Lithuanian-American author Algis Budrys (1931-2008) became a well-known science fiction writer during the 1950s, with a number of literary works to his credit before he penned the novel Who? In 1958. An espionage pulp thriller which mixes Cold War escapades with futuristic android concepts, it was made into this British film production in 1973, shot entirely in Germany and Miami, Florida. Later released on home video as ROBO MAN to try and cash in on the success of ROBOCOP (and totally misleading anyone who popped it in their VCR), WHO? has been little seen over the years, but now gets the HD Blu-ray treatment courtesy of Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
In communist East Germany, American scientist Lucas Martino (Joseph Bova, SERPICO) is seriously injured in an automobile accident. His face and much of his body is disfigured, but communist doctors there are able to save him, using robotic engineering on his torso, and more shockingly, the implanting of metallic devices to his face and head which now makes him appear as some kind of tin-man android. Although Lucas survives the ordeal and is able to fully function, he’s now totally unrecognizable, even to those who knew him well. Brought back to the U.S. after six months in communist hands, Lucas is held at military headquarters and goes through extensive interrogation and examination before he can be allowed to go back to Miami to work on an important project, as the government has serious reservations about whether or not he's the real deal. FBI agent Sean Rogers (Elliott Gould, THE SILENT PARTNER) is heading the cross-examination, heavily suspecting that the odd appearance of whoever this man is being passed off as Lucas could either be an imposter or possibly even a brainwashing victim, here to carry out some sort of anti-American conspiracy.
The opening introduction of Lucas Martino to a shocked string of bewildered U.S. authorities nicely sets up an involving, dialog-driven suspense film, which is actually the opposite of something like ROBOCOP. In other words, the movie doesn’t thrive on action but works fairly well as an unusual blend of sci-fi and espionage, with the central dilemma being an identity crisis, one which puzzles most of the film’s characters—as well as the audience—until the very end. Bova does a good job in a very unique role, and despite his expression-restraining headgear, is able to inject a lot of empathy into the character, mostly through his solemn voice. The point in the film in which he finally makes it to sunny Miami (after an attempt on his life while boarding a plane, followed by a wild car chase), has some odd but memorable scenes, including his strolling down the city streets (with a backlash of stares from authentic pedestrians) and visiting an old sweetheart (whose apartment had been bugged) in his ongoing attempt to prove he is who he says he is.
What makes WHO? interesting is the screenplay and the acting, rather than the direction, as most of the undemanding goings-on within could have easily translated well into a TV movie. There is a style of editing which—confusing at first—is vital to the storytelling and the building up and unraveling of Lucas’ identity. As the character is being interrogated and carefully eyed in the present, there are progressive flashbacks involving his time under communist care (with a heavily accented, second-billed Trevor Howard as the sly Colonel Azarin), as well as his younger days in Florida, interacting with family and friends in scenes which the camera always depicts his point of view (so we only see the character in his current, masked state). Elliot Gould’s character is initially as icy as any Cold War, but he is clearly an in-charge type of guy with a job to do (and defending his country), and shines when he can’t help but display his human side. Some of the other familiar faces in the film include the recently-deceased James Noble (the governor on TV’s long-running sitcom “Benson”), as well as Edward Grover and the John Lehne (both character actors in countless films and television) as two more American agents.
Previously available on DVD from Scorpion Releasing, WHO? is presented here in 1080p HD in a 1.78:1 transfer with some obvious imperfections. There is some dirt and debris on the film elements, and at times the image looks a tad soft, but overall it still looks pretty nice (daytime outdoor scenes look excellent actually) with strong colors and decent skin tones. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is free of any noticeable imperfections and does a more than serviceable job to both dialogue and the James Bond-esque score by British composer John Cameron (PSYCHOMANIA). Optional English subtitles are included.
Although Scorpion’s 2010 DVD had some extras not present on this Blu-ray release (a “scene specific” commentary with actor Elliott Gould and a video interview with Edward Grover, who passed away in 2016), Kino’s Blu-ray at least carries over the audio commentary with director Jack Gold, moderated by British film historian Tony Sloman. Gold shares some tidbits about the production (including the fact that Curt Jurgens was originally up for the role which eventually went to Trevor Howard) as well as his directorial intentions while setting up and shooting a number of sequences. No trailer for the film is included, but there are trailers for THE LONG GOODBYE, BUSTING, THE OFFENCE and THE NAKED FACE (all available from Kino Lorber). (George R. Reis)
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