Sunday, March 27, 2016

Who? (1973)



          Check out the bizarre storyline of this obscure Cold War thriller, which was produced in the UK. The American scientist supervising a top-secret project has an auto accident while traveling in East Germany. Recovered by Russian spies, the scientist is given a metallic mask and various metallic prosthetics to replace the parts of his body that were destroyed. Then, six months after the accident, the Russians surrender the scientist to American authorities, who must determine whether he’s really the missing scientist before returning him to top-secret work. After all, since the man no longer has a human face, his identity is open to question. Not only is this story predicated on technology that doesn’t exist, but the makeup/mask effect that’s used throughout the film is absurd. Actor Joseph Bova, playing the disfigured scientist, wears a cheap-looking silver skullcap, complemented with goofy silver makeup. Seriously, the Tin Man costume in The Wizard of Oz (1939) was more convincing, and that picture was made more than three decades earlier. The physical appearance of this critical character is so distracting that it nearly dooms the entire film.
          Yet it’s not as if Who?—which is sometimes marketed as Robo Man—suffers just one major flaw. The movie is problematic from top to bottom. Elliot Gould gives a disinterested performance in the nominal leading role, playing an FBI agent tasked with determining the true identity of the metal man. Trevor Howard, grossly miscast, employs an all-over-the-place accent while portraying Gould’s Soviet counterpart in deliberately perplexing flashbacks that are intercut throughout the movie. Worst of all is the movie’s entire first hour, which portrays the metal man’s time in FBI custody. This interminable stretch features one drab dialogue scene after another, an issue exacerbated by the fact that Bova can’t make facial expressions thanks to his makeup. Things pick up slightly once the metal man is set free, because the filmmakers draw the pathos of this unfortunate fellow’s circumstances to the surface. One might even go so far as to call parts of the movie’s final half-hour soulful—even though the film never surmounts its inherent awkwardness.

Who?: FUNKY

7 comments:

Eric Gilliland said...

Wow- I never heard of this one! If it's an Elliot Gould film, I will usually give it a chance. I am trying to compile a list of obscure Cold War films from the 60s and 70s - Are there any you would recommend?

William Blake Hall said...

Eric, hi. It all depends on what you want. I definitely consider Colossus: The Forbin Project to be a reflection of the Cold War, but perhaps that might be too hardcore science fiction for you. S*P*Y*S stars Elliott Gould and is an alleged comedy, while I think Hopscotch starring Walter Matthau works better as lighthearted spy fare. 1979's The Human Factor is based on a good Graham Greene novel but may not come across so well, and Twilight's Last Gleaming may be considered more a Vietnam-related thriller than a Cold War one, and a bit preachy besides. All five of these are reviewed here by Peter. Proceed with caution.

By Peter Hanson said...

My impression is that the cold-war thriller had a vogue in the 1960s -- James Bond, etc. -- and then become incredibly popular in the 1980s, with everything from "Firefox" to "Gorky Park" to "Rambo" to "Wargames," and so on. It seems that during the 1970s, the subject matter was was mostly relegated to cartoonish material, as in yet more James Bond and, say, episodes of "Mission: Impossible" and "The Six Million Dollar Man" and other espionage-themed shows. Regarding actual 1970s cold-war thrillers, in addition to those Bill mentioned, maybe check out my write-ups of the following: "The Cassandra Crossing," "The Challenge" (TV), "Cuba," "Day of the Dolphin," "$" (a/k/a "Dollars," a comedy/thriller hybrid), "The Kremlin Letter," "Rollerball" (a cold-war allegory), "Scorpio," "Telefon," "Warhead," "When Eight Bells Toll," and "Winter Kills." I'm sure there are more, but those are the ones that come to mind.

Eric Gilliland said...

William and Peter: Thanks for the recommendations! I will certainly look up your reviews and seek out these films and TV shows. I'm interested in anything Cold War related, regardless of genre.

Right now I am planning a Cold War Film/TV themed blog and want to cover everything from the well known classics to some of the forgotten curiosities from the era.

William Blake Hall said...

Eric, best luck to you. As ever, Peter is the master -- I can't believe I sailed right by The Kremlin Letter, Scorpio, and Telefon. I love Telefon -- in a very guilty way.

Peter L. Winkler said...

Eric-

Rod Taylor starred in a '60s Cold War spy spoof, The Liquidator (1965). The recently deceased actor Robert Horton starred in two TV movies that might qualify: The Spy Killer and Foreign Exchange.

Eric Gilliland said...

Peter- Thanks for the additional titles!