The Man Who Haunted Himself – Roger Moore’s Finest Hour?

October 14, 2019

In the 70s and 80s, late-night television often aired a cinematic gem before the latest public information film about a badly driven Vauxhall. There might be Nicky Henson and his hoard of immensely unthreatening zombie-bikers in Psychomania, or Carry On Girls, in which Bernard Bresslaw’s toupee was an object of sheer wonder. And there might even be a thriller featuring a Lamborghini, an utterly sublime score from Michael J Lewis, and an Oscar-worthy performance from Roger Moore.

When The Man Who Haunted Himself went on general release in the summer of 1970, it was to a largely apathetic critical reception. Michael McNay of The Guardian was offhand; the director ‘handles the story professionally enough’, while Moore was ‘not entirely UnSaintly in spite of a City moustache cultivated for the occasion’. The rarely easy to please Monthly Film Bulletin compared the narrative to ‘all the tired conventions of the British Fifties psychological thriller, and the result is deadly dull’. Meanwhile, The Observer was downright rude – ‘A real slice of ‘forties-type B stuff as Roger Moore finds himself split in two after a nasty car crash. Is he ruthless or refined; a Romeo or a fuddy-duddy. Hard to care’.

It is easy to gain the impression that such critics would only approve of Moore, had he starred in a kitchen sink drama jointly directed by Lindsay Anderson and Ingmar Bergman – with a screenplay by Harold Pinter. At least The Daily Mirror was fairly positive, although the words of their reviewer are a stark reminder of how remote 1970 now appears. The scribe, Dick Richards, considered Moore ‘does a creditable job as the sober City gent but his fans will probably miss his debonair charm and his gay way with the birds’.

“I’ve made dramas before. Trouble is they came out like comedies.”

Moore’s final Simon Templar adventure, The World Beater, aired on the 9th February 1969, by which time the actor was keen to forge a new image – ‘The Saint, although I’m very grateful to him, is rather a predictable chap. He always reacts in just one way to a given set of circumstances, and it’s impossible to develop his character’. On the set of The Man Who Haunted Himself, the ever-self-deprecating actor informed a reporter from The Reading Evening Post ‘I’ve made dramas before. Trouble is they came out like comedies’. His co-star Anton Rodgers responded with ‘whatever he says, Roger is a very good actor’, while the producer Michael Relph stated Moore was ‘much under-rated’.

The Saint frequently showcased Moore’s considerable talents as a delightful light comedian in the Leslie Phillips class, especially when teamed with Sylvia Syms or Dawn Addams. The Man Who Haunted Himself was to showcase his dramatic range and establish him as a star of British cinema. Moore’s previous high profile film roles were in Hollywood and Italy, while his big-screen appearances for UK productions were restricted to bit-parts and walk-ons during the late 40s. Of course, there was also the two cinematic features made from re-edited stories from The Saint – the charmingly off-beat The Fiction-Makers and Vendetta for the Saint. The latter featured Finlay Currie as the world’s most unlikely Mafia Don and an “Italy” with a striking resemblance to Malta, down to the right-hand-drive buses.

“I think my people may have expected a Saint movie.”

The “Swinging London” thriller Crossplot was to be Moore’s first post-Saint starring role. He reflected in his wonderful memoirs My Word Is My Bond: The Autobiography, ‘I think my people may have expected a Saint movie’. The Man Who Haunted Himself was his next project, directed by Basil Dearden, and with a cast including Hildegarde Neil, the great Freddie Jones, and John Carson. The story was taken from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr. Pelham, and a previous screen adaption was a 1955 edition of Alfred Hitchcock Presents starring Tom Ewell.

Shooting commenced in late 1969 amidst much press interest, as the picture was commissioned by Bryan Forbes (who also assisted with Relph and Dearden’s script) as part of his new role as Elstree’s Head of Production. The Man Who Haunted Himself was to be one of the first of a programme of 14 small-scale but ambitious works that represented, in Forbes’s words, ‘the most serious attempt to revitalise the film industry in twenty years’. Moore later complained of inept marketing – ‘the publicity machine was cranked up in rather an amateurish way, sending out the message “we’ve made a film for £200,000; aren’t we clever? It was akin to EMI saying, “we’re making cheap films”’.

