Freddie Jones, thespian genius, plays a rogue Scottish psychiatrist (R.D. Laing?) with the worst accent on record (Star Trek‘s James Doohan would laugh at it) who has seemingly invented a new form of therapy, based largely on burling the patient about in a swivel chair. The treatment relies on centrifugal force to bring hidden traumas out from the depths of the brain, where they lurk and fester, to the surface, where they can be drawn out through the skull by vigorous scalp massage.
THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF contains possibly Freddie Jones’ worst performance and possibly Roger Moore’s best performance. In a sad irony of fate, Jones’ performance is nevertheless BETTER than Moore’s performance. But it should be said: Moore is touching in some scenes and convincing in some scenes, and sometimes both at once. He does actually raise one eyebrow at a climactic moment, something he was ruthlessly parodied for doing on puppet sketch show Spitting Image: the Moore puppet would hoist one brow upwards, accompanied by the sound of a squeaking pulley, as if unseen stagehands were effecting this miracle of showmanship.
It’s unlikely that THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF ever really frightened anybody, but apparently the trailer did. Director Basil Dearden had a long but slightly unsatisfied career directing all kinds of material, but every now and then he would evince an astonishing talent for what Michael Powell would call The Composed Film, and Hitchcock christened Pure Cinema. The climax of DEAD OF NIGHT, where all the stories in the compendium crash together in a surreal nightmare mash-up, and the carnival scene of SARABAND FOR DEAD LOVERS both show this talent in full flow. Well, the climax of THE MAN WHO… is a bit like that, but not quite as good. Much of it can be seen in the trailer, including the glowing tinted lights and the astrological pool table. Heady stuff, I imagine, if you saw this trailer as a kid, and many did.
Those were the days when kids going to see Disney cartoons could be subjected to trailers for any old filth. I already blogged about my childhood encounter with GOODBYE EMMANUELLE, and my friend Robert’s viewing of trailers for TOMMY and SHIVERS while on an innocuous visit to BAMBI? He didn’t venture back into a cinema for ten years.
The truly spooky thing about THE MAN WHO… is its onscreen-offscreen synchronicity. In the movie, Roger Moore survives a nasty car crash only to be persecuted by a malevolent doppelganger (also played, in an unforgiveable casting error, by Roger Moore. Two Moores is one-and-a-half Moores more than any decent film can sustain). In reality, Basil Dearden was killed on a stretch of road close to the film’s accident site, shortly after finishing it. While not quite as resonant as the tragic demise of F.W. Murnau, this incident does add a certain frisson of interest to Dearden’s final film.