It’ll be no surprise to some readers that I have, for many years, been a fan of Roger Moore. A childhood obsession with The Saint was where it all started, and I followed his progress through The Persuaders! to Bond with many stopping off points in between.
His TV shows and movies were notable in that, although they were usually filled with action, they were fun and made good use of his comic timing. In short, he was an entertainer. What he was never lauded for was his acting ability.
From books and interviews, it seems he accepted this, though he often stated that his favourite performance was in the 1970 film The Man Who Haunted Himself – for the simple reason that he had the opportunity to show he could act.
I remember going to see the film at the cinema a few years after it was released. It would probably have been 1973 or 1974. This was in the days when movies kept playing at cinemas for years after they were made. They weren’t showing permanently, but would pop up here and there, waiting several years before the studios deemed they were fit only for TV. Hard to imagine now, but they were good times.
Eventually, The Man Who Haunted Himself was relegated to TV, appearing very occasionally over the years. When I’ve spotted it, I have watched it. As with Moore’s performance, it’s quite different to anything else I can recall seeing him in. The tone is darker, but not in the way Daniel Craig’s Bond was. It was psychological, and we watch a man going through what, at times, seems like a nervous breakdown. But there is more to it than that.
Why am I telling you all this?
Well, towards the end of last year, I read a book review at Jen Meds Book Reviews. The book was The Strange Case of Mr Pelham, and I recognised it as being the story the film was based on. Reflecting on it, I wondered why I’d never thought to look it up and read it before. Although I seemed to think it had been a short story, not a novel. Having been prompted to look into it now, I realise it was both. Indeed, it seems to have had a few versions, so it’s clear the author was drawn back to the story a number of times.
Inevitably, when you’re reading a story on which a film is based, you look for comparisons. In this instance, there are few obvious ones. So few, in fact, that the only one that sticks in my mind is an image of a collar and tie – which only makes sense if you’ve seen the film and read the book. The broad theme of the novel seems different to that of the movie, but perhaps because, eventually, what’s really going on is spelled out much more clearly on film. By contrast, the novel leaves you, the reader, to work out what you think was happening. In that sense, already being familiar with The Man Who Haunted Himself, it could be argued that I was cheated of that experience.
So what can I tell you about The Strange Case of Mr Pelham? The first thing is that it’s dated. This novel was published in the 1950s, but the short story seems to have been written a good twenty years earlier. As a result, the language and social mores seem almost alien. I’ve never known a grown man drink so much sherry. Not that I have anything against sherry – you just can’t imagine a bloke having it as his regular tipple.
Something else that seemed odd was the style of writing. There was an expectation that it might be more formal than a contemporary novel, but what I hadn’t anticipated was how much telling there was, as opposed to showing. In spite of this, once I was used to it, I enjoyed the story. It was interesting to see the different take on things compared to the movie, but the book itself was engaging in its own right. Whether you read it as a curio, to compare against the film, or just because you want to try something different, I’d recommend it.
If I can find it, I now need to read the short story.