Skip to main content

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself
(1970)

(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.


Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the years preceding Man’s release). Notable Dearden films over the previous decade included League of Gentleman and Victim. This would be his last feature; he died in a car crash following a day’s shooting on an episode of Moore’s TV series The Persuaders! As Sir Rog tells it, this was spookily on the same stretch of the M4 where Man’s crash was filmed. The clean framing and editing of Man bear more than a passing resemblance to the approach look of Lew Grade’s ITC series (probably not a coincidence, given the common DP). A number of feature directors transitioned to Grade’s relatively glossy series; glossy compared to those of the BBC, certainly.


Harold Pelham (Moore), a husband and father with a City job on the board of a marine engineering/technology company, drives to work one morning when a strange force takes hold of him. He unbuckles his seatbelt (not that it was the law to wear one then; this is an indication of how conservative Harold is) and, smiling maniacally, drives faster and faster before crashing his car. Taken to the operating theatre, his heart stops and briefly registers two heartbeats before returning to normal. When Harold has recovered and resumed his old routine, he discovers that friends and acquaintances are giving him conflicting accounts of his behaviour. It appears that he has been in two places at once, and that he is conducting an affair with a woman he has never met before. He objects to a merger/takeover at work but is perplexed to learn that the rival firm has assumed his support. Eventually he seeks the help of Dr Harris (Freddie Jones), a psychiatrist who believes his problem is one of sexual repression. He instructs Harold to unleash the side of his personality he has fought against (“Don’t be a slave to convention”), but Harold is about to discover he already has.


Dearden keeps the precise nature of what has befallen Harold hazy until the final 10 minutes. There is always the possibility that, however contradictory events seem, there is a rational explanation. Maybe Harold is experiencing a multiple personality, a less malign riff on Norman Bates, and Dr Harris will cure him in the final reel. Maybe, as his baffled work colleagues ponder, there is a double of Pelham. Could it be some extreme case of corporate spying (“Espionage isn’t all James Bond and Her Majesty’s Secret Service” Pelham explains to the board)?


Yet Dearden has laid out the clues from almost the first scene. The strange antic expression assumed by Harold while he is driving, the transposing of his Rover with another a car (a flashy Lamborghini). Then there is the double heartbeat; it is evidently not a subjective shot as all the medical personnel note it. Flashback sequences are employed when Thorley Walters’ Bellamy (“Frank Bellamy has got mental B.O.!”) relates a particularly victorious snooker game at the club, and again when Ashton (John Carson) relates the secret meetings he claims Harold arranged in order to broker the takeover bid. 


Dr Harris attempts to put us off the scent by drawing attention to the theory behind the illusion of doubles (Pelham’s is only distinguished by his not actually having seen his double). It is only when Harold calls home (having checked into a clinic, while his double appears to take over his home life) that Dearden finally makes an explicit confirmation; his double answers, and dismisses him tersely (“Unless you want trouble, just get off the line”).


Pelham: Who on Earth are you? Who are you?

The confrontation is at least slightly unexpected in staging, as it takes place in front of witnesses. Thus friends and family reject rigid Harold (I’ll call him that, rather than good Harold), who has begun to dress more colourfully at his shrink’s request, in favour of gregarious Harold (I’ll call him that, rather than bad Harold). The conclusion rigid Harold reaches wouldn’t be out of place in The Prisoner’s The Schizoid Man episode (“It’s a conspiracy. You’re trying to drive me mad”), and it’s interesting that Dearden encouyrages a definably strange and supernatural explanation rather than settling on an ambiguous note (pointedly, even Dr Harris sees the second Harold).


How and why gregarious Harold is so clued up on what has happened but rigid Harold isn’t is anyone’s guess. Except that someone needed to be able to offer the audience a vague explanation. He tells rigid Harold that he died on the operating table “and let me out” but “Unfortunately you came to life again. So now there are two of us”. Part of the problem here is that, by stretching and stretching Pelham’s ignorance and avoiding a confrontation for as long as possible, Dearden ends up doing the storytelling a disservice; there can only be so many different (repetitive) encounters and baffled responses before the plot requires some forward momentum.


Although Man opts for a supernatural explanation, Dr Harris has provided Harold with a precise explanation of his malady. Gregarious Harold is indulges in “all the pleasures of life” as referenced by Harris; he takes chances romantically and gambles in business and at the roulette wheel. He also enlivens the marital bed. 



The finale features a chase between the two Harolds, in which rigid Harold’s car crashes off a bridge and into a river. As it does so, rigid Harold fades from the driver’s seat. Looking on as the car sinks beneath the waters, gregarious Harold experiences chest pains then recovers. As he does so, it appears that the hardedge to his face disperses. It seems that the two Harolds have (re)merged, perhaps now as a better person overall (this isn’t far from the plot of Fight Club, and a number of “He was two people all along” twist tales; only through extremes can the protagonist rediscover his core self).  Certainly, that was Moore’s take and it makes sense of what we see on screen.


Pelham: I can assure you the only Harold Pelham is the one sitting here.

