Sir Roger Moore is known primarily as everyone's favourite British secret agent 007 but has been involved in many other films, such as this little-known 1970 release which gives him a rare chance to flex his acting muscles. Directed by Basil Dearden - who was responsible for the classic romp The Assassination Bureau and an episode in one of the first anthology horror movies, the legendary Dead Of Night - The Man Who Haunted Himself is a psychological thriller with a supernatural edge.
Inspired by a short story from the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series the narrative centres on uptight businessman Harold Pelham. After a strange car crash & subsequent overseas convalescence he returns to work. But things start to take a bizarre turn when colleagues claim to see him in places he has not been and acting out of character. All this occurs amid the rather hostile takeover negations of his company and as the plot progresses and the activities of this other self increase Pelham feels his sense of reality slowly ebbing away. What begins, he thinks, as the childish prank of friends becomes a more dangerous game as he endeavours to discover the truth. But at what cost?
The films uncredited writer/producer Bryan Forbes has stated that Sir Roger Moore has "always been underestimated as an actor" and a viewing of The Man Who Haunted Himself should hopefully go some way to addressing that opinion, as he gives a convincingly naturalistic performance. As interpreted by Moore Harold Pelham is an uptight restrained individual who never does anything out of the ordinary, always sticking to a rigid schedule. Eschewing his trademark mannerisms Moore’s portrayal of Pelham & his descent into paranoia centres the film, turning a somewhat fantastical premise into a riveting reality. Not only this but he has to play a second version of Pelham, this he does with a subtle shift in style, which brings to life the evil doppelganger. Moore is the rock around which all the other characters revolve & is assisted by a collection of fine British character actors. The legendary Thorley Walters has a fun role as Pelham's rather jovial chum and Anton Rogers is first rate as Harold's main confidant and friend Tony Alexander. Special mention must also go to Hildegarde Neil as his wife, delivering an assured performance of a woman unsure as to what is happening to the man she loves. The two actors complement each other well and their scenes together, which depict the problems in their domestic life as well as the current crisis, add further depth to the movie.
Basil Dearden directs with a flair for realism rather than the more bombastic OTT approach that Hollywood would inevitably use to make this movie. Filming in real locations rather than on sets he creates a believable world for these unreal events to play out amongst, and as the nature of the other Pelham's activities increase and become more threatening so too does the pace and style of the film. There is a palpable sense of a man spiralling out of control as his sanity is tested to the limits by the strange events happening to him. Not least when an alleged mistress provides him with photographic evidence of his presence at a location he has never been to. Dearden expertly piles on the pressure as the film builds to a thrilling climax in which both the truth & fate of Harold Pelham will be resolved once and for all, and it is here that he incorporates a more surreal directorial style. Through the use of colour, superimposed images and camera angles the fractured mindset of Pelham is perfectly realised. Again Moore excels in these final scenes, capturing the essence of a man on the verge of mental breakdown superbly, a far cry from the suave spy that would make him an international star.
The Man Who Haunted Himself is a sadly forgotten British film. An overlooked cult gem, which deserves a wider audience. It has an intriguing plot, which builds to a finely crafted finale helped by Dearden’s direction and top notch acting not only from Moore, with arguably a career best performance, but the supporting cast as well. For those only familiar with Sir Roger via his Bond movies this film will certainly enhance their opinion of the much-maligned actor. But irrespective of that The Man Who Haunted Himself is a cracking yarn, which draws you in & keeps you hooked until the somewhat ambiguous finale.