Who? is an early-‘70s paranoid thriller oddity. Elliot Gould stars, having made the film more or less back-to-back with Robert Altman’s California Split. The two movies couldn’t be more different in quality, and the always-wonderful Trevor Howard co-stars as a Russian general. It wasn’t released in the UK till a TV showing in 1979 (there may have been press screenings in 1974 but no general release followed), but it came out theatrically in the United States in 1975.
A top American physicist attends a conference in East Germany, but ends up in a suspicious car accident. He is forced to get reconstructive surgery in East Germany that includes metal implants. The mysterious iron man is played by Joseph Bova. The rest of the film is Elliot Gould’s US agent trying to figure out if he is the real deal or a spy for the Germans. It’s based on a novel by sci-fi writer Algis Budrys, and tries to incorporate aspects of identity and alienation, but all of that never gels with the rest of the film.
The film has little to no suspense due to its reliance on flashbacks, which make it quite apparent what his real identity is. It is horribly paced, dragging on despite its short 90-minute length; it also lacks the paranoid edge seen in many thrillers of the ‘70s, despite a perfectly fine performance by Elliot Gould, who tries his best despite having such poor material to work with. It’s not even so bad it’s good, or even just plain bad, it’s just an incredibly mediocre film. It sounds OK on paper when described as a fun, paranoid, cyborg thriller, but falls flat despite the two great actors Howard and Gould. The film is also known as The Man in the Steel Mask, or the more awesome Roboman, and one of the taglines was “The kill machine with the megaton mind”—but sadly, that wasn’t the case.
The disc that Indicator has compiled is impressive, with an archival commentary from director Jack Gold and also a selected scenes commentary from Gould, who doesn’t seem all that thrilled to be watching the film again. As is typical with Indicator releases, it also includes an NFT interview with Gold, which acts as an alternative commentary track. The actor Edward Grover is interviewed in a 2010 clip, and Kim Newman does an appreciation of both the film and, even more so, the author of the source novel, Algis Budrys. The booklet includes new and archival writing on the film.