In terms of audience identification gregarious Harold is the bad guy, in that he is messing up rigid Harold’s life. But rigid Harold is actually causing most of the trauma to those he knows as he messes up his doppelganger’s plans. If we follow the line that gregarious Harold has improved the (financial or emotional) wellbeing of those around him, then the moral of the tale might be that a bit of amorality can do the world of good. However, the final scene seems to be suggesting that it’s balance that is important. Dr Harris appears to be in favour of a form of ‘60s liberality, as bottling up one’s desires can cause only harm. The narrative concurs, since this repression has forced a life-changing event on Harold, an intervention by a part of him (released before he “died”, but prevented from existing with full autonomy). 


Rigid Harold was leading his wife and family into a “dreary and suburban” desert; the kind of man who wears the same tie to work every day. Gregarious Harold goes to the other extreme, including keeping a bit on the side and engaging in highly unethical business practices (it’s amusing to note that his colleagues get on board when he sells them the idea that everything he has done has made them a lot of money; only the chairman says he no longer recognises the man sitting there, and he abides by the values and methods of rigid Harold), but is he doing any more damage than his staid other?



Dearden really goes to town on the hallucinatory visuals during the final chase scene, bathing Rog in red and green lights and dissolves of snooker balls rolling towards the camera (the cinematographer was Tony Spratling). There is also a great uplifting-yet-melancholy central theme (also incorporated diegetically as Pelham’s favourite record) by composer Michael J Lewis, variations on which are used throughout. 


If Moore delivers a career best, he is ably supported. Anton Rodgers, latterly best known for his sitcom work (Fresh Fields, May to December) is his best pal business partner, while Hildegard Neil deserves better than the reactive wife role. Freddie Jones is insanely over-the-top as Dr Harris, complete with oval sunglasses (worn indoors) and an elusive accent. One of the members of Pelham’s board is played by Edward Chapman, best known as Mr Grimsdale in a number of Norman Wisdom comedies. 


There’s also an appearance from the gorgeous Olga Georges-Picot, as Pelham’s girlfriend Julie. A few years later she’d memorably appear as Countess Alexandrovna in Woody Allen’s Love and Death.


There has been a will to reappraise The Man Who Haunted Himself in the past few years Understandably so, as it is something of a curiosity on Moore’s CV. As a result, it might have received a few too many bouquets. By delaying the Harolds’ face-to-face, Dearden attempts to draw out more speculation as to what is going on than he can sustain. He has already primed us to expect something odd, so when we reach the reveal the confrontation is more effective than the undercooked explanation. Nevertheless, he gets extra marks for the ambiguity of the final scene. This is a well-made curiosity and a makes for an appealingly different sighting of the future Bond.  


***1/2


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

What we sell are hidden truths. Our territory is the mind. Our merchandise is fear.

The Avengers 5.1: The Fear Merchants
The colour era doesn't get off to such a great start with The Fear Merchants, an Avengers episode content to provide unstinting averageness. About the most notable opinion you’re likely to come away with is that Patrick Cargill rocks some magnificent shades.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

There’s still one man out here some place.

Sole Survivor (1970)
(SPOILERS) I’m one for whom Sole Survivor remained a half-remembered, muddled dream of ‘70s television viewing. I see (from this site) the BBC showed it both in 1979 and 1981 but, like many it seems, in my veiled memory it was a black and white picture, probably made in the 1950s and probably turning up on a Saturday afternoon on BBC2. Since no other picture readily fits that bill, and my movie apparition shares the salient plot points, I’ve had to conclude Sole Survivor is indeed the hitherto nameless picture; a TV movie first broadcast by the ABC network in 1970 (a more famous ABC Movie of the Week was Spielberg’s Duel). Survivor may turn out to be no more than a classic of the mind, but it’s nevertheless an effective little piece, one that could quite happily function on the stage and which features several strong performances and a signature last scene that accounts for its haunting reputation.

Directed by TV guy Paul Stanley and written by Guerdon Trueblood (The…

It’s all Bertie Wooster’s fault!

Jeeves and Wooster 3.4: Right Ho, Jeeves  (aka Bertie Takes Gussie's Place at Deverill Hall)
A classic set-up of crossed identities as Bertie pretends to be Gussie and Gussie pretends to be Bertie. The only failing is that the actor pretending to be Gussie isn’t a patch on the original actor pretending to be Gussie. Although, the actress pretending to be Madeline is significantly superior than her predecessor(s).

Do not run a job in a job.

Ocean’s 8 (2018)
(SPOILERS) There’s nothing wrong with the gender-swapped property per se, any more than a reboot, remake or standard sequel exploiting an original’s commercial potential (read: milking it dry). As with those more common instances, however, unless it ekes out its own distinctive territory, gives itself a clear reason to be, it’s only ever going to be greeted with an air of cynicism (whatever the current fashion for proclaiming it valid simply because it's gender swapped may suggest to the contrary).  The Ocean's series was pretty cynical to start with, of course – Soderbergh wanted a sure-fire hit, the rest of the collected stars wanted the kudos of working with Soderbergh on a "classy" crowd pleaser, the whole concept of remaking the '60s movie was fairly lazy, and by the third one there was little reason to be other than smug self-satisfaction – so Ocean's 8 can’t be accused of letting any side down. It also gives itself distinctively – stereo…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…