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ON DVD & BLU-RAY

Who? (1974) starring Elliott Gould Blu Ray (Indicator)

A cyborg crosses the Iron Curtain

This Cold War sci-fi thriller features Joseph Bova as Dr. Lucas Martino, an American scientist working on a top-secret project known as Neptune. One day, while visiting West Germany, he crashes his car into the East German border. His severely injured body is discovered by a Russian colonel named Azarin (Trevor Howard), who abducts him across the Iron Curtain. When Azarin finds out who he is, he decides that he could be useful to them and thus saves his life by reconstructing his damaged body in the form of a cyborg.

Sometime later, a metal man claiming to be Dr. Martino is released over to the West, where he is taken into custody by FBI agent Sean Rogers (Elliott Gould). The latter puts him under intense observation in order to find whether he is who he claims to be - or an imposter agent in disguise.

Watch a video:

An interesting idea, given so-so execution

When I started watching this 1970s oddity I noticed that the producer listed on the opening credits was one Barry Levinson. Don’t be fooled: he’s not the same one who received multiple Oscar and Golden Globe nominations (including one win) for such films as Diner, Rain Man and Bugsy.

Who? has a couple of neat concepts running through its flashback-riddled narrative: firstly, that of a paranoid Cold War thriller where Elliott Gould’s skeptical agent attempts to confirm, once and for all, who exactly this strange metal man is. Secondly, there’s a touching (almost pre-RoboCop) tale of a person who has lost his physical identity trying to rediscover his place in the world. Unfortunately, the execution really isn’t as good as it could have been.

Joseph Bova in Who? (1974)

Jack Gold’s direction is pedestrian and talky, particularly during the first half. The film is also a distinctly cheap-looking affair; the production design is pretty minimal and Joseph Bova’s costume wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a contemporary episode of Doctor Who. On the other hand, the acting is admittedly good. Elliott Gould unusually plays a character who comes across as being coldly unsympathetic for the most part but, nonetheless, conveys an effective sense of authority and diligence coupled with the laidback, world-weary cynicism which he brought to the previous year’s The Long Goodbye. He also gets to deliver some great, improvisation-style monologues. Despite being saddled with a truly awful costume, Joseph Bova manages to turn in a convincing performance as a robotic man desperately attempting to express his inner humanity.

I’ll give Who? three stars: one for the acting, one for its core ideas and one for an exciting car chase which occurs around the halfway mark (complete with stunts coordinated by ace Frenchman Rémy Julienne, who also worked on some of the Bond films). It’s thought-provoking and even a little bit touching towards the end but remains a slightly wasted opportunity.

Runtime: 93 mins

Dir: Jack Gold

Script: John Gould, based on a novel by Algis Budrys

Starring: Elliott Gould, Trevor Howard, Joseph Bova, Edward Grover, John Lehne, James Noble, Lyndon Brook, Michael Lombard, Kay Tornborg, Joy Garrett, John Stewart

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

The picture here is somewhat soft, grainy and faded in terms of colour, with some occasional visible defects. It’s not unwatchable but it doesn’t look particularly great either.

Extras

Audio Commentary with Jack Gold and Tony Sloman

The film’s director is interviewed by fellow filmmaker, critic and historian Sloman. While Gold sometimes struggles to remember certain details, he still provides us with enough of interest.

He reveals that it was shot entirely on location in and around Munich, Germany and Miami, Florida. With the exceptions of top-billed Elliott Gould and Trevor Howard, the cast was filled out with relatively unknown actors including Joseph Bova who came from a background in New York Theatre. Gold wanted German actor Curd Jürgens for the role of Azarin but the latter ultimately dropped out and he was replaced by Howard at the last minute.

Gold also alerts fans of cinematic flubs to the presence of two actors in sailor costumes who can be seen in the background during the airport scene. They were meant to be U.S. Marines but the German crew misunderstood the translation and the director never got around to fixing the issue.

Selected Scenes Commentary with Elliott Gould

The film’s top-billed star gabs his way over 21 minutes worth of scenes. He reveals that he had originally met Joseph Bova when they were both cast in the chorus for a run of the musical Irma La Douce. They also worked together on a number of other occasions on Broadway and television. During the Munich shoot, he met and hung out with Maximilian Schell, who was then making another film called The Pedestrian.

The BEHP Interview with Jack Gold

This British Entertainment History Project audio interview was conducted by filmmaker Norman Swallow and cinematographer Alan Lawson. The director goes through a career which began in earnest when he got a job at BBC Radio in 1954. He then briefly went into editing before moving on to directing TV serials, documentaries, commercials, films and theatre plays. Most interestingly, he reveals that he was unsuccessfully prosecuted for blasphemy for directing the stage play Council of Love in 1970!

The Megaton Mind

This is an enjoyable 25-minute interview with the actor Edward Grover who, in his own words, was briefly “hot” after the success of Serpico (1973). He makes for engaging company as he talks about his experiences of working on Who? as well as discussing his wider career.

On Who?, he mentions that Elliott Gould was going through difficulties because he had divorced Barbara Streisand and was forced to make huge alimony payments to her. He also confirms something that pretty much everyone who has watched the film would already suspect: makeup man Colin Arthur had very little in the way of time or budget to bring the robot man to life.

He talks quite a bit about some of his other film and television work such as Death Wish (1974). Amusingly, he mentions that one of the crew members offered him money to “take out” (presumably, in the “assassinate” sense of the word) director Michael Winner because he was generally disliked on set!

The Man Behind the Mask

Writer and film critic Kim Newman gives us his usual entertaining two cents’ worth - this time on Algis Budrys, who wrote the novel upon which the film was based. He reveals that Algis, who was born in Königsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia), was part of a wave of science fiction writers to emerge from the 1950s. Only two of his works were ever translated to film: a novella called The Master of the Hounds (1966) which was adapted as To Kill a Clown (1972), and, of course, his 1958 novel Who?.

He also takes a look through a number of his other novels before briefly discussing the film itself. The latter has remained little-seen in the UK, where it sat on the shelf for a few years before getting a very limited cinema release and then a one-off screening on BBC TV.

The extras here are rounded out by an image gallery and collector’s booklet.

Overall:

Who? is a somewhat interesting curiosity marred by serious shortcomings in terms of direction and production values. The best thing about this disc is the very solid collection of extras.

Movie: ☆☆☆

Video: ☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆

Extras: ☆☆☆☆

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