‘The Man Who Haunted Himself’: when Roger Moore stepped out of his own pastiche

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Once Roger Moore became a star, he very rarely deviated from the template that put him there in the first place, matters which were only exacerbated by his lengthy stint playing James Bond.

The actor had originally turned down the role due to his involvement in first The Saint and then The Persuaders!, which saw him play characters who weren’t exactly dissimilar from 007. Once he did finally don the tux, he ended up dining out on it for the rest of his life.

The Saint‘s Simon Templar was a suave and charming master of subterfuge and espionage, and The Persuaders‘ Lord Brett Sinclair was a well-to-do English gentleman and globetrotting playboy who made it his mission to assist the unfortunate. Once Live and Let Die came along, there was no turning back.

The longer Moore played Bond, the closer and closer the franchise came to self-parody, with his raised eyebrow complementing the series, burying its tongue further and further into its cheek. Even when he vacated the role at least one movie too late, the remainder of his filmography, more often than not, saw him trade on his most famous performances at the expense of doing any actual acting.

That makes it incredibly ironic that not only was Moore’s final film credit before his Bond debut arguably the best turn of his entire career, but it was one of those rare occasions where he actively played against type. In addition, co-writer and director Basil Dearden’s The Man Who Haunted Himself stood out as his favourite-ever role.

“I played both myself and my doppelgänger,” he said to The Guardian of the movie before echoing the exact points made above. “It was a film I actually got to act in, rather than just being all white teeth and flippant and heroic.” Adapted from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham, there were also shades of Jekyll and Hyde to the story.

Playing company executive Harold Pelham, Moore’s protagonist gets into a serious car accident and is briefly declared legally dead. However, when he’s released from the hospital and begins his recovery, he starts to discover that an identical double has been taking over his life by sabotaging his business, making inroads with his family, and even igniting an extramarital affair.

Repeatedly asking the question without offering a definitive answer until the final act, Moore clearly relished the opportunity to sink his teeth into not just one but two characters unlike any he’d ever played before. Is Pelham really being victimised by a doppelgänger, or did his near-death experience drive him off the deep end? It’s a narrative underpinning he has great fun exploring, going firmly against the grain to subvert his nice guy persona in bravura style.

He’d make plenty more films and pop in countless more TV shows before the end of his career, but never again did Moore come close to replicating the outside-the-box excellence of The Man Who Haunted Himself.

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