Peeping Tom (1960)
I'm not sure why I decided to look at this film again; didn't care for it the first time I saw it years ago, but thought maybe I was missing something. And since it is Moira Shearer's birthday today, I thought I'd give it another try.
Turns out I was right the first time and am not at all on board with the recentish, mystifying opinion (imdb, Roger Ebert, Martin Scorsese) that the film was unjustly trashed when it came out and is, in fact, another masterpiece about the nature of film by Michael Powell. It's just not.
I've decided to put most of the blame on Carl (Karlheinz) Boehm, the actor playing the homicidal weirdo. I get what the film is supposed to do -- challenge the audience to confront its own voyeurism by watching this thoroughly damaged cameraman murder women with a knife fixed to the end of the tripod holding the camera that is filming the murder. But what girl in post-war London wouldn't run far, far away from a blond guy with a camera and trench coat who talks like Peter Lorre (but really really slowly) and doesn't blink?
Mark Lewis, the killer Peeping Tom, is a shy, freaky young man who lives in and lets rooms in his childhood home, where his "scientist" father conducted psychosexual experiments on him and documented it all on film for posterity. Mark, all (well not all) grown up, films everything all the time — including the occasional hooker he's in the middle of murdering — and develops the footage in his rooms. Mark is befriended by one of his boarders, Helen (Anna Massey), a young children's book writer. Helen's blind and drunk mother (Maxine Audley), not being able to see, just knows there is something reaaaaallly wrong with Mark, because she hears him watching films night after night in his room (and the blind are magic). Mark has murdered (and filmed) a stand-in (Moira Shearer) at the movie studio he works in and Helen's mother confronts him while he's replaying the movie. Yet he doesn't kill her; there's no fun in filming someone who can't appreciate that you're murdering them at the time. She suggests he get some help.
Eventually, Helen also sees the movie (one of the best sequences, actually: Anna Massey reacting to what she's watching) and is surprised by Mark who admits what he is and what he's done. Blah blah, father tortured him, blah, police bang on door, blah, he kills himself with his own camera/weapon, blah blah.
Apart from a few really nicely framed scenes in Powell's trademark hyper-saturated color, this film isn't very good. Even otherwise fine actors come off cartoony or wooden. Most of the action is accompanied by the plink-plonk of some musician's idea of what "nuts" sounds like on a piano, which doesn't help at all.
Ah well. Happy birthday, anyway, lovely Moira Shearer. Maybe this would have been better as a musical, like Tales of Hoffman.