective for being more subdued.   Powell’s direction is masterful, with some expert camera work and imaginative use of ‘what you imagine seeing is often much more horrible than what you do see’, creating something that definitely leaves its mark.  It feels very much of its time, hinting of course on what was to come during the 60s and 70s, what boundaries were to be pushed, and for that reason, it remains a milestone.

This restored 50th Anniversary edition boasts a vividly detailed picture even if the age of the movie does reveal itself in parts, and the mono 2.0 soundtrack is serviceable rather than outstanding.  Extras however are first-rate starting with a very informative introduction by Martin Scorsese, followed by an audio commentary from Powell historian Ian Christie, featurettes, a stills gallery and an interview with Thelma Schoonmaker.  A detailed booklet about the making of the movie is also included.

Verdict:  3 /5

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