Sunday, 25 October 2020

Movie Review: The Prize (1963)

A drama, comedy, romance and spy thriller rolled into one, The Prize is beyond farfetched but nevertheless mindlessly entertaining.

The Nobel Prize winners are announced, and the shock is American author Andrew Craig (Paul Newman) winning for literature. He has not published in five years, his first few books never sold well, and his life now consists of drinking, womanizing, and writing pulp detective novels under a pseudonym. Upon arriving in Stockholm for the grand ceremony, Inger Lisa Andersson (Elke Sommer) of the Swedish Foreign Office is assigned as his handler to keep him out of trouble.

The winners also include American physicist Dr. Max Stratman (Edward G. Robinson), who fled Germany after the war and in Stockholm reunites with his niece Emily (Diane Baker). The medicine prize is shared by American Dr. Garrett (Kevin McCarthy) and Italian Dr. Farelli (Sergio Fantoni), although Garrett believes Farelli stole his work. The chemistry winners are the French husband and wife team of Claude and Denise Marceau (Gerard Oury and Micheline Presle). The passion has dissolved out of their marriage, and Claude's mistress Monique (Jacqueline Beer) accompanies them in Stockholm.

Max Stratman is summarily kidnapped by evil East German agents and replaced by his twin brother Walter (also Robinson), with Emily complicit in the plot. The observant Craig is the only person to suspect something is amiss and starts investigating. His life is soon in danger, but Inger Lisa and others dismiss his concerns as stemming from the imagination of an alcoholic. Nevertheless he persists in trying to save Stratman, and unintentionally also helps the other Nobel winners resolve their issues.

An adaptation of the Irving Wallace book, The Prize oscillates between the heights of an intellectual gathering of the world's smartest people to the lows of bumbling agents unable to eliminate the threat of an alcoholic author playing at amateur detective. Along the way Ernest Lehman's script features no shortage of plot holes as director Mark Robson chases, with patchy success, the Hitchcockian vibe of North By Northwest (also written by Lehman).

At 134 minutes, the film is padded and longer than it needs to be. Some of the scenes are just too obviously derivative and unnecessarily prolonged. Running for his life, Andrew Craig stumbles into a nudists' meeting and makes a fool of himself to get arrested, an homage bordering on rip-off of Cary Grant at the auction. A foot chase through the streets of Stockholm and a nighttime visit to a hospital both provide a limited return on investment. And on a couple of occasions the jumps in continuity are jarring.

But with suspension of disbelief set to high, fun can be found. Elke Sommer sparkles whether pouty or seductive, and the slow-cooked romance between Craig and Inger Lisa sizzles. Character introductions are one area where Robson does invest time to good effect, and the travails of the other award winners emerge as worthwhile sub-quests, cleverly tied together by Craig's inadvertent investigation. The dialogue crackles with wit, and the international cast finds the right groove between humour and spy action, with Leo G. Carroll hovering on the edges to underline the Hitchcock connection.

The Prize does not win plausibility points, but earns plaudits for perky playfulness.



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