Moira Shearer

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Peeping Tom Review


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Movie critics in England didn't just pan Peeping Tom when it was released in 1960 - they eviscerated it. "The only really satisfactory way to dispose of Peeping Tom would be to shovel it up and flush it swiftly down the nearest sewer," one critic blared, joining a chorus of voices calling it "sick," "nasty," and "beastly." The film was pulled from theaters in less than a week, and the foofaraw all but ended director Michael Powell's big-screen career, which was built on outsize - and much more polite - successes like The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, his collaborations with Emeric Pressburger. It wasn't until the late '70s, when Martin Scorsese celebrated the film, that it began finding audiences again.

In most movie-business tales like this one, you can later look at the film in question and wonder what the fuss was all about. That's not the case here. Peeping Tom remains an intense, thoroughly disarming film about madness - not cackling, loony-bin madness, but the sort of insanity where the person is painfully aware of just what's cracked inside him. Psycho, to which this movie's often compared (they were released the same year) eventually reveals Norman Bates as utterly certifiable. That doesn't happen to Mark Lewis (a tremendous Carl Boehm), the handsome gent who spends his days as a focus puller at a film studio and his nights killing women - and filming the proceedings. Only until the very end is Lewis revealed as unsalvageable - until then, you're half rooting for the guy, and that's both the brilliance and the horror of the film.

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