zeph’s pop culture quiz #44
Here is a fine noir Cold War scenario. Right at the Iron Curtain government officials are waiting for an exchange of prisoners. But who is exchanged?
Just leave a comment with your educated guess—you can ask for additional hints, too. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the ‘Leave a comment’ at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it’s the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I’ve approved a comment, your next ones won’t be held, but published immediately by the system.]
UPDATE and solution (03 October 2012):
Again ↑Kueperpunk ↵did it, as it seems on first glance. The screencap was taken early into ‘Who?’ (Gold 1973). Allied government officials are waiting for the scientist Dr. Lucas Martino (Joseph Bova) to cross ‘the line’—the Iron Curtain—and return from the soviet to the allied zone. Among those waiting is the security agent Sean Rogers (Elliott Gould). At the negotiated time a man indeed comes over, but he has been turned into a cyborg. His left arm and his head now are made of metal.
The movie is based on a novel of the same name by ↑Algis Budrys (1958). Here is the begining of the novel, describing the scene depicted in the screencaps:
It was near the middle of the night. The wind came up from the river, moaning under the filigreed iron bridges, and the weathercocks on the dark old buildings pointed their heads north.
The Military Police sergeant in charge had lined up his receiving squad on either side of the cobbled street. Blocking the street was a weathered concrete gateway with a black-and-white-striped wooden rail. The headlights of the MP super-Jeeps and of the waiting Allied Nations Government sedan glinted from the raised shatterproof riot visors on the squad’s varnished helmets. Over their heads was a sign, fluorescing in the lights:
YOU ARE LEAVING THE ALLIED SPHERE
YOU ARE ENTERING THE SOVIET SOCIALIST SPHERE
In the parked sedan, Shawn Rogers sat waiting with a man from the ANG Foreign Ministry beside him. Rogers was Security Chief for this sector of the ANG administered Central European Frontier District. He waited patiently, his light green eyes brooding in the dark.
The Foreign Ministry representative looked at his thin gold wristwatch. “They’ll be here with him in a minute.” He drummed his fingertips on his briefcase. “If they keep to their schedule.” […]
The war was in all the world’s filing cabinets. The weapon was information: things you knew, things you’d found out about them, things they knew about you. You sent people over the line, or you had them planted from years ago, and you probed. Not many of your people got through. Some of them might. So you put together the little scraps of what you’d found out, hoping it wasn’t too garbled, and in the end, if you were clever, you knew what the Soviets were going to do next. […]
Out beyond the gateway, two headlights bloomed up, turned sideward, and stopped. The rear door of a Tatra limousine snapped open, and at the same time one of the Soviet guards went over to the gate and flipped the rail up. The Allied MP sergeant called his men to attention.
Rogers and the Foreign Ministry representative got out of their car.
A man stepped out of the Tatra and came to the gateway. He hesitated at the border and then walked forward quickly between the two rows of MP’s.
“Good God!” the Foreign Ministry man whispered.
The lights glittered in a spray of bluish reflection from the man in the gateway. He was mostly metal. (Budrys 1958: part 1, chpt. 1)
A bit later, the ‘man with the steel mask’ has been brought to an allied facility, Rogers has to report to his superior by telephone. When he is asked if everything went all right with Martion, Rogers answers no, and asks for an emergency team comprising experts on miniature mechanical devices, surveillance, and a psychologist. Finally Mr. Deptford, Rogers’ superior asks: ‘Rogers—did Martino come over the line tonight or didn’t he?’ Rogers hesitates briefly and then can only answer: ‘I don’t know’ (Budrys 1958: part 1, chpt. 2). And indeed the whole story unfolding is about the question if the technologically enhanced man who came over the line is Martino or not.
The movie is quite faithful to the novel, nevertheless there are differences. In the novel Dr. Martino had worked in a laboratory in ‘the West’ which was located close to the Iron Curtain. Quite at the beginning of the novel this already is criticized by a representative of the foreign ministry: ‘Why the devil did we give Martino a laboratory so near the border in the first place?’ (Budrys 1958: part 1, chpt. 1) An accident with subsequent explosion took place there. In the immediate wake of it a soviet team from right across the border was faster to recover Martino than the allied rescue team. That way he came into the soviet zone, heavily injured. His cyborg parts are the result of the soviet scientist’s effort to save him. In the movie the laboratory incident has been replaced by a car accident close to the border, resulting from a very B-movie version of a car chase.
From a 1958 perspective the novel is set in a probable near future, not just because of the obviously advanced soviet technology. In the world of ‘Who?’ the Soviet Union has fused with the People’s Republic of China and the so called Free World has fused to a megastate as well. From a 2012 retrospective it’s an alternate history, of course. For the 1973 movie version this setting has been toned down, and the historical world map has been retained.
All in all both, novel and movie, are fusions of a psychological cold war espionage thriller spy game and a cyberpunkish coin of science fiction. So ‘Who?’ perfectly fits into ↵the cyberpunk discourse.