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The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)

There was a running joke in 80s rubber puppet satire Spitting Image which featured Roger Moore’s acting ability, or to be more precise, his lack of it. Called upon by his long-suffering director to be heroic, the latex Moore would stare at the camera and then raise one eyebrow. Told to be scared, he would raise an eyebrow. Informed that the next scene would necessitate passion, he would raise an eyebrow. Given a direction to be angry, he would… well, you get the idea. Subtle it wasn’t.

Roger Moore has never really been taken seriously. Unlike his predecessor in the James Bond role, he’s never really escaped it, and even when he was “it”, supposedly the coolest man on the planet, he was a bit of a joke. His Bond was slightly too old, saddled with some dreadful 70s fashions, and given to spouting lame innuendo rather than savage put-downs. No-one really knows him for anything other than Bond (or the Bond-in-all-but-name Simon Templar) and he didn’t do himself too many favours by playing a variety of similar characters in an assortment of forgettable thrillers through the 70s and 80s.

Which is why The Man Who Haunted Himself comes as a bit of a surprise. In it, Moore is actually called upon to act his socks off – and socks off he does act, in not one, but two roles. He’s almost permanently on-screen during the film’s running time as the harassed Henry Pelham, a man who slowly watches his life fall apart as a stranger who looks and acts just like him begins to pick it apart.

Who is this Pelham-alike, and what is he up to? To be frank, after watching the film I was still none too sure, but it’s something to do with Pelham’s other self separating from him during the opening sequence on a motorway. The previously buttoned-up Pelham starts to grin like a nutter, his car changes from a stately Rover to a sporty number, and the next thing you know he’s crashed it. Once recovered, he tries to start up his life as normal, complete with same car, same routine, but there’s something wrong – people keep telling him they’ve already talked to him, girls reckon he’s bedded them, and business decisions are made without his say-so.
It’s all very odd, and Pelham finds himself increasingly at odds with everyone, until he is eventually confronted with the truth… and he doesn’t like what he sees.

Because the film is an exercise of duality and “what ifs”, Moore needs to show two sides of a split(ish) personality – one sensible and staid, the other madcap and totty shagging. And he manages to achieve this with no more props than an assortment of sport jackets, a roll-neck sweater or two and a bowler hat (and, in one memorable scene, a pair of scanty speedos).

Sadly, Moore’s performance is the highlight in an otherwise instantly forgettable film. Falling somewhere between thriller and horror (with a healthy dose of clunk-click seatbelt awareness thrown in for good measure) it succeeds in being neither – a sad state of affairs when you see it was directed by none other than Basil Dearden, the man who brought us Dead Of Night three decades earlier. The Man Who Haunted Himself was based on a short story, and had already been made as a TV thriller, and to fill 90 minutes it has been stretched almost to breaking point.

There’s just not much there to make a film out of – it’s a nice idea but has no real substance, and the only interesting bit comes when Pelham is forced to face his doppelganger and see that all of a sudden, his life is effectively over.

The filming is all very handsome, and there’s much to enjoy if you’re a connoisseur of the 1970s, but the story itself is confused and uninvolving. What a shame that old Moore didn’t choose to do his sock removing in a more worthy project.

Director: Basil Dearden
Written by: Anthony Armstrong, Basil Dearden (screenplay) and Michael Relph (screenplay)
Cast: Roger Moore - Harold Pelham; Hildegard Neil - Eve Pelham; Alastair Mackenzie - Michael Pelham;
Hugh Mackenzie - James Pelham; Kevork Malikyan - Luigi; Thorley Walters - Frank Bellamy; Anton Rodgers - Tony Alexander; Olga Georges-Picot - Julie Anderson; Freddie Jones - Dr. Harris - Psychiatrist; John Welsh - Sir Charles Freeman; Edward Chapman - Barton; Laurence Hardy - Mason; Charles Lloyd Pack - Jameson; Gerald Sim - Morrison; Ruth Trouncer - Miss Bird, Pelham's secretary; Aubrey Richards - Research Scientist; Anthony Nicholls - Sir Arthur Richardson; John Carson - Ashton; John Dawson - Philip, the barber; Terence Sewards - Jeweller's Assistant

Last updated: July 11, 2011

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