Why I Would Like To Kill Ida Lupino With A Camera Tripod
Universally reviled upon its release, Peeping Tom was the film that destroyed director Michael Powell’s career. Not that this is a bad thing, considering that had he not been stopped, Powell may have continued his run of sickeningly saccharine melodramas with co-director Emil Pressburger, and I’m about one female fainting spell or kissing couple in the park away from shooting up the local rep cinema. I don’t care how lush or sweeping these tear-jerking romantic epics are, I’ve had just about enough of people falling in love after shaking hands on a cruise ship in the West Indies, or bumping into one another outside a café in Vienna. Perhaps people were a little more emotionally fragile back then, or perhaps they mistook the word ‘love’ for ‘recognition’, but it takes me at least three weeks to decide if my date is better left alive, let alone when the wedding should be. Not that all of these 40’s romance clichés are all Powell’s fault, though his The Red Shoes and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp certainly shoulder part of the blame. David Lean and Douglas Sirk are equally guilty, but Powell really takes the cake. Even in Peeping Tom, a remarkably cruel picture about a voyeuristic serial killer, suffers from the same annoying tropes. Our psychotic killer hero is almost brought back from the brink of self-destruction by his love of the downstairs neighbor, whom we has wooed in a whirlwind courtship that spans about 12 hours. Not even Carmen Electra falls in love that fast, and she’s got the attention span of a fruit fly. Nevertheless, despite is occasional stumble into cliché, Peeping Tom is unlike anything else from the period. Firstly, the main character is a sympathetically shown serial killer. In a time before we were expected to buy Hannibal Lector as a hero, this broke new ground in cinema, clearing the way for a downward spiral of filmic nihilism that culminated in an Oscar-winning film about a man-hating serial killing hooker in Monster. That goodness for that. Also, Peeping Tom had a great deal to say about cinema itself, drawing parallels between the killer’s voyeurism and the act of film watching itself, which was an interesting premise until Brian DePalma adopted it as a life creed. Despite these interesting elements, the critics of the time couldn’t see past the murders, the gratuitous nudity, and the bleak depravity of the film, as opposed to now, when the film is hailed as a masterpiece of murder, gratuitous nudity, and bleak depravity. Oh, how far we’ve come.
The film that, alongside The Maltese Falcon, catapulted Humphrey Bogart to stardom is a rather disappointing caper flick, and although there is a great deal of interesting story elements, they are balanced out by some stunningly inept scripting decisions. Much like Clint Eastwood films, this makes me question whether or not the filmmakers are actually talented or just threw enough shit at the wall that some of it stuck. However, the pluses do out number the minuses, even if the minuses include one of those bumbling Negroes straight out of Song of the South and a key plot point that appears to revolve around a cursed Jack Russell terrier named Pud. Ida Lupino is great, and Bogie is always watchable, despite the fact that he sounds like Elmer Fudd most of the time. I find director Raoul Walsh also very capable, but I suspect that this may be because I get him confused with Rouben Mamoulian. The story follows Bogie as an newly released convict, hired to pull off a hotel heist in California. As usual for a caper flick made during the days of the Hays Production Code, it can only end in tragedy, but not before several subversive elements creep into the story. Lupino’s character, for example, starts out as a trashy gangster’s moll, paling in contrast to a young, innocent farmgirl with a club foot that Bogie meets and subsequently falls for. However, as the film progresses, Lupino’s star rises, kind of like a hooker with a heart of gold except without the back alley blowjobs, and the farm girl turns out to be not so innocent, though admittedly not in the kind of way that the porn industry would have you believe. This may not seem so unconventional now, what with our familiarity with film noir clichés and the fact that there hasn’t been a good movie made since 1960 and they just keeping filming the same damn ten scripts, but it still has some residual impact left in the viewing. Until, that is, the bumbling Negro shows up with his lazy eye, well-worn overalls and corn cob pipe to save the day with home-spun wisdom.