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.