Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 27, 2019)
At no point in my life did I think that the Nobel ceremonies sounded like a good setting for a thriller. Clearly the creators of 1963’s The Prize felt differently.
Author Andrew Craig (Paul Newman) wins the Nobel for literature. He comes to the ceremony in Stockholm mainly for the money, but Andrew soon finds distractions.
For one, Andrew develops a romantic interest in Inger Lisa Andersson (Elke Sommer) - the assistant assigned to him for his stay – as well as Emily (Diane Baker), daughter of fellow Nobel winner Dr. Max Stratman (Edward G. Robinson). In addition, Andrew grows suspicious when Max acts oddly, and Andrew’s investigation leads him down a dangerous rabbit hole.
I’ll say it again: a thriller set at the Nobel ceremony still sounds like a weird concept, but as it plays, The Prize uses Stockholm and the Nobel elements as little more than window dressing. These concepts feel like a gimmick and not anything essential for the story itself.
In addition, the synopsis I provided above sells the movie short somewhat, as it omits a lot of characters. Newman’s role does become the focal point, but he doesn’t dominate as much as one might expect – heck, Newman doesn’t even appear onscreen until more than 13 minutes into the film.
A look at director Mark Robson’s filmography hints at the movie’s scope. With flicks like Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls show an emphasis on soap opera melodrama, and that tone pervades Prize.
Which I regard as a disappointment, as I thought the sudsy orientation damaged the movie’s potential as a thriller. While the mystery elements increase as the story progresses, Robson still feels more interested in laughs and romance among the Nobel winners, and the end result lacks consistency.
If Prize developed compelling characters and situations, I wouldn’t object to the erratic tone, but this never occurs. The film fails to let the characters evolve in an intriguing way, so this remains a thin narrative.
Despite all his cinematic charisma, Newman fails to bring much to Prize. He tends to overact and lean toward a campy performance.
Not that I can blame him, as this style matches Robson’s filmmaking MO. Apparently Robson liked broad, goofy soap opera-style dramas, so I guess Newman “acted down” to suit the director’s preferences.
When even Paul Newman can’t elevate a movie, I know it fizzles. A spotty, lackluster mix of romance, thrills and comedy, The Prize squanders its potential.