Peeper gets off to a good start, with a Humphrey Bogart look alike standing on a dark street corner and reading the opening credits in a reasonable approximation of Bogart’s unmistakable voice. It all goes down hill from there.
Peeper stars Michael Caine as Leslie C. Tucker, a cockney private detective who is working in Los Angeles in the late 40s. Tucker is hired by a shady businessman named Anglich (Michael Constantine). Anglich explains that he knows that he has a daughter but he doesn’t know who or where she is. He wants Tucker to track her down. It doesn’t take much time for Tucker to conclude that Anglich’s daughter might be a member of the wealthy and quirky Pendergrast family. In fact, Tucker thinks that Anglich’s daughter might be Ellen Pendergrast (Natalie Wood, who seems to be bored with the role). It should be a simple enough case to solve but there are numerous complications along with two thugs (played by Timothy Carey and Don Calfa) who, for some reason, are out to get Anglich and Tucker.
It’s hard to know what to make of Peeper. It’s meant to be an homage to the detective films of the 40s but it also tries to parody the genre. Unfortunately, Peter Hyams has never been a director known for his light touch and, in this film, his idea of comedy is to have everyone shout their lines. (Michael Constantine is the worst offender.) Michael Caine is also miscast in the lead. The film tries to get some comedic mileage out of Caine delivering Bogart-style dialogue in his cockney accent but it’s a joke that’s never as funny as the film seems to think.
Peeper was a critical and box office failure but fortunately, there were better things in store for both Michael Caine and Peter Hyams. Hyams went on to direct Capricorn One while Michael Caine established himself as one of the most durable character actors around.