Roger Moore Shows His Dark Side: The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)

THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF, Hildegarde Neil, Roger Moore, 1970

To view The Man Who Haunted Himself click here.

A couple of weeks back I took a look at a neglected but stunning early entry in the career of Basil Dearden, Frieda(1947), and now it’s time to go all the way to the other end of his career with his very last feature film: The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970). Made hot on the heels of Dearden’s rapid-fire cult favorite The Assassination Bureau (1969), this is a stylish and deadly serious little semi-supernatural thriller whose reputation has continued to improve over the years.

Of course it’s also tough to watch this film without looking back at the career of star Roger Moore, who just left us a few months ago. Still three years away from becoming the big screen’s third James Bond with Live and Let Die (1973), he’s often given short shrift as an actor and had quite a bit more range than most people realized. This film is a prime example of Moore playing in a different key than usual – times two, actually, since the entire premise revolves around him believing he has a double. Harold Pelham (Moore), a prominent businessman, is briefly declared dead after a sudden afternoon car crash (the same way Dearden would die a year later, eerily enough). The appearance of two heartbeats when he revives is just the start of an uncanny string of events in which someone who looks just like him is disrupting the lives of his friends and relatives.

Moore himself regarded this film very fondly and called it out as his favorite among his filmography when he recorded a commentary back in 2005, alongside co-writer Bryan Forbes (who had just started running EMI Films when this was greenlit). This was part of a string of Forbes-shepherded projects during his two-year tenure that also resulted in such beloved films as The Go-Between (1971) and The Railway Children (1970). This was actually the second version of a novel by Anthony Armstrong, The Strange Case of Mr. Pelham, which was turned into an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents with Tom Ewell (who’s about as different from Moore as they come!).

THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF, Roger Moore, 1970

I have a real soft spot for Roger Moore’s career in this odd limbo between his two most famous gigs, having just come off of a seven-year stint as Simon Templar on TV’s The Saint. Suave and always sporting a twinkle in his eye, Moore is impossible to dislike in just about anything, which makes him an unexpected choice to play such a complicated and often tormented role. He pulls it off with flying colors though, and he would actually flex his acting muscles a bit more the following year when he appeared opposite Tony Curtis on the short-lived but very popular UK TV series, The Persuaders (which also had multiple episodes directed by Dearden). He and Curtis were both pretty slimy characters in that show if you really think about it, but their charisma managed to make you root for them anyway – a skill Moore no doubt honed a bit working on this film.

If you’re in the right frame of mind, there’s something really intriguing and eerie about this film that keeps you coming back to it at regular intervals. I first stumbled across it back in the glory days of mom and pop video stories in the 1980s courtesy of a dusty EMI videotape sitting in the horror section, and while I guess you could sort of loosely slot it into that genre, the film almost steadfastly refuses such classification. The fact that it slips between horror, drama and fantasy is also echoed by its limbo state as a 1970 British film, a time when the local industry was on shaky ground after the heyday of Swinging London youth films and kitchen sink dramas. Directors like Ken Russell and Nicolas Roeg were about to send things spiraling in a whole new direction, and it’s fascinating to see in his last few films how easily Darden could have joined them with the colorful, genre-bending films that closed out his career.

You can feel some of that Swinging London here as a kind of hangover given that the film starts with the punchy colors and scenic vistas of the bustling city. Dearden even dabbles in some full-blown psychedelia left over from the 1960s including a wild, candy-colored rainy night car ride that also anticipates what Dario Argento would pull off in the opening of Suspiria (1977). That climactic sequence also leads to an interesting, somewhat enigmatic ending that leaves you with a bit to chew on as the end credits roll, a nice departure from the usual “gotcha” twist ending you might expect with this material.

One aspect of the film that I love but could be an acquired taste is that poppy, jangly score by Michael J. Lewis, a talented and very underappreciated Welsh composer whose lyrical style has been out of vogue for a while. This was just his second film after taking over for an unavailable John Barry on Forbes’ The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969), and in fact, Barry himself had recommended the new kid on the block for the job. Lewis would go on to score a few bona fide classics over the course of his career into the mid-1990s, most notably his stunning work on Theater of Blood (1973), the deeply chilling Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1971) and another of Moore’s finest films, ffolkes (1980), a.k.a. North Sea Hijack. However, he never really catapulted to the top echelon of composers of his era due to the fact that he tended to deliver top-rate scores for films that very few people saw (and most critics ignored) including another Roger Moore and Bryan Forbes collaboration, The Naked Face (1984), a Sidney Sheldon thriller brought to life by none other than Cannon Films. Pay special attention to his music in this film; the main theme sounds like it’s ready for radio, but he does a skillful job of getting darker and more aggressive as the story’s screws start to tighten. Like the work of everyone else involved, it’s a subtle but impressive achievement that still sticks in your head far deeper than you might realize at first.

Nathaniel Thompson

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3 Responses Roger Moore Shows His Dark Side: The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
Posted By swac44 : August 23, 2017 9:33 am

I’ve wanted to see this for years, but missed my chance when the local VHS rental places died out. At least I was able to find The Persuaders at my local library.

In fact, I found that Moore’s Persuaders character had a tougher edge than his James Bond. It’s easy to see why he got the Bond gig, I just wish there’d been a way to inject a bit more of Fleming’s Bond into his portrayal. The Saint and The Persuaders show it would have been possible.

Posted By Jonathan R Barnett : August 23, 2017 1:29 pm

I’m glad to see some appreciation for this movie and for Roger Moore.

Posted By Jonathan R Barnett : August 23, 2017 1:32 pm

I hope you don’t mind the link to this incomplete list of Roger Moore movies.

https://letterboxd.com/barnett/list/moore-movies-from-roger/detail/

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