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The Man Who Haunted Himself

Friday January 28, 2011 in 70s cinema |

Theatrical poster for The Man Who Haunted HimselfIt’s over a quarter of a century since I last watched the fondly remembered 1970 film The Man Who Haunted Himself. This is where Roger Moore plays Harold Pelham, a businessman who recovers from a near fatal car crash to discover that his life is being plagued by his exact, and slightly sinister, double. Based on the novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham by Anthony Armstrong, the film remains hugely enjoyable.

Pelham is a bowler-clad businessman, essentially very dull. Things become perplexing following the accident, and this is hinted at rather strongly with the momentary glimpse of two heartbeats on the distinctly 1970s hospital monitor. From here there’s a curious, well haunting, series of events with the sudden unseen presence of a second Mr Pelham; arranging, negotiating, playing around. It begins gradually when a buffoonish associate turns up at his house for drinks, although Pelham has no recollection of inviting him round. Similarly, he’s been playing rather well down at the snooker club. Or has he? He certainly can’t remember playing there. The film continues in this vein with Pelham convinced he has a cheeky double, and cheeky is all it is to begin with. Even following the revelation that Pelham 2 has a woman on the side it’s all rather untoward rather than threatening. And, technically, Pelham 2 isn’t married to Mrs Pelham – or is he? Whatever your moral stance, the film certainly goes nowhere near horror – the doppelganger isn’t a baddie in that sense. In fact the scariest scene in the film is when we see Roger Moore in his pajamas.

Moore’s trademark eyebrow raising is in vivid evidence during this film, used to its full potential to register Pelham’s surprise at what’s going on. He also calls the unfolding events “preposterous”, although with a beastly doppelganger doing the rounds “preposterous” might be an understatement. Perhaps a strain on his acting ability might be more apt, and Moore critics may comment that the only noticeable change to his usual acting style is the addition of a moustache. But more on that later. The acting, not the moustache.

Aware that he might be cracking up, especially following a crazed drive across pre-speed camera London in an attempt to confront his nemesis, Pelham enlists the aid of a psychiatrist, although this may not be the most sensible of moves as the psychiatrist is played by the great Freddie Jones. Jones gives one of his trademark eccentric performances, equipped with dark glasses and a suspect Scottish accent. So Jones doesn’t really help, and suggests that Pelham drop his favoured conservative suit and bowler in exchange for an outfit more in keeping with 1970. The choice of grey double breasted suit and pink shirt however proves to contribute to his downfall; after finally catching up with the pretend Pelham he is accused – rather obviously – of being the imposter. The real Mr Pelham wouldn’t dream of dressing like that…

The Man Who Haunted Himself comes just prior to The Persuaders! in the Roger Moore canon. It’s a rare example of Moore playing a character at odds with his more familiar screen persona. If the jokiness on The Persuaders! led into his tongue-in-cheek Bond, then this film is a rare stab of serious acting Roger Moore style. Despite the unintentional humour, I think he’s pretty good in the role. Moore is easy to mock, but the final scene where Pelham meets Pelham is genuinely unsettling thanks to his performance. Apart from Freddie Jones though, the supporting cast is a little underwhelming. Anton Rodgers pops up, although the only interesting thing he does is wear a very fine cravat. The ever reliable Thorley Walters is more welcome as the buffoonish associate.

The film, or at least the version I saw, has some inconsistencies. Halfway through procedures Pelham suddenly inherits a small Mediterranean manservant, which I would personally find more disturbing than encountering your own double in your home. The scene where it is revealed that Pelham 2’s business double dealing has actually resulted in things coming good for his company (Pelham 1 opposed a business merger, Pelham 2 does not) is oddly played twice. Perhaps in a bid to explain a confusing sub plot. I think we are meant to believe that ultimately Pelham 2 is the better sort, forging the better deal by being a little less, well, dull. Certainly, not to give too much away, he comes out on top…

Basil Dearden (who also worked on The Persuaders!) directs. His other notable films include The League of Gentleman and Victim from the early sixties. Later he let down his hair somewhat with The Assassination Bureau. In a horrible irony, Dearden was killed in a car crash shortly after completing The Man Who Haunted Himself. And very near to where it was shot. Spooky…

The Man Who Haunted Himself is essential late night viewing. It’s daft and cosy, and after watching you can potter on up to bed with the assurance that you are indeed yourself and not a doppelganger. Although you might want some reassurance by glancing in the mirror, registering your comfort with a minor raise of the eyebrow. Or at least have a stab at it. Harder than it looks, isn’t it?

I always think moore should done more comedy he had quite a talent and fairly good talent for making people laugh his bonds were so tongue in cheek ,all the best stu

stujallen    Friday January 28, 2011   

I think Moore’s Bonds have come back into fashion. They’re certainly the most amusing. The Connery ones look rather mannered now.

The Book Tower    Saturday January 29, 2011   

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