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Who? (1974)

01/05/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Who? (1974) in the USA - or Buy Who? (1974) in the UK

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region 1 DVD: pub: Scorpion Releasing Scorp1010. 1 DVD 93 minute film with extras. Price: $11.37 (US) if you know where to look). cast: Eliott Gould, Trevor Howard, Joseph Bova, James Noble and Edward Grover.

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Those of you who are familiar with Algis Budrys’ story, ‘Who?’, might be interested in looking up this film because it’s a very close adaptation played out in a low key manner. Well, with just a little tweak at the end but it could have gone either way so it will leave you guessing.

Scientist Lucas Martino (actor Joseph Bova) is visiting on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, gets severely injured in a car crash and the Soviets put him back together. The only flesh available is right arm and the rest encased in a robot body. Seven months later, they return him to Germany and the FBI agents, led by Sean Rogers (actor Elliott Gould) are unsure who he is, especially as he reveals he had been interrogated by Colonel Azarin (actor Trevor Howard) who wouldn’t have allowed the real scientist to return to America.

Interspersed throughout the story are flashbacks to the seven months in Russia and areas where Martino didn’t see as his replacement being selected by Azarin and prepared to become a lookalike.

So what is Martino? A fake or the real thing? Whichever, finding out who would stop his involvement in the top secret Neptune Project. This isn’t really a spoiler to say Martino gets fed up with all the tests and interrogations and returns to his family farm. Even when Rogers arrives to say those above him believe him to be the real scientist, Martino refuses because even he isn’t sure any more.

A game of identity. Heavy melodrama that holds up nearly thirty-five years later. It could even work today. I mean, we might do DNA profiling now but as Martino had no relatives that would be difficult to prove forty years ago. Just how much do we know about each other than what is written up or can’t be memorised.

The audio commentary with director Jack Gold, moderated by film historian Anthony Sloman gives some insights. I never knew that actor Elliott Gould started his career as a hoofer aka dancer in the theatres and much of the cast was in place before Gold was brought in to direct. There is also the explanation of why the film had the alternative title of ‘Robo-Man’ because of Martino’s appearance, although he isn’t anything but of normal physical abilities. The film was made using a hand-held camera and with a cast that was mostly unknown lent itself to its more documentary approach.

There’s a scene specific audio commentary by actor Elliott Gould that jumps across the film, no need to fast forward, and a amounting to twenty minutes work with some insight to the cast he worked with before, including Joseph Bova himself. Gould points out that while filming in Germany that the actors were only allowed to work a certain amount of time a day, a sharp contrast to how they film in the USA even today. In some respects, I wish Gould had a co-commentator to jog his memory and ask questions and even he points out the ‘Who?’ was filmed some forty years ago now.

‘Who?’ is more drama than looking Science Fiction but then, so was Budrys’ book. For its age, it certainly holds up well. It was also one of those films that I wanted to ensure that I watched in my extended life-time so glad to say I’m glad I had that opportunity. An interesting film.

GF Willmetts

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