Saturday, October 25, 2008

Who wants to be a pervert?

Karlheinz Böhm
Karlheinz Böhm in Peeping Tom

One of tonight's featured movies on TCM is the very interesting, and somewhat controversial, Peeping Tom, airing at 10:00 PM ET. Directed by Michael Powell, Peeping Tom tells the story of cinematographer Mark Lewis (played by Karlheinz Böhm) who has some secrets in his life. In addition to working for one of the London film studios, he's got a second job as a porn photographer, and a hidden interest on top of that: he rapes women and kills them, filming it all. It is this hidden interest that we first see at the beginning of the movie, and I can only imagine how shocking it must have been for movie audiences back in 1960 when the movie was made.

Unfortunately for Mark, his life is closing in on him in more ways than one: first, the police are naturally investigating the work of a serial killer, and slowly but surely, they're going to catch Mark. Perhaps worse for him, however, is that a young woman who is one of Mark's housemates (named Helen, and played by Anna Massey) has fallen in love with him. It's here that we begin to learn why Mark has turned out the way he did. His father was a scientist, performing experiments on him, and filming the results. Actually, he wasn't just filming the results; he was filming every aspect of poor Mark's life. It's easy to see how this could warp poor Mark's mind. Helen seems horrified but thinks she still loves Mark, while her mother has other ideas. The mother is blind, but she's one of the smart blind, able to see what other people can't see; although she can't see what's on those reels of film Mark is keeping in a spare room, she's figured out he's up to no good.

As I mentioned briefly above, Peeping Tom, in its presentation of a whole host of uncomforable topics -- rape, murder, and voyeurism just to name three -- was shocking for its time. Despite Michael Powell's fame, the movie shocked critics so much that the reviews were poor, and the British Board of Film Censors ordered quite a few cuts to the movie. It also made it impossible for Powell to get anybody to finance movies for him.

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