However, over the years, the story of Mr. Pelham and his suave doppelgänger continued to attract new audiences via its airings on TV. The protagonist bore no resemblance to Simon Templar, and the actor created his extremely sinister double through nuances of vocal inflexion and body language. The moment when an anguished “Pel” faces his nightmare, is one of the finest in his career. It is a performance that deserves to be considered alongside the best of David Niven; indeed, the thought of Moore as “Major” Pollock in Separate Tables is far from implausible.

It is a rare achievement for a film/tv star to become an essential part of so many childhoods, and when Sir Roger Moore died on the 23rd May 2017, countless Britons mourned the passing of their youth. Your day at school may have been one of unmitigated tedium and Lionel Jeffries-style PE teachers, but Simon Templar’s latest escapades offered an escape. As the writer Martin Pengelly once noted; Moore was the ‘best Bond, charity crusader, good knight’ – and, as eloquently demonstrated by The Man Who Haunted Himself, a great actor. 

Film Historian Andrew Roberts MA PhD FRSA



Comments:11

  1. Richard Reply
    19/10/14

    A superb analysis of a much-underrated film and actor.

  2. Peter Anderson Reply
    19/10/14

    I first saw this film in early 1975 as the support feature to the big screen version of “Man About The House” and I quite enjoyed it. About four months later it had what must have been it’s first telly airing – BBC1 at 9:25PM on a Monday night – and enjoyed it more the second time. It’s been a favourite of mine ever since. I was someone who up until then knew Roger Moore as Simon Tempelar, Lord Brett Sinclair and James Bond so it was a surprise when I saw him in this. But he’s great and so is the film.

  3. Vanessa Bergman Reply
    19/10/14

    An excellent piece of filmography on the late, great Sir Roger Moore. “The Man Who Haunted Himself” is an excellent film in which we see a completely different acting ability from Sir Roger. No tongue-in-cheek role play in this one and not a sign of a raised eyebrow! Just really good acting and a really good edge of the seat thriller. I shall definitely be ordering the DVD.

  4. Anthony Cochrane Reply
    19/10/14

    When will The Saint be given the HD treatment doled out to lesser ITC shows.
    Also, when will someone retrieve the Saint Black and White TV soundtracks by Edwin Ashley?

  5. Michael Bell Reply
    19/10/14

    One of my favourite films in which many things come together to create a special moment in time.Excellent score with memorable opening credits,great cast and acting,long forgotten London street scenes and a starring role in the guise of Pel’s Rover.
    My grandfather ordered the exact model as used in the film late ‘69 but died in February 1970 before he could collect it,just as this was being filmed,my father had it instead.
    Being born in 1970 I’m always drawn to this film,a firm favourite along with Get Carter.

  6. Colin Payn Reply
    19/10/14

    Sir Roger Moore deserved so much more credit for a film that truly was his finest hour. His acting ability was never in doubt as demonstrated in some very high profile scenes from some of the early black and white Saint episodes and don’t forget a very vulnerable turn as Brett Sinclair in The Persuaders episode Someone Like Me. Oh yes and that memorable scene from Moonraker directly after his ordeal courtesy of the out of control centrifuge! Sir Roger I salute you now and always

  7. Turk Thrust Reply
    19/10/15

    If you like this, check out The Naked Face (1984)

  8. Turk Thrust Reply
    19/10/15

    If you liked this film, you will adore Roger in The Naked Face (1984)

  9. Simon Reply
    19/10/15

    Like with the other Network feature articles, I very much enjoyed reading this article about Sir Roger Moore and TMWHH. The 25% promo code is also another nice touch and I ordered the DVD/BD without hesitation.

    Would it be possible for there to be a Network release of the Saint film The Fiction Makers for Roger Moore’s 93rd Birthday?

  10. Jeremy Clarke Reply
    19/10/15

    I often think of this as “the film that haunted itself” as it’s post-cinema life as a constant of BBC late night programming , as mentioned by Roberts , makes a film so of its time in terms of wardrobe and strictly defined work, class and gender roles, seem timeless and enduring, sharing that same duality of “the prisoner” where it feels like the sixties but also speaks to the now of the troubled psyche, whenever it’s repeated . If repeat viewings make it seem cosy , it’s never hokey , and that’s because of Sir Roger’s nervy, nuanced, note-perfect performance.

  11. Paul H Reply
    19/10/17

    Great film, plenty of ‘proper’ actors and an equally good commentary with Moore and Forbes.

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