Roboman (1973)

ROBOMAN (1973)
aka Who?
Article 4045 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-30-2012
Directed by Jack Gold
Featuring Elliott Gould, Trevor Howard, Joseph Bova
Country: UK
What it is: Spy thriller

When a brilliant American scientist in charge of a top secret scientific project is horribly injured in an accident near the East German border, he is rescued by the Communists and repaired to the best of their abilities. When he is returned to the Americans, he is unrecognizable due to the replacement of most of his body with metallic parts. An FBI agent is given the task of trying to figure out whether this man is really the scientist in question, or a ringer.

Here’s another movie with an interesting premise that suffers from an uneven production and script. It attempts to work both as a mystery and an espionage thriller. As the latter, it is least interesting; it’s slow-moving and low-key, and when the movie decides to go for thrills (a car chase at about the middle of the movie), it feels less like it’s finally taking off and more like it’s slipped the tracks. As a mystery, it does have some interest value, thanks to a interesting cinematic technique where we see the present day juxtaposition of the grilling of the scientist by FBI agents beside flashback grillings of the scientist by a Communist general, leaving us fully aware that there is very little that the scientist says that couldn’t be taught to a ringer. Yet the mystery itself remains muted, largely because the most engaging thing about the story is the plight of the scientist, and if you make a certain assumption about the identity of the man in the metal mask, the mystery becomes irrelevant but the story becomes much more engaging. So it’s as a character study that it works best; it isn’t about not knowing who the man is, it’s about a man proving who he is, and the cost of doing so. And on that level, this movie has a certain amount of power.


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