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  Who? That Is The Question
Year: 1973
Director: Jack Gold
Stars: Elliott Gould, Trevor Howard, Joseph Bova, Edward Grover, John Lehne, James Noble, Lyndon Brook, Michael Lombard, Kay Tornborg, Joy Garrett, John Stewart, Bruce Boa, Fred Vincent, Alexander Alllerson, Ivan Desny
Genre: Thriller, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: An American scientist, Dr Lucas Martino (Joseph Bova), has been involved with the top secret Neptune Project and it's just about to bear fruit - but there's a major setback when he suffers a terrible car crash on a conference trip to East Germany. The American authorities demand his return, and a couple of months later representatives of the U.S. Government and F.B.I. man Sean Rogers (Elliott Gould) are standing at a checkpoint in the middle of the night to welcome Dr Martino. However, there's an unforseen problem: when the scientist approaches, they notice that he doesn't look himself, in fact he looks like some kind of robot. Now the question that they must pose is whether this is the real Dr Martino under all those prosthetics, or if it is an imposter designed to glean as many secrets as possible...

Adpated from the science fiction novel of the much respected Algys Budrys by John Gould, who had also adapted the film version of The Blockhouse, Who? is a strange beast, a relic of the Cold War, obviously not on a high budget, and somewhat scuppered by answering the title question shortly after it begins. The story is heavily reliant on flashbacks to the experiences Martino endured behind the Iron Curtain, which seem to clear up just, well, who this robotic figure the Americans are puzzling over really is. His accident has left him with one of his original arms, but the rest of him is mechanical, with a "nuclear pacemaker" fueling his new machine heart, and various bits and bobs replaced.

Other films might have given this character superhuman strength to go along with his new body, but this isn't Robocop and his abilities are pretty much what they were before he was almost killed, so there's no bending steel bars on his cell window in an attempt to escape here. Those scenes in East Germany have the unsettling quality of a nineteen-seventies public information film about artificial limbs, and seem to bode well for a disquieting meditation on what it means to be human as nobody on the American side can quite believe Martino is who he says he is. He suggests testing his fingerprints but it could be the scientist's arm grafted onto the robot shell, so interrogation is the only way forward - exactly the same interrogation as he underwent with the Communists.

Elliott Gould seems a strange choice for a tough talking F.B.I. agent (was Lee Marvin not available?) and in truth he never inhabits his role to any great believability; if Rogers' identity was in question it might have been little surprise. As it is, Martino is sensitively played by Bova, or at least he does his best with having a head like an oversized ball bearing, but the flashbacks to the scientist's previous life are dramatically dull as he hasn't done anything of much interest except be a brilliant scientist, so if these sequences were meant to flesh out his humanity then they fail. A few items of plotting reveal the producers were uncertain how exciting all this would be, so a gratuitous car chase is included for action purposes. A last minute question in the minds of the audience about Martino's identity offers suspense for the closing stages, but it's not quite enough and what you're left is a thoughtful curio best stumbled across on late night television. Music by John Cameron.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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