« Shooting Stars | Main | The Grand Duel »

May 01, 2019

The Man who Haunted Himself

man who haunted self.jpg

Basil Dearden - 1970
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

I'm so old, I remember when Roger Moore was a contract player at Warner Brothers, first as the British cousin Beau Maverick in the television series, Maverick. Moore made more of an impression on me later, when his series, The Saint aired in the mid-Sixties, although I was an inconsistent viewer at the time. More recently, I've been watching The Saint in chronological order. Maybe it's television comfort food, but I enjoy the fourth wall introductions as well as seeing guest stars like the still relatively unknown Julie Christie and Samantha Eggar.

The Man who Haunted Himself was made during the time between the series end of The Saint and Moore's taking on the role of James Bond in Live and Let Die. Moore has described his role as his favorite. Moore plays a businessman, Pelham, who survives an accident when he loses control of his car, and for a few moments is clinically dead on the operating table. Pelham comes across people who claim to have seen him him at places and times he does not recall. The conservative and meticulous Pelham has a double who is a bon vivant, not only disrupting Pelham's life, but eventually taking over. While the film is based on a novel, The Strange Case of Mr. Pelham, the essential plot device has its roots in earlier literary works as Poe's "William Wilson" and Dostoevsky's The Double. Basil Dearden's film is primarily of interest due to Moore's performance which might be described as the "anti-Saint".

Unlike the better known roles, Moore as Pelham has a mustache, wears a dark business suit with a derby, a stiff collar, and class tie. Moore's British accent is more noticeable, with a slight change of timbre when he appears as the double. Moore also has a range of facial expressions with the uncertainty of the disoriented Pelham, and devilish glee as the double. James Bond and Simon Templar never were seen sweating as Pelham does knowing his life is out of control.

The blu-ray comes with two supplements ported over from an earlier DVD release from 2006. The first is a commentary track by Moore with Bryan Forbes. Forbes was very briefly in charge of production for EMI Films between 1970 and 1971, and did some polishing on the screenplay. The other supplement has directors Joe Dante and Stuart Gordon discussing the film. And I would advise anyone watching that part to take it with a grain of salt, or better yet, a full shaker. The source novel by Anthony Armstrong was previously filmed as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1955. Someone decided that Basil Dearden's film could only be discussed as some kind of Hitchcockian exercise, with Dearden only referred to once by Dante and not even by name.

Basil Dearden might not be as well known or respected on the same level as Alfred Hitchcock, but he should have been given a bit more consideration. Not known for his visual style, Dearden has earned critical respect for several of his films, especially those from the late 1950s through early 1960s that dealt with social issues. The Man who Haunted Himself fits in thematically with Dearden's previous films regarding dual identity, though this time as a psychological thriller. In some ways I find it similar to one of Dearden's best films, The Captive Heart (1946). In the earlier film, which takes place in Germany in World War II, an escaped Czech officer takes on the identity of a dead British officer. Captured, and taken to a P.O.W. camp, the officer has to continue pretending he is the British officer, going so far as to exchange letters with the dead officer's wife, she not knowing her husband is dead, and he not knowing that the two were estranged. The pretend husband shows more affection in the letters and as such becomes the ideal husband. When the Czech officer reveals himself to the widow after the war, after her initial shock, the husband by correspondence becomes the husband in real life. Other Dearden films notable for exploring identity include Sapphire, a police investigation of the death of a bi-racial woman, Victim, about a closeted gay lawyer, and the wonderfully titled The Mind Benders, about a scientist suspected of being a double agent. At least Moore and Forbes know to give credit where credit is due, to Dearden and his producing and writing partner, Michael Relph.

Some of the commentary track is devoted to the making of The Man who Haunted Himself. Moore also talks a bit about working with Dearden on the television series, The Persuaders, as well as his role as James Bond. One bit of coincidence has Pelham mentioning James Bond and "Her Majesty's Secret Service". Forbes talks about his attempt to produce modestly budgeted films for EMI, only to be frustrated by bad distribution and battles with the corporate board. Among the more acclaimed films that Forbes was able to produce was Joseph Losey's The Go-Between. Among the unrealized productions would have included a return to British film by Michael Powell. The Man who Haunted Himself was a box office failure in Britain, with a perfunctory release by a small independent company in the U.S. Dearden worked with Moore in 1971 on three episodes of The Persuaders. In a cruelly ironic twist in 1971, Dearden himself died in an automobile accident at nearly the same location where he had staged Moore's car going out of control.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 1, 2019 08:15 AM