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
The stereo soundtrack is clear and dynamic. Goldsmith's score comes across particularly well.
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.