The Man Who Haunted Himself - Roger Moore's Finest Hour?

The Man Who Haunted Himself Moore

The Man Who Haunted Himself is a cult 1970 British film directed by Basil Dearden and based on the novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham by Anthony Armstrong and an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that previously adapted the story. The film is an intriguing and overlooked psychological thriller with a supernatural atmosphere and stars future James Bond Roger Moore as a successful but uptight and work obsessed businessman called Harold Pelham. Driving home from his job in the city one afternoon, Pelham has a very bad car accident that leaves him fighting for his life and a strange incident duly occurs in the hospital. Pelham is declared momentarily dead and two hearts briefly flicker on his monitor but he recovers and returns home, eventually resuming his job again after a short break abroad. Back at work though, some very odd things soon start to occur in Harold's life. Colleagues keep mentioning meetings or conversations they've had with him that Pelham has no memory of whatsoever and he is even told he's apparently agreed to a merger of the company despite being adamant he made no such decision. Pelham is more perplexed than ever when informed he was clearly seen playing billiards in London on a day when he knows for a fact he was recuperating in Spain. As these incidents escalate it almost appears to Pelham that he has a strange double or imposter who always seems to be one step ahead of him and who somehow represents the more wild and suppressed nature of his personality, causing all manner of mayhem to his own life. Is Pelham going mad? The victim of an elaborate practical joke? Or does he really have a malevolent doppelganger attempting to take over his life? 

The Man Who Haunted Himself is undoubtedly Roger Moore's finest hour outside of his long stint in the tuxedo and safari suit as James Bond and this likable and absorbing Twilight Zone style mystery shows that the oft-maligned and rather self-deprecating star was in reality always a lot better than he or anyone else ever gave him credit for when actually required to do some acting. It's no surprise that Moore has always spoken of The Man Who Haunted Himself in fond terms and considers it one of his very best roles and pictures. He gives a surprisingly skillful and natural performance here as the increasingly confused and rattled Pelham and makes the plight of the central character both believable and moving at times. It's great to see the actor, in his suave prime just a few years prior to landing the Bond role for 1973's Live and Let Die, in such a dark, eerie and enjoyable film and you just know The Man Who Haunted Himself is going to be a lot of fun right from the start when some funky seventies music opens the film to shots of Roger driving his sleek little sports car past some famous London landmarks.

The car crash that occurs very early in the film is enjoyably strange and slightly delirious as we see Roger Moore looking increasingly nutty and maniacal behind the wheel and dangerously upping his speed on the motorway, hinting at the repression of a personality who is not the staid, ordinary Harold Pelham but a more reckless version. The brief hospital scenes are nicely atmospheric too with a vaguely surreal and psychedelic tinge. In terms of mood, The Man Who Haunted Himself is not a million miles away from one of those episodes of Hammer House of Horror or Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense but much slicker and more polished and without the campy horror elements.

A strength of the film I think is that it seems to use some real locations rather than be too studio bound and constricted. You get a good authentic sense of London and a nice British atmosphere with plenty of shots of the Thames and the pin-striped boardroom shenanigans always feel quite realistic. The world of gentlemen's clubs, billiard rooms, scotches and wood paneling depicted here is quite charming in its own dated way and Roger Moore, with mustache, is certainly believable as a suave well-heeled business type. The world the film inhabits is an ordinary one and it gives the central mystery more resonance as Pelham's refined and ordered universe begins to be shattered and torn apart. There is a real sense of paranoia in the film at times as Moore struggles to work out what exactly is going on. Other great things about the office and boardroom scenes are Anton Rogers who provides good support as Tony Alexander, Pelham's work colleague and confidant, and Thorley Walters as Pelham's cheery friend Frank.

Basil Dearden, who was of course involved in the supernatural Ealing classic Dead of Night, does a great job here in slowly amping up the tension and psychological strain on Pelham and the film works well by developing at its own pace. I also like the way the film goes for a more realistic approach rather than descend into cheap shocks or straight ahead horror. The Man Who Haunted Himself is genuinely gripping as Pelham's double exerts more and more influence on his life and the sequences where Pelham arrives somewhere and is informed he was already there only minutes previously are suitably creepy. You are always curious to get to the heart of mystery and follow Pelham as he tries to make sense of it all with the theme of loss of identity an absorbing and slightly unsettling concept here. Most of all though you want Pelham to catch-up with his apparent doppelganger and the film uses this angle very well as Moore's character desperately tries to make their paths cross and meet this strange imposter for himself. 

Alastair Mackenzie also does a good job as Moore's wife Eve in the film when the wild antics of the apparent duplicate begin to affect Pelham's home life in various ways. "I'd like to do something reckless," says the bored Eve, who we suspect would find the Pelham doppelganger a lot more interesting than the work obsessed real thing. Roger Moore is very good too in a touching scene where he is utterly bewildered to meet Julie (Olga Georges-Picot), a woman who he has apparently been having an affair with and who knows him well - despite him not having any memory of her whatsoever. Georges-Picot, who will always be the statuesque Countess Woody Allen comically attempts to seduce in Love and Death to me, is well cast in the film, as is Freddie Jones as Dr Harris, a psychiatrist Pelham consults.

The Man Who Haunted Himself is a very entertaining and gripping mystery with a spooky atmosphere and nice direction by Basil Dearden. It has a nice supporting cast, good music and gives Roger Moore his best ever role outside of James Bond. A fun little British film that has been somewhat forgotten over the years and is well worth watching.

- Jake 


c 2009 Alternative 007