Peeping Tom, colour-blind

For some reason I suddenly became curious as to what Michael Powell and Leo Marks’ PEEPING TOM would look like in black and white.

Maybe this is partly because Powell’s forties and fifties films in Technicolor are so gorgeous. And PEEPING TOM, though shot by the gifted Otto Heller (THE LADYKILLERS, THE IPCRESS FILE), is in the grungier Eastmancolor process, and not half as beautiful. Arguably it shouldn’t be beautiful, as it’s a more squalid and grim story than, say, THE RED SHOES. But I think the moody, red-lit stuff was intended to be both sleazy and glamorous, and the muckiness of the image (not helped, probably, by the deterioration of the unstable film stock) detracts from that.


Monochrome gives the images a noir quality, doesn’t it? The location stuff gains a verité feel.

The gaudiness of the porn theme is definitely lessened, which is a loss. But it makes me think that, if it had been released in b&w, the film might not have attracted half as much critical opprobrium as it got. So we’d have lost some of the film’s transgressive ick factor, but Powell might have been able to make more movies. (Except that probably the film that really wrecked his career was THE QUEEN’S GUARDS, a major studio production which is really pretty terrible.)

Of course, we have to accept the film as it is. I was just curious. Now I’m wondering what other movies I might decolorize, like a roving anti-Ted Turner, with slimmer wallet.

16 Responses to “Peeping Tom, colour-blind”

  1. maddylovesherclassicfilms Says:

    I think the film would still have been disturbing and strange in Black and White. I think the Black and White effect certainly does give it a Noir quality.

  2. Danny Carr Says:

    In the early 90s I went to a Edinburgh University Film Society screening of BLACK NARCISSUS at George Square Theatre where they’d somehow ended up with a black and white print. An amazing novelty but I felt sorry for anybody who hadn’t seen it before.

  3. Love the experiment. It looks better to me

  4. Black Narcissus is practically ABOUT colour!

    Some of the shots in Peeping Tom are pretty dark (though the blacks are unpleasantly milky) and you need the different colours of light to read the image clearly. So I avoided those shots in my experiment, which is cheating of course.

  5. You were thinking of black and white because of “Psycho” — “Peeping Tom’s’ Evil Twin which was released at nearly the same time.

    “The Queen’s Guard” is indeed bad but Powell was already packing for Australia when it was released because the ruckus over “Tom” had rendered him unemployable in the UK.

  6. Mark Fuller Says:

    If you want to Monochromise ™ a colour noir how about Blade Runner ??? Any cut you choose…..

  7. I like your black-and-white version, but I recall seeing good prints of PEEPING TOM, and I like the color, too.

  8. In B&W the first photo of the eye recalls Falconetti in Dreyer’s PASSION.

  9. Psycho is being shown in Edinburgh at Halloween with the score played live.

    Blade Runner would work for sure, and might be interesting, but every frame of it already looks great. I’m wondering about Otto Heller’s other works…

  10. Paul Clipson Says:

    Your black & white PEEPING TOM eye harkens back to Siodmak’s THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE….

  11. bensondonald Says:

    Ever see “Movie Movie”? First half, a mock B movie about a fighter, was meant to be shot in B&W, but the studio insisted on color for the eventual TV sale. The cameraman had to light everything so it would work in color AND when the color was converted to B&W for the theatrical release.

    On a more mechanical level, the old B&W sitcom “Car 54 Where Are You?” shot exteriors on real streets. The show’s police cars were painted green and yellow so they wouldn’t be mistaken for real police cars; on film they read as classic black and whites.

  12. Prince’s “Under the Cherry Moon” was shot in color but released in Black and white.

  13. Nowadays nearly all b&w films are shot on colour stock — but, as I understand it, Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck used b&w stock for its 1920s scenes.

  14. […] enacted a little vandalism on PEEPING TOM a while back, speculating on what Michael Powell’s voyeuristic monsterpiece would look like […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: