Lies, Spies & a Nobel Prize – Rediscovering ‘The Prize’ (US 1963 – 134 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - September 29, 2015
Lies, Spies & a Nobel Prize – Rediscovering ‘The Prize’ (US 1963 – 134 mins)

A movie rarely mentioned when discussing Paul Newman’s best films, the fun spy romp ‘The Prize’ is to me, one of the better thrillers from the genre’s busiest decade. A slick adventure taking in the sights of Sweden, it remains a diverting watch featuring a handsome cast, witty banter and an involving plot.

Soon after arriving in Stockholm to receive his Nobel Prize for literature, boozy American writer Andrew Craig (Paul Newman) finds himself caught up in a plot which sees fellow prize winner; German physicist Max Stratman (Edward G. Robinson), kidnapped by Communists and replaced by a lookalike, before the start of the ceremony. With the help of his assistant Inger (Elke Sommer) and Max’s niece Emily (Diane Baker), Andrew relieves himself from the boredom of the proceedings, to investigate, especially after noticing that the replacement ‘Max’ is now acting very odd with the media, and also failing to recognize Andrew from an earlier meeting with him. It appears that the Communist sympathisers want it to look like the German doctor has defected, while they can publicly condemn the West at the same time.

What helps make ‘The Prize’ a winner for me are the effortless performances from the talented cast. After appearing in the heavy drama’s ‘The Hustler’ (’61) and ‘Sweet Bird of Youth’ (’62), it was good to see Paul Newman playing a light-hearted character, and he was excellent as the alcoholic ladies’ man, keeping his character charming enough without being too smug. Edward G. Robinson was also very good in one of his last great roles, and appeared to enjoy playing dual characters. 23 year old German-born beauty Elke Sommer had a nice rapport here with Newman and went on to co-star in the following year’s ‘A Shot in the Dark’ (’64) before later settling into mainly euro-horrors and low-brow comedies. The always watchable Diane Baker was her usual classy self, while other fun support came from old pro’s Kevin McCarthy and Leo G. Carroll.

Canadian director Mark Robson handled the glossy story well and, although it’s not as acclaimed as his earlier dramas ‘Champion’ (’49) and ‘The Inn of the Sixth Happiness’ (’58), I think it’s better than his more popular subsequent movies; ‘Von Ryan’s Express’ (’65) and the trashy hit ‘Valley of the Dolls’ (’67). Hitchcock collaborator Ernest Lehman adapted Irving Wallace’s twisty novel, and legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith provided the excellent jazz infused score.

The film makes excellent use of popular Swedish locations, including the Grand Hotel and the colourful Humlegården Park. Amongst all the goings-on is a fun scene where Newman finds himself hiding out at a nudist convention, before things get more serious towards the end where hidden identities are finally revealed.

‘The Prize’ may not be quite as enjoyable or memorable as that same years ‘Charade’, but it’s a mostly engrossing espionage flick with enough innuendo and intrigue to keep mystery buffs more than satisfied.

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