Peeping Tom (1960)


(director: Michael Powell; screenwriter: Leo Marks; cinematographer: Otto Heller; editor: Noreen Ackland; cast: Carl Boehm (Mark), Moira Shearer (stand-in murder victim, Vivian), Anna Massey (Helen Stephens), Maxine Audley (Mrs. Stephens), Shirley Ann Field (Diane Ashley), Jack Watson (Inspector Gregg); Runtime: 109; Anglo Amalgamated; 1960-UK)
“This is a film about scoptophilia (voyeurism)…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Can you imagine that this innovative, creative film, a groundbreaker for its time, managed to virtually end the career of its great and noted director, as the subject’s sexual contents was too much to take for so many of the self-righteous film moguls of that time! This is a film about scoptophilia (voyeurism): the morbid urge to gaze at someone without their knowledge, or as it is more commonly called, being a Peeping Tom.

Mark Lewis (Carl) is a cameraman with a great psychological problem, he is fixated on taking pictures of females by pointing a spear at them and then having them watch themselves in a mirror as he kills them. His father was a scientist who experimented with Mark when he was young by filming him constantly, shining lights in his eyes to wake him from sleep, throwing lizards in his bed, and always testing his young son to see how he reacts to fear. When Mark’s mother dies, the father (Michael Powell plays this part in the home movies shown) quickly remarries upsetting the youngster even further. He gives Mark a camera as a gift, and this starts Mark’s obsession with voyeurism.

When his father dies, Mark inherits the house and he rents it out to an assortment of tenants. Coming home one evening, he finds that a 21st birthday party is being given for one of the tenants, Helen (Anna), who is strangely attracted to this very shy, awkward man, whom she doesn’t realize is the landlord. She visits him in his apartment and he takes her into his darkroom and shows her his ghastly home movies. And, even though, he acts very peculiar, she remains interested in him, and he shows that he likes her and will not harm her.

Meanwhile there is a murder that occurs in the same style as the previous one reported in the newspapers, where the victim has died with a dreaded look of fear. This one takes place in the film studio where Mark works as a focuser, which brings in the police to investigate.

Mark also works for a newsstand dealer, whereby he takes pictures of models who pose for him in sexually alluring ways. He murders one of the models knowing full well that the police are tailing him. Mark even films the police as they are closing in to catch him, and says that this is all part of the documentary he is shooting.

Mark Lewis is this pathetically gentle psychopath who has a compulsion to kill, brought on by his early childhood years. He cannot even be saved by love, as his compulsion to kill and die is stronger than anything else. This fascinating work is as intensely filmed as any thriller done by Hitchcock or Chabrol.