• Who?



    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics
    Released on: January 3, 2017
    Director: Jack Gold
    Cast: Elliott Gould, Trevor Howard, Joseph Bova, Edward Grover, James Noble
    Year:1975
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    The Movie:

    Many thoughts consumed my mind as I watched the 1975 science fiction-infused espionage drama Who?, thoughts that ran the gamut from keeping track of how many times the movie flushed its potential to be something unique and entertaining down the creative toilet (I’m still trying to figure out a final tally) to wondering why the title wasn’t a more appropriate Why? or How? or WTF Were the People Involved with This Movie Thinking?.

    Put in the simplest of declarations, Who? sucks. Based on the 1958 novel of the same name written by Algis Budrys, the plot revolves around a group of American intelligence operatives lead by the determined FBI agent Shawn Rogers (Elliott Gould) who have been tasked with extracting Dr. Lucas Martino (Joseph Bova), a prominent scientist and supervisor of the top secret “Neptune Project”, from the Soviet Union. Their efforts are jeopardized when Martino is involved in a near-fatal car crash en route to his rendezvous with Rogers at the Soviet border. After some waiting, the doctor finally arrives, but Rogers and his team discover that post-accident Martino was brought back to life with advanced robotics that gave him a metallic head and a mechanical left arm.

    The rest of the movie is basically Rogers and others interviewing the being that claims to be Dr. Martino to find out if this man of metal really is the scientist of great importance to the U.S. at the height of the Cold War or if he was compromised by the Russians during his time in their captivity. The investigation features countless scenes of men in suits sitting in small, darkened rooms having listless conversations in hushed tones, while the flashback-heavy narrative structure documents how Martino was revived in his new robotic form and programmed for infiltration by the nefarious Colonel Azarin (Trevor Howard, visibly longing for a return to the days when he worked with cinematic giants like David Lean and Carol Reed and didn’t have to star in crap like this so he could pay his rent and his cupboards would never be bare of tea). The original Budrys novel operated in a similar manner, but the sluggish and confused pacing and scarcity of genuine thrills that result don’t exactly make for compelling cinema.

    When you have a story consisting of top secret scientific projects, men transformed into cybernetic creatures, spy shenanigans behind the Iron Curtain and the resulting feature is a deadly dull affair that makes you wish you had been captured by the Russians, you have royally screwed the proverbial pooch. Directed by Jack Gold (The Reckoning) from an adaptation of the Budrys novel by John Gould, Who (I’m leaving off the question mark from here on because it confuses Microsoft Word) is a thriller that never thrills and a work of science fiction where the science is suspect and the fiction fails to engage and impress. There was some talent involved in the making of this movie, and it all went to waste in the service of a production whose advertising campaign was more entertaining than the product it was promoting.

    Deprived of the unflappable charisma and laidback cool that made him a movie star back in the 70’s, Elliott Gould is all business as the straight-laced Agent Roberts in which was obviously a business decision for the good of his career….at the time anyway. Though Gould could be fascinating to watch even in lesser cinematic fare, he is criminally miscast as the professional Fed forced to play stooge to a cyborg clod whose boring backstory takes up the bulk of the story. There are only two action sequences in Who? – the first being the opening car crash that sets up the plot, the second a chase and shootout that is later revealed to have been a distraction and ultimately as pointless as everything else that happens. Watching these two brief action beats is like witnessing the last throes of a dying man, and when they end we’re forced right back into the lifeless slog that is Who?’s story (if you can call it that).

    By the way, one of the credited producers of Who? is Barry Levinson, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s the same Barry Levinson who later directed Diner, Rain Man, and Wag the Dog. The make-up effects used to create Martino’s partially robotic form appeared at the time about as advanced as the work that went into turning Jack Haley into the Tin Woodsman in The Wizard of Oz. With almost four decades separating the theatrical releases of Oz and Who, it’s clear to me that Gold’s movie didn’t have the necessary funds in the production coffers to make his most important character look anything like a boring businessman in a dollar store Halloween costume.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    A drab, lifeless movie gets a transfer to match. Kino Lorber’s 1080p high-definition presentation of Who? could barely pass for DVD quality with its basic picture, bland details, muted colors, and plentiful dirt and debris left unattended in the original film elements. Grain can be chunky and a major distraction, and the quality only moderately improves when the plot shifts locations to Florida and the sunshine and palm trees add some much-needed vibrancy that ends far sooner than it begins. Some shots in the cinematography by Petrus R. Schlomp ($) appear out of focus.

    The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack fares better with a clear and untroubled mix that favors the copious dialogue and an original score composed by John Cameron (Kes) that belongs in one of Quinn Martin’s disposable 1970’s TV cop dramas. Distortion is minimal. English subtitles have also been provided.

    A commentary track with director Gold, moderated by film historian Anthony Sloman, is as boring as the main feature. Clearly recorded for an earlier release of Who as he passed away in 2015, Gold struggles to come up with anything of interest to say about making the movie, even with Sloman’s prompting, but occasionally a fascinating little nugget of info manages to bubble up to the surface. There is no trailer for Who, but Kino has supplied trailers for the Gould-starring The Long Goodbye, Busting, and The Naked Face, and one for Sidney Lumet’s The Offence (co-starring Trevor Howard).

    The Final Word:

    It could have been a fun, genre-blending romp, but Who? ended up as anything but despite the amount of talent that went into its creation. If you’re in the mood for a movie that promises a crazy and cool experience and delivers the exact opposite, Who is the flick for you. No one involved in the making of Who seemed to care much about it, so why should Kino Lorber feel any different? This Blu-ray was definitely assembled out of subpar elements and crapped out onto the market to make a quick buck. I can’t think of a more fitting fate for such an awful film.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!