Michael Latham Powell was a British film director, renowned for his partnership with Emeric Pressburger which produced a series of classic British films.
Powell began his career in films working in France before returning to England and becoming a stills photographer at Elstree Studios, working with Hitchcock on his final silent films — Champagne, The Manxman and Blackmail. In his biography, A Life in Movies, he recounts his early friendship with Hitchcock and claims to have suggested the chase ending for Blackmail. Powell was also a regular guest at the Hitchcocks country retreat in Shamley Green, Surrey, and the two remained friends throughout their subsequent careers.
Through the 1930s, Powell wrote and directed a number of "quota quickies" before directing the well-received The Edge of the World (1937), starring John Laurie, Belle Chrystall and Eric Berry.
In the 1940s Powell began his highly successful partnership with Pressburger, directing such classic films as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948).
In 1960, the same year Hitchcock released Psycho, Powell released his solo project Peeping Tom. Whereas Psycho became a huge box-office success, British critics slammed Powell's film and his career was severely damaged. Over time, however, Peeping Tom became a cult classic and is now regarded as a masterpiece — in his biography, Powell lamented, "I make a film that nobody wants to see and then, thirty years later, everybody has either seen it or wants to see it."
In his book on the film Vertigo (1958), film scholar Charles Barr discusses the links between that film and Peeping Tom, in particular noting the way both films begin with an extreme closeup of a terrified woman's eye.
It has been suggested that when Hitchcock saw the negative press reaction to Peeping Tom, he insisted that there would be no separate press screenings of Psycho. Although many film critics were unhappy with this arrangement and initially gave the film negative reviews, the positive word-of-mouth from early audiences was enough to ensure Psycho's success.
Powell's reputation was eventually restored by the 1980s, particularly due to the support of director Martin Scorsese who championed the director and raised funds to undertake restorations of his films.
Powell was married to American film editor Thelma Schoonmaker from 1984 until his death in 1990.
- Champagne (1928) - still photographer and set designer (uncredited)
- The Manxman (1929) - still photographer (uncredited)
- Blackmail (1929) - writer (uncredited)
- A Life in Movies (1986) by Michael Powell
Notes & References
- "Vertigo" - by Charles Barr (2012 edition)