Review: The Man Who Haunted Himself / Director: Basil Dearden / Screenplay: Basil Dearden, Michael Relph / Starring: Roger Moore, Hildegard Heil, Anton Rodgers, Olga Georges-Picot / Released: June 24th
Famously, on its release, the critics didn’t like The Wicker Man (1973). Of course we now know they were way off the mark and the reasons why they got it quite so wrong are worthy of a feature in themselves. But you can’t rule out them just having a downer on odd British movies of the early '70s. You see, they didn’t like The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970) either. They were wildly wrong about that one too.
TMWHH is a cracking lowish-budget film based on Anthony Armstrong’s The Strange Case of Mr. Pelham, the story of a man who, as the film’s title suggests, haunts himself. Pelham is a very dull business and family man who uncharacteristically decides to burn some rubber on the M4 and inevitably crashes. While on the operating table, the doctors briefly witness two heartbeats. After Pelham recovers, people say they’ve seen him in places he couldn’t possibly have been. Most of these incidents are also rather embarrassing because the Pelham they’ve encountered isn’t much like our hero; he’s a fun-loving and womanising cad. Yep, it’s Jekyll and Hyde with a twist.
While the film starts as a slow-burner, it’s actually rather brilliantly paced with the action accelerating as Pelham gradually realises that something’s up before it builds to its horrifying climax. In fact, it has to be said, this is a rather dark film and very reminiscent of the classic Star Trek story, The Enemy Within, but without the Shaternian acting and total lack of subtlety.
Actually, we have to mention the acting. While the film’s script is a little dated in places, the acting by everyone involved is top-notch. You might think that would be par for the course with a serious Brit-flick but you might raise a strangely appropriate eyebrow when you realise that, despite the minuscule budget, they managed to get Roger Moore to star. We’re not going say too much about Moore’s track record, but while crueller observers have been known to use the word “wooden”, here he is simply brilliant. Who knew? The neurosis-ridden wreck he plays towards the end of the film is almost unrecognisable as the Roger you know and love. It’s also very clever casting. The playboy version of Pelham is barely seen, leaving Moore brilliantly playing against type as his impotent (no, really) counterpart. The genius of casting Moore is that it’s just so easy to imagine his alter ego carousing around London. This means we get to see the story unfold through Pelham’s eyes and the villain’s misdemeanours are largely kept, where they belong, in our mind’s eye. No wonder Roger Moore has said this was his favourite role.
If you’ve not seen this then you need to. If nothing else, you’ll get to see Roger making a joke about James Bond three years before Live and Let Die (1973).
Extras: Audio commentary / Music only audio / Trailer / Gallery / Promotional material PDFs