January 20, 2019

THE PRIZE (1963) and Some Suspicions Confirmed

Starring Paul Newman, Elke Summer, Diane Baker, Edward G. Robinson, Micheline Presle, Gerard Drury, Kevin McCarthy, Sergio Fantoni. Directed by Mark Robson. (1963/135 min). 


Review by Mr. Paws😸

Watching 1963's The Prize for the first time, it sort-of confirmed what I've long suspected about Paul Newman...some roles he took seriously, others he was content to simply show up and be Paul Newman. This one is decidedly one of the latter.

Not that Newman sleepwalks through the film. On the contrary, his relatively cavalier approach to the role is ultimately what makes The Prize so enjoyable.

I also suspect the final product wasn't what screenwriter Ernest Lehman - adapting Irving Wallace's novel - originally had in mind. Throughout the entire film, it is obvious this was once intended to be a Hitchcockian thriller similar to North by Northwest (which Lehman also wrote). But while director Mark Robson made some decent films during his long career, he was definitely no Hitchcock, more prone to engage in sloppy melodrama than Hitch ever was.

Paul Newman suffers for his art.
Some of that sloppy melodrama is definitely present, so I suspect maybe Newman took a look at the script, saw who was attached and thought playing a drunk, womanizing novelist who arrives in Stockholm to collect a Nobel Prize he doesn't care about - beyond the cash award - might be fun, not-to-mention a free trip to Sweden. If that's the case, then Newman and his character, Andrew Craig, could be kindred spirits. Even as the story unfolds in earnest - a plot to replace German-American physicist Max Stratman (Edward G. Robinson) with a doppelganger in order to discredit the United States - Newman appears to take everything about as seriously as Craig does his Nobel Prize.

When Edward G. Robinson dreams.
This is a good thing because the plot is actually pretty silly, and until Newman shows up - well-after the other major players are all introduced - The Prize is tough sledding. I suspect Robson may have looked at the dailies, realized Newman was saving the entire film with sheer charisma and decided to go with the flow. Hence, what would have otherwise been a mundane thriller becomes a semi-comedic star vehicle, with Newman/Craig turning the charm on his beleaguered liaison, Inger (Elke Sommer), getting into compromising - almost farcical - predicaments and using his detective novel skills to find the real Dr. Stratman (though no one else believes him because he's always drunk).

While certainly no timeless classic, The Prize is made memorably amusing by its star. With all due respect to Lehman, Robson and everyone else involved, Paul Newman is almost the whole show here. And if they were around to ask, I suspect most of them would concur.


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