Release Date(s)1970 (May 7, 2019)
Studio(s)EMI Films/Associated British Productions/Excalibur Films/Levitt-Pickman (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970), based on the short story The Strange Case of Mr. Pelham by Anthony Armstrong, stars Roger Moore (The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker) as Harold Pelham, a conservative executive with a frustrated wife (Hildegarde Neil), two young children, and a bland suburban life. After he recovers from a serious car accident, Pelham’s life becomes unsettling as coworkers, friends, and family start referring to actions, behaviors, and comments of his that he absolutely can’t recall. It soon becomes clear that another version of himself is out there – more caustic, riskier, sexier – who seems determined to throw his carefully constructed world into utter chaos. What remains unclear for most of the film is whether there is a real, physical doppelganger or if it’s a figment of Pelham’s imagination.
With a fascinating script by director Basil Dearden (Dead of Night) and Michael Relph, The Man Who Haunted Himself is a psychological thriller owing much to both Alfred Hitchcock and The Twilight Zone. An average man finds himself in an escalating series of bizarre events and tries desperately to figure out what’s happening to him. It may even be classified as a horror film in that Pelham is faced with an alternate version of himself who seems to be taking over his own life.
If you’re only familiar with Roger Moore from his tenure as James Bond in seven 007 films, you’ll be surprised to see what a textured performance he turns in as not only Pelham, but his own doppelganger. On screen for most of the movie, he easily dominates the production, convincing us of Pelham’s confusion, concern, and eventual terror.
Supporting cast performances are uniformly good, with the exception of Freddie Jones as the psychiatrist who seems to have wandered in from a Monty Python comedy sketch. Jones plays the role too broadly, with distracting mannerisms that undercut his credibility as a man of science.
The Man Who Haunted Himself was Basil Dearden’s final film in a career going back to 1939. Dearden builds the story gradually, starting off traditionally with Pelham routinely entering his car after work and heading home. But once on the highway, something compels him to gun the engine and race madly through traffic. What prompts him to be so reckless and wind up horribly injured in an awful accident? Setting up suspense and drawing us in as things turn increasingly weird, the film may hang on a strange occurrence in the operating room after the accident that creates more questions. This is the kind of thriller that forgoes graphic violence and gore in favor of creating mood and producing chills.
A TV adaptation of the same story by Armstrong appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1955 starring Tom Ewell as Mr. Pelham. Treated as a dark comedy rather than serious thriller, it was one of only a handful of the series’ installments personally directed by Hitchcock, who was subsequently nominated for an Emmy for that episode.
The PG-rated Blu-ray release, featuring 1080p resolution, is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Visual quality is very good, with no dirt specks, scratches, or other imperfections. Optional English subtitles are available. Director Dearden and cinematographer Tony Spratling have given the movie a textured look with an interesting color palette. Early scenes of Pelham tend toward darker colors to suggest Pelham’s conservative lifestyle. But when Pelham’s doppelganger appears, colored lights and brighter colors are employed. Pelham 1’s sedan is brown, Pelham 2’s Lamborghini is bright silver. Other splashes of color occur in the operating room, where the doctors and nurses wear green scrubs, Eve Pelham’s red dress, and Pelham’s black and red striped tie. A climactic scene incorporates a broken mirror reflecting split images, and there’s quite an impressive scene in which Pelham 1 talks to Pelham 2 as 2 circles around 1. Usually, at the time, split screen was used to create the effect of the same actor talking to himself. The effect is striking, even by today’s standards.
Sound is clear throughout with effects dominating during the car scenes that bookend the movie. A scene during a rainstorm is effectively mixed so that dialogue dominates. Though Bryan Forbes and Roger Moore mention, in the audio commentary, that there was a great deal of post-synching sound due to excessive noise from traffic and passing ships, this is not apparent in the final release.
Bonus materials on the Blu-ray release include audio commentary, two horror directors discussing The Man Who Haunted Himself, and four theatrical trailers.
Audio Commentary – Actor Roger Moore and uncredited writer/producer Bryan Forbes provide their thoughts on the movie, moderated by journalist Jonathan Sothcott. Moore loved the script and was eager to play Pelham. Forbes, who contributed to the script in an uncredited capacity, believes that Moore was often underestimated as an actor because of his good looks. Forbes made 18 films for a total budget of 4 million pounds. The Man Who Haunted Himself cost approximately 300,000 pounds. To save money, car sequences were shot mostly in real traffic with close-ups filmed with back projection at the Elstree Studio. Moore’s British films before The Man Who Haunted Himself are discussed. Forbes attributes the movie’s unimpressive initial showing at the box office to its poor release and advertising. He had no control over either. Basil Dearden is described as a great technician who knew camera angles and the psychological effect certain shots have on an audience. He started his career at Ealing Studios and was often rough with actors. Moore discusses acting while in the service after World War II, performing in plays throughout occupied Europe. He says that his performances in the Bond films largely depended on the director’s vision.
Masters of Horror Joe Dante and Stuart Gordon on The Man Who Haunted Himself – Directors Dante and Gordon provide background on the genesis of the movie. It is based on Anthony Anderson’s The Strange Case of Mr. Pelham, but the doppelganger theme can be traced back to a Hans Christian Andersen story in which a shadow is tired of doing everything the same as his person and decides to break away and become independent. It’s also a theme in science fiction films and thrillers like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Enemy, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The film begins realistically and becomes increasingly surreal as it progresses, underscored by odd camera angles and colored lighting effects. Pelham’s perception of the world becomes progressively unhinged, and he’s likened to a man having a mid-life crisis. The limited but impressive visual effects are discussed, but Dante comments that before computer-generated imagery, daring stunts – such as those that open the James Bond films – were actually performed by stunt persons and provided genuine thrills. Today, audiences are more jaded since they realize CGI can accomplish anything. Gordon compares The Man Who Haunted Himself to the films of Alfred Hitchcock in terms of their attention to detail (broken match sticks, Pelham’s striped tie) and frequent use of subjective camera.
Trailers – Four theatrical trailers featuring Roger Moore are included – The Man Who Haunted Himself, Gold, Street People, and The Naked Face.
– Dennis Seuling