Based upon a popular novel by Irving Wallace, The Prize (1963) was written by six-time Academy Award-nominee Ernest Lehman and stars Hollywood hot-shot Paul Newman and Hollywood heavyweight Edward G. Robinson. It was shot on location in exotic Stockholm. It is a tale of intrigue, mistaken identities, spies, and murder. It should have been a bonafide classic. Were it directed by someone like Alfred Hitchcock or Orson Welles, it would have been. Instead, it was helmed by Mark Robson and we got a film that’s just okay and mostly forgettable.
Newman plays Andrew Craig, a writer who is beloved by critics and unnoticed by the masses. He’s in Stockholm to collect the Nobel Prize for Literature. Though he cares nothing for awards, he remains quite interested in the cash bonus that comes with it. While checking into the hotel, he meets Dr. Max Stratman (Robinson) and his beautiful niece Emily (Diane Baker). Later that evening, he sees them again only Dr. Stratman doesn’t seem to recognize him. That’s strange, but maybe the old man is getting senile. Or maybe, as Craig begins to believe, this new guy is an imposter.
Craig is accompanied by Inger Andersson (Elke Sommer) from the Swedish Foreign Ministry who serves as his guide and is ultimately there to keep him of trouble. He flirts with her incessantly; he flirts with Emily too. Later, he meets Dr. Denise Marceau (Micheline Presle), who flirts with him in order to make her husband jealous. For a time, the film acts like a silly '60s romantic comedy with Craig switching between women and drinks while making wisecracks. Then he starts to suspect foul play. Then there is foul play and suddenly we are in a Hitchockian thriller where an average man (well an average man who wins the Nobel Prize for Literature that’s played by Paul Newman) is thrust into a world of intrigue and danger.
An act of violence occurs but by the time Craig gets the police on site, all evidence has been removed. Everyone thinks he's gone mad. Maybe he has, except then why do people keep trying to kill him? There are echoes of Hitchcock all over this film. There is a scene where Craig is nearly run over by a car on a bridge that is reminiscent of the famous crop-duster scene in North by Nothwest. Another scene finds Craig in the middle of a nudist rally where he is forced to continually interrupt so that the nudist will call the cops, which is similar to the auction scene in North by Northwest (hmmm, maybe it's not ripping off all of Hitchcock's films just North By Northwest which was also penned by Lehman). The tone is light throughout but it never manages that Hitchcockian touch.
It never really works on either as a comedy or a thriller As a swinging '60s comedy, it is never that fun or funny, and he never really gets the girl, or even tries that hard. As a thriller, it never hits its stride. It just isn’t that exciting or mysterious. It certainly doesn’t figure out how to blend both genres into something interesting. It isn’t bad; it’s worth a watch if it comes on TCM on a lazy Sunday, but it's not all that good either. The fault lies in the direction and editing. Mark Robson is an adequate director, but he lacks a visual flair. There is nothing he does that makes this film stand out. Editing wise, it's not poorly done, but there is so much that could have been chopped down that would have made the film much tighter and thus more enjoyable.
There is a long opening sequence that introduces all the major players and quite a few of the minor ones. The set-up is that two hotel workers are delivering each of the Nobel winners a gift basket. In better hands, this could have been a quick set of scenes in which we meet each character and learn something interesting about them in a fun manner. But here it just drags. There are long conversations where a woman berates the workers for speaking in Swedish instead of English, then before each room they argue over who will be the talker and how best to give the baskets away. They meet each character but those moments are throwaways. We don’t learn much about anyone to make the meetings worthwhile, and the scenes themselves just aren’t interesting. This goes on for 20 minutes and it doesn’t work at all as character introductions or anything at all really.
So much of the film is like that. We get long scenes that are just dull, and the interesting parts are either too short or directed without spark. In the end, we have a film with a great cast, an interesting premise that is put together well enough to keep me watching, but not well enough to make me ever want to see it again.
Warner Archive has given the film a brand new 1080p HD master with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and a DTS HD-Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack. The only extra is a trailer.
Considering the talent on board, The Prize is a big disappointment. One can only imagine how much better it could have been. As it is, I’d say it's worth seeing once. especially if you are a fan of the stars. Warner Archive has given it a nice restoration but this release contains nothing else to entice.