'The Prize': THR's 1963 Review
On Dec. 25, 1963, Roxbury-MGM unveiled the 135-minute film The Prize, starring Paul Newman, Edward G. Robinson and Elke Sommer. The Hollywood Reporter's original review, headlined "'The Prize' Is Amusing and Absorbing Film With Strong Box Office Assets," is below.
MGM's The Prize should be just that at the box office; a funny, suspenseful, romantic film of exotic situations and settings. The Pandro S. Berman production is based loosely on the best-selling novel of the same name; it retains its assets while discarding its drawbacks. Wisely, the story has been attacked from a satirical approach, to give it the flavor of some of Alfred Hitchcock's intrigues. Mark Robson's direction gives The Prize tension and humor, and a good deal of interesting characterization. The Prize should be a much discussed and popular attraction.
The film has its faults, among them over-length that is not entirely justified by the parts that make it up. Some of the characters are dull and rather pointless. Some of the scenes seem to lead nowhere and don't add much value to the script as a whole. But generally, The Prize is an amusing, absorbing film whose lulls and length can be tolerated.
Diversity of Characters
Ernest Lehman, who did the screenplay, has a special talent for this form of script, e.g., North by Northwest, etc. The Prize of the title is the Nobel Prize, the most famous, richest award for excellence in the world. Irving Wallace's novel, on which the film is based, used the Grand Hotel format for assembling a diversity of characters, all winners of the prize, and introduced East-West espionage to give the various subplots a framework. Wallace's approach was serious. Lehman, properly, takes the preposterous tale and makes its key a sophisticated foolishness that covers a multitude of improbabilities. His attitude is: skate swiftly over thin ice and if possible do so with dash and dazzle. He makes the embroidery more important than the fabric. The Swedes might get a little stuffy about this cavalier treatment of their celebrated prize, but nobody else is likely to care about anything but the entertainment values, and they are profuse.
The picture assembles a group of prize winners. There is Paul Newman, liquor-loving American novelist; Edward G. Robinson, a refugee scientist; Micheline Presle and Gerard Oury, French husband-and-wife scientific team from France; Sergio Fantoni and Kevin McCarthy, Italian and American doctors, respectively, antagonistic co-winners of a joint award in medicine. Although the assemblage is glittering in intellectual terms, Nobel laureates are not notably long on excitement. The film fixes that by having Robinson kidnapped by communists, with a double planted in his place. Newman stumbles on the switch and doggedly pursues his suspicions in the face of indifference and disbelief. He solves the mystery — a communist attempt to coerce Robinson into work for the East — and gets the proper man to the Prize awards, a ceremony that is the climax and finish of the film.
Newman has a good approach to his role, a believable intellectual quality; he could be a writer. He is suitable to the romantic aspects, in a liaison with Elke Sommer, who plays his Swedish guide. The athletic pursuits of the chase also are well done. Robinson plays two roles, the democratically minded scientist and his communist brother. His differences must be subtle because the deception is not to be obvious, and he handles this difference with skill. Miss Sommer is a striking beauty and a capable actress. Diane Baker, as Robinson's niece, has interest.
Important Supporting Roles
Micheline Presle makes a glamorous French scientist, credible in her intellectual capacity and as a lady whose romantic instincts are temporarily aroused by Newman. Leo G. Carroll makes a very convincing Swede, the titled gentleman who is major domo of the event and nursemaid to his temperamental charges. The friction between Fantoni and McCarthy is a weak point in the film. It never seems very important and just generates unpleasantness. Gerard Oury is good as Miss Presle's husband. There are many important supporting roles. These characters are especially valuable in a film of this sort where mystery is an element and an audience is never sure which person, no matter how minor, may be a clue to the proceedings. Notable in this regard are Jacqueline Beer, Sacha Pitoeff, John Wengraf, Don Dubbins, Virginia Christine, Rudolph Anders, Martine Bartlett, Karl Swenson, John Qualen and Ned Wever.
Tops in Technical Aspects
The Price was filmed in Hollywood, with background and atmospheric shots in Stockholm, locale of the Nobel Prize awards. The Panavision-Metrocolor photography by William H. Daniels has a terse beauty about it, and a fluidity that conveys the background and the mood while focusing on the individuals. Art direction by George W. Davis and Urie McCleary, with set decoration by Henry Grace and Dick Pefferle, was faced with the task of creating interiors and some exteriors that must preserve the Swedish air, and this was accomplished strikingly. Bill Thomas' wardrobe is another atmospheric assist. Adrienne Fazan's editing and Franklin Milton's sound are both technically proficient.
Music, by Jerry Goldsmith, is cleverly used to heighten the mood, to play against it and to give emphasis. It is a memorable score. — James Powers, originally published Dec. 4, 1963