Somebody must have been playing tricks on Harold Pelham (Roger Moore), a City of London executive so predictable that he wears the same tie to work each day. Normally suburban to a fault, with an expensively furnished home and a wife and two children to prove it, one day he impulsively decides to drive far above the speed limit, ending up in a serious accident that nearly proves fatal. Then things start to get really weird—people start to casually mention that they’ve seen him in places he couldn’t possibly have been, doing things totally not in character for him, and if it’s all a practical joke then there certainly are a lot of people in on it. Could it be that he’s losing his mind? Is he leading a double life? Is someone impersonating him? Or could it be that he has a doppelgänger—a shadow self or double that’s almost, but not quite, just like him?
The Man Who Haunted Himself is notable for several reasons—it was the last film directed by Basil Dearden, and is Roger Moore’s favorite of his many films (because he got to do some acting for once, rather than just serve as a pretty face/torso)—and it’s also become something of a cult classic after not doing well in its original release in 1970. While the ending is a bit disappointing, for most of its running time this is a well-crafted movie anchored by a fine performance by Moore and featuring strong supporting performances by, among others, stage actress Hildegard Neil as Pelham’s wife Eve (a credit notes that she appears “courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Co.”), Freddie Jones as Pelham’s rather eccentric psychiatrist (what’s up with the hippie sunglasses, for instance?), Olga Georges-Picot as Julie, a photographer who claims Pelham is having an affair with her, and Thorley Walters as Pelham’s very clubbable pal Bellamy. Everyone is British to the hilt, to the point where you may suspect (as do I) that Dearden is having a bit of fun at his countrymen’s expense (seriously, how many barbershops have you seen that include taxidermy as décor?)
The story may be familiar—it’s based on a short story and novel by Anthony Armstrong, which also served as source material for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Dearden’s direction is generally effective without being flashy, except for one scene in the psychiatrist’s office when the camera makes so many 360 degree spins that it’s enough to make you lose your lunch. Still, I can overlook that kind of silliness in what is essentially a genre film with philosophical overtones (“what is identity?” and that sort of thing, as well as the existential fear that you may not be a unique individual after all and the very real possibility of having your identity stolen). The image on the Blu-ray is sharp and clear, showing off some fine location shooting by Tony Spratling as well as excellent art direction from Albert Witherick and costume design from Beatrice Dawson. | Sarah Boslaugh
The Man Who Haunted Himself is distributed on DVD and Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. Extras on the disc include an audio commentary with Roger Moore, Bryan Forbes (an uncredited writer and producer for the film), and journalist Jonathan Sothcott, a featurette “The Man who Haunted Himselve Viewed by Masters of Horror” starring Joe Dante and Stuart Gordon (18 min.), and the trailer for this and two other films.