The Prize is a largely-forgotten
dirty martini of a movie - not as crisp or smooth as other, similar
films (such as, say, North by Northwest, which it seeks to emulate),
but certainly enjoyable in its own right. A slick, amusing thriller
with a terrific cast and production values, it is carried forward by
a somewhat against-type portrayal by Paul Newman as an antisocial, alcoholic
novelist in Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Surrounding
him are other laureates and their entourages, and from among them emerges
an alarming conspiracy into which Newman's character is drawn.
Many of the movie's parallels to the
aforementioned Hitchcock masterpiece can probably be attributed to the
fact that both films were scripted by Ernest Lehman - although in
this case, the film's source is a novel by Irving Wallace, one of the
great trashy novelists of the '60s and '70s. The plot is a pot-boiler
and isn't particularly inspired - it revolves around another Nobel laureate
(a physicist played by Edward G. Robinson) who has been kidnapped and
replaced by an impostor at the hands of evil Communists.
So it's a Cold War story, even though
the conspiracy story doesn't really "mean" anything. The plot
is just a vehicle within which its stars swill cocktails, trade barbs,
and flirt nonstop - the latter being a favorite pastime of Newman's
character, who indulges in it with characters played by Elke Sommer,
Diane Baker, and Micheline Presle. It's a little disappointing that
Newman's juggling of these three ladies isn't more amusing. It should
be outright farcical, but it's underplayed by director Mark Robson.
And Robson is probably the primary
reason The Prize doesn't rise to the heights that it should.
The tone is too smooth, without great spikes in humor or suspense. It
plays too closely like a soap opera, when it should be faster and more
energetic. It's a little too polite and restrained, which was exactly
the kind of touch Robson was known for.
The movie looks great, though, as it
shifts from ornate halls to modern hotel corridors and sweeping vistas
of Stockholm. It was shot by William H. Daniels and designed by George
W. Davis and Urie McCleary - all three of whom were Oscar-winners
for work on other films. The worthy score is an early effort from Jerry
Goldsmith, who borrows a few Herrmann-esque touches, although the orchestration
is recognizably his own.
Image and Sound
This Warner Archive Collection MOD disc looks fantastic. The
Prize has never before been available on DVD, and this release does
the film proud. Color and contrast are excellent, with negligible compression
evidence. The source print appears to have been
in excellent condition.
The stereo soundtrack is clear and
dynamic. Goldsmith's score comes across particularly well.
The original theatrical trailer is the only extra feature on the
The Prize is witty, enjoyable
entertainment. An excellent cast, led by a persuasively smarmy Paul
Newman, helps maintain a certain energy level - an energy that appears
to have been compromised at every turn by the leaden hand of director
Mark Robson. Still, it's solid, stylish Saturday night entertainment.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.