An American scientist is seriously injured in a car accident somewhere along the border with East Germany. He is detained by military officials and later on scientists use metal implants to save his life. When the man eventually returns to the States, an intelligence specialist is ordered to determine if he truly is the 'survivor' from the accident -- or a communist spy with a dangerous plan.
"To live like that? You've got to want to live."
What makes a man who he is? Is it his face? Voice? How he walks, talks, eats or even sleeps? Is it the collection of events that have happened throughout his life and are stored as memories deep down in the recesses of his brain? What if that man no longer looked like himself? What if that man wasn't who he says he was - but somehow knows all the right answers to every question? That is the central idea circulating Jack Gold's crafty 1974 espionage thriller 'Who?' starring Elliot Gold as a determined and paranoid F.B.I. agent tasked with determining the identity of a man made of metal.
Lucas Martino was a brilliant scientist in charge of the top secret Neptune project for the United States. While in Europe he was involved in a car accident that left him badly injured. Soviet operatives managed to rescue him from the inferno of the burning vehicle, save his life, and restore him - more or less. After six months in the clutches of the devious Colonel Azarin (Trevor Howard), Lucas Martin has been released. But is this man with a metal face, skull, chest, and left arm what's left of the real Lucas Martino (Joseph Bova)? F.B.I. Agent Sean Rogers (Elliott Gould) has a sneaking suspicion the Soviets have planted a ringer - someone who obviously doesn't look like Martino anymore but under that metal mask sounds, acts, and knows everything there is to know about Martino. With his superiors desperate to have Martino back on the Neptune project, Rogers has precious little time to establish the true identity of the man calling himself Lucas Martino.
To be fair and upfront, while the plot of 'Who?' is fascinating, the execution starts to strain some measure of credibility. Based on the novel by Algis Buorys, the film depends upon a large amount of upfront suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience. Within moments of the film's fiery start, we're asked to accept that the Soviets in the 1970s had the technology to craft working metallic limbs and body parts. That in of itself is a bit of a stretch, but then there is the revelation by one of the doctors attending to the critically wounded Lucas Martino that if he had enough time he could fully restore the man's appearance. These early scenes are the make it or break it moments for the entire remainder of the movie. If you can set aside the initial improbability of the setup, Jack Gold has crafted a smart and thought-provoking sci-fi espionage thriller. If Elliot Gould or Joseph Bova had been even slightly off their A game, the film would have been a disaster. Instead, through these two actor's terrific performances, we're treated to a tense examination of what it means to be human.
There's something great about Elliot Gould in the 1970s. Whether he was in a cop drama like 'Busting' or a comedy like 'MASH,' the man know how to deliver a speech. The same is true here. There are several scenes where Gould goes full badass and rattles off minutes of dialogue without taking a breath and makes it all sound cool, convincing, and also raises the stakes of the plot. When he's playing against Joseph Bova's Lucas Martino, it's a cat and mouse game of words. You can see the gears in Gould's head turning, studying, trying to find one slip up so he can sink his fangs into his target and prove the metal man isn't who he says he is. On the flip side of the coin, we have Joseph Bova as the metallic Lucas Martino. As the film tries to keep us guessing at his real identity while showing us flashbacks of his treatment under Soviet custody, the audience is given a lesson in the importance of trust. When there are no means left to prove a man is or isn't who he says he is, what's left but intuition and gut feeling? As Rogers tries to tamp down his gut and find the truth, he easily forgets that there is a very real human being under that metal veneer.
While the story is pitch perfect, it's easy to feel the budget constraints 'Who?' had to work under. As I said, the film asks the audience to accept a lot of exposition as well as the rather clunky-looking costume and makeup work to create the metal man. I couldn't locate any budget or box office information, but just from the look and design of the film, it couldn't have been very costly. There is a near-constant feeling that this film was shot quickly on borrowed sets and leftover costumes and what expenses were left were used to make the most convincing metal man they possibly could. Had the film had a little more to work with, much of the pace issues that can stutter the action or the makeup that isn't always convincing could have been smoothed out. Thankfully, this film doesn't fully rely on appearances as Gould and Bova carry the emotional weight of the story and succeed in selling a smart and intense science fiction espionage thriller. It may not be perfect, but 'Who?' is a solid 90 minutes of great entertainment value.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Who?' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label. Pressed onto a Region A BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
While 'Who?' may be an interesting film to watch, unfortunately, the source print for this 1.78:1 1080p transfer leaves much to be desired. Scratches, debris, speckling, rips, flicker, stains, and discoloration are all present throughout the run of this film. While they're not constant or so heavy as to make the film unwatchable by any stretch, the presentation is far from perfect - even for a film of this vintage. On the plus side of things, film grain is present throughout without any serious dips into noise and provides some terrific detail levels. Colors are bright and bold with primaries given a nice natural presence. Flesh tones look spot on - well, those characters that have flesh anyway. Black levels tend to be solid all around providing a terrific sense of depth to certain scenes. Had the source print been in better shape this would be a transfer worth celebrating. As it stands, it's pretty good considering the condition it's in - but not as good as it should be.
'Who?' also comes with a slightly troubled English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track. While never dominant or overpowering, hiss is present throughout. Thankfully dialogue exchanges remain strong as they're the backbone of this little thriller. Sound effects are minimal but present enough to provide a sense of space and dimension, but atmospherics are limited in their range. Scoring by John Cameron is solid work but is relatively minimal and only works to heighten certain scenes. All around this is a workable but not necessarily the most impressive audio track. Considering the condition of the image, this is actually pretty good and doesn't feature any breaks or distracting pops.
Audio Commentary: Director Jack Gold with moderator Anthony Sloman provide a thoughtful and engaging commentary for this film. He does cover a lot of the basic material and there are a few gaps here and there, but it's a worthwhile listen.
'The Offence' Trailer: (HD 1:51)
'Busting' Trailer: (HD 2:45)
'The Long Goodbye' Trailer: (HD 2:31)
'The Naked Face' Trailer: (HD 2:10)
Sometimes, a good idea and great performances are enough to make a particular film a worthwhile watch. 'Who?' may struggle with some believability issues stemmed from a tight production budget, but the assured direction of Jack Gold with terrific turns from Elliot Gould and Joseph Bova make 'Who?' a solid little science-fiction espionage thriller. Kino Lorber brings 'Who?' to Blu-ray in less than ideal, but still decent conditions. The A/V presentation is a case of "as good as it's gonna get' but not altogether terrible either. A solid commentary and trailers round out the bonus features. At the end of the day, 'Who?' is worth a look.