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…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

What I have tried to show you is the inevitability of history. What must be, must be.

The Avengers 2.24: A Sense of History
Another gem, A Sense of History features one of the series’ very best villains in Patrick Mower’s belligerent, sneering student Duboys. Steed and Mrs Peel arrive at St Bode’s College investigating murder most cloistered, and the author of a politically sensitive theoretical document, in Martin Woodhouse’s final, and best, teleplay for the show (other notables include Mr. Teddy Bear and The Wringer).

Don't give me any of that intelligent life crap, just give me something I can blow up.

Dark Star (1974)
(SPOILERS) Is Dark Star more a John Carpenter film or more a Dan O’Bannon one? Until the mid ‘80s it might have seemed atypical of either of them, since they had both subsequently eschewed comedy in favour of horror (or thriller). And then they made Big Trouble in Little China and Return of the Living Dead respectively, and you’d have been none-the-wiser again. I think it’s probably fair to suggest it was a more personal film to O’Bannon, who took its commercial failure harder, and Carpenter certainly didn’t relish the tension their creative collaboration brought (“a duel of control” as he put it), as he elected not to work with his co-writer/ actor/ editor/ production designer/ special effects supervisor again. Which is a shame, as, while no one is ever going to label Dark Star a masterpiece, their meeting of minds resulted in one of the decade’s most enduring cult classics, and for all that they may have dismissed it/ seen only its negatives since, one of the best mo…

Ruination to all men!

The Avengers 24: How to Succeed…. At Murder
On the one hand, this episode has a distinctly reactionary whiff about it, pricking the bubble of the feminist movement, with Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. On the other, it has Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. How to Succeed… At Murder (a title play on How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying, perhaps) is often very funny, even if you’re more than a little aware of the “wacky” formula that has been steadily honed over the course of the fourth season.

You just keep on drilling, sir, and we'll keep on killing.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)
(SPOILERS) The drubbing Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk received really wasn’t unfair. I can’t even offer it the “brave experiment” consolation on the basis of its use of a different frame rate – not evident in itself on 24fps Blu ray, but the neutering effect of the actual compositions is, and quite tellingly in places – since the material itself is so lacking. It’s yet another misguided (to be generous to its motives) War on Terror movie, and one that manages to be both formulaic and at times fatuous in its presentation.

The irony is that Ang Lee, who wanted Billy Lynn to feel immersive and realistic, has made a movie where nothing seems real. Jean-Christophe Castelli’s adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel is careful to tread heavily on every war movie cliché it can muster – and Vietnam War movie cliché at that – as it follows Billy Lynn (British actor Joe Alwyn) and his unit (“Bravo Squad”) on a media blitz celebrating their heroism in 2004 Iraq …

This here's a bottomless pit, baby. Two-and-a-half miles straight down.

The Abyss (1989)
(SPOILERS) By the time The Abyss was released in late summer ’89, I was a card carrying James Cameron fanboy (not a term was in such common use then, thankfully). Such devotion would only truly fade once True Lies revealed the stark, unadulterated truth of his filmmaking foibles. Consequently, I was an ardent Abyss apologist, railing at suggestions of its flaws. I loved the action, found the love story affecting, and admired the general conceit. So, when the Special Edition arrived in 1993, with its Day the Earth Stood Still-invoking global tsunami reinserted, I was more than happy to embrace it as a now-fully-revealed masterpiece.

I still see the Special Edition as significantly better than the release version (whatever quality concerns swore Cameron off the effects initially, CGI had advanced sufficiently by that point;certainly, the only underwhelming aspect is the surfaced alien craft, which was deemed suitable for the theatrical release), both dramatically and them…

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 …