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The Man Who Haunted Himself (Blu-ray)

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Actors: Roger Moore, Hildegarde Neil, Olga Georges-Picot, Anton Rodgers, Kevork Malikyan / Director: Basil Dearden / Studio: Network / Released: 24 Jun 2013 / Run Time: 90 minutes

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      12.08.2013 09:37
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      A terrific Roger Moore vehicle makes it onto Blu-ray

      This Blu-ray and DVD set is about £13 on amazon at the moment. It will probably drop in price.

      This is a British thriller from 1970 that manages to be a great deal more engaging than I expected it to be, and which has made me reconsider my view of the leading man.

      Harold Pelham is a boring businessman. He is a partner in an electronics firm, goes to a dull gentleman's club, and has an unfulfilled wife who wants a third child. He is rigid in his habits and completely predictable in every way. One day while driving home from work he is seemingly possessed by another person, and in a fit of nihilistic speeding, he has a car accident and almost dies. Afterwards, it seems that he is being stalked by his own double, a man who gambles and womanises and sells industrial secrets to rivals. Pelham tries desperately to track down the interloper before he completely ruins his life.

      It's a fairly standard horror movie set-up, but it's very well done, and the film keeps us guessing up to quite a late point. It's played so that it could all be in Pelham's head - we don't see the doppelganger for a long time, and even when we do, it's not clear whether it's really just the normal Pelham going mad. It's all explained and resolved at the end, and most audiences will probably have figured it all out long before then.

      There are some quite suspenseful scenes, including a good car chase right at the end (which is well shot but does go on a bit too long). Perhaps the main problem, though, is that we've no real reason to root for Pelham, who seems to be a very dull person. Frankly, his doppelganger is a lot more fun, and it gets a bit frustrating that Pelham can't see that. The lengthy plot strand about the proposed takeover of Pelham's company is also tedious, although it has a semi-decent payoff. The film could perhaps get where it's going a bit faster.

      But it's very well made otherwise. The director, Basil Dearden, had made plenty of well-known movies, including The Assassination Bureau, Khartoum and The League of Gentlemen. He knew how to put a film together without cluttering it up with unnecessarily arty business. There are some great close-ups of Pelham's face bathed in lurid colours towards the end, to add a dash of late-60s ambience. Which is just as well, as the music is charming, but very typical instrumental stuff in the style of dozens of library music scores for TV shows or cheap films. I like that kind of thing, personally, but it does sound very dated. The only really bad thing in the film is a special effect towards the end that doesn't quite work.

      The best thing about the film by a long way is the lead performance. Roger Moore is someone I have a lot of affection for, largely because of James Bond, but I'd never thought of him as anything other than a cheerfully wooden actor. But he's superb as Pelham - both the uptight one and the fun-loving one. There are a few scenes, where he hits the very depths of desperation, that made me wonder why on earth he didn't do more straight acting. One moment especially, where he's trying to explain to his friend about how helpless he feels, and how it reminds him of his nanny saying goodnight and leaving him in the dark, really is quite brilliant.

      If he'd had more material to push him to those kinds of extremes he'd probably be a lot more respected now. I guess he got Bond a few years after this and never really felt he had to try too hard again.

      The rest of the cast has a smattering of familiar faces - people like Thorley Walters and Charles Lloyd Pack are familiar from Hammer horrors. Hildegarde Neil is Pelham's increasingly creeped out wife (she's married to Brian Blessed in real life). The best supporting actor is Freddie Jones (that's usually true of anything Freddie Jones is in). He plays a psychiatrist from whom Pelham seeks help. Jones's weird decision to play the part with a Scottish accent and a very clipped, eccentric style of line delivery means he'd probably not be very soothing to talk to, but he gives a fantastic, scene-stealing performance.

      All in all this is a much better film than I was expecting. It's no lost masterpiece, but it's a decent thriller from a time when Britain used to make lots of films, and is well worth seeking out for Moore's star turn.

      This looks pretty damn good on blu-ray. It looks clear and crisp, the colours are great, and there's plenty of detail - wallpaper and lampshades and the texture of cloth are all lovingly rendered. It's amazing to see such an obscure film looking so good, and it makes me hopeful for The Wicker Man blu-ray, which is coming soon.

      In terms of extras there's a commentary with Moore (who sounds really old now) and Bryan Forbes (who had some kind of production role on the film, although I didn't see his name in the credits). I'm not sure if this was recorded for this release or an earlier DVD (Forbes died quite recently). It's OK, as commentaries go. Moore remembers more than you'd expect given that it was more than 40 years since he made it.

      There are several image galleries (photos, production stills, storyboard and promotional materials) which play in eerie silence. You can also listen to the soundtrack by itself. It's quite a good soundtrack, but not good enough for me to want to do that. A trailer rounds things off.

      There's also a DVD version included. I don't understand the point of that at all. Why not just release them separately? I took screenshots from it, but didn't watch it otherwise.

      All in all, though, this is a great release of a surprisingly good film. Only the cover image is weak, being forgettable and slightly deceptive.

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