Paul Newman, Diane Baker, and Elke Sommer in The Prize (1963)


(director: Mark Robson; screenwriters: from the novel by Irving Wallace/Ernest Lehman; cinematographer: William H. Daniels; editor: Adrienne Fazan; music: Harold Gelman/Jerry Goldsmith; cast: Paul Newman (Andrew Craig), Elke Sommer (Inger Lisa Andersen), Edward G. Robinson (Dr. Max Stratman/Prof. Walter Stratman), Diane Baker (Emily Stratman), Micheline Presle (Dr. Denise Marceau), Gerard Oury (Dr. Claude Marceau), Sergio Fantoni (Carlo Farelli), Kevin McCarthy (John Garrett), Leo G. Carroll (Count Bertil Jacobsson), Sacha Pitoeff (Daranyi, Waiter), John Wengraf (Hans Eckhart), Jacqueline Beer (Monique Souvir, secretary); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Pandro S. Berman/Kathryn Hereford; MGM; 1963)
“The only prize this film takes is the booby prize for crudeness.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Journeyman filmmaker Mark Robson (“Von Ryan’s Express”/”Valley of the Dolls”/”Ghost Ship”) directs a terribly flawed, fast-paced and glossy spy yarn that’s cranked up with Cold War tensions and lots of farcical nonsense that goes for humor. It’s based on the bestselling novel by Irving Wallace and takes place in Stockholm during the ceremony for Nobel Prize winners. Ernest Lehman’s script is hokey (this is no North by Northwest), the narrative reeks of unbelievable contrivances, the action scenes are awkward, the dialogue is pitiful, the acting is atrocious and just about everything is illogical. But, at least, Paul Newman and Elke Sommer are in it and they graciously display their movie star good looks and charming personalities.

Arriving in Stockholm to receive their Nobel Prizes are the American John Garrett and the Italian Carlo Farelli for medicine, a German refugee now living in America named Max Stratman (Edward G. Robinson) for physics, an embittered French couple feuding over marital problems Claude and Denise Marceau for chemistry, and writer’s block American playboy writer Andrew Craig (Paul Newman) for literature–known for his last book some six years ago, the anti-Fascist novel called “The Perfect State.”

Communist agents kidnap Max on the first night, using the aid of Emily (Diane Baker), a niece who lost her family during the Holocaust and never knew Max. The Commies tell her a lie that her father, Max’s identical twin named Walter, is still alive and that by helping them she will get him released from behind the Iron Curtain. Max is replaced with an impostor (also played by Robinson), supposedly Walter, who spouts the Communist party line and rails against America during a news conference.

The alcoholic ladies man Craig, who turned off many because during a magazine interview he said he valued the honor only for the $50,000 prize money, suspects something fishy when Max doesn’t recognize him after they met in the hotel lobby and had a good talk, refuses to be photographed when he loved being photographed in the lobby, seems to have grown taller and when they met was vehemently pro-America. When he tells this to his keeper from the foreign ministry, Inger Lisa Andersen (Elke Sommer), she tries to protect him from embarrassing himself further.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

When Craig turns sleuth, his investigation makes him the center of intrigue and the target for the Commie spies. He’s on his own because the police or no one else believe his suspicions. Eventually he gets Inger to help and they discover Max is on a freighter heading for East Germany. In a daring rescue Craig gets Max off the guarded freighter and has feuding jealous research doctors Garrett and Farelli save Max’s life from a heart attack and then kiss and makeup, and he also manages to get Max to arrive in time to accept his award at the formal ceremony. But the impostor flees and is killed by Daranyi, the hotel waiter who works as an assassin for the spy ring, as he mistakes him for Max. Before he dies the impostor blurts out he’s a Swedish actor who is made up to look like the twin, that in reality Walter died long ago behind the Iron Curtain in prison, and to prove what he’s saying is true discards his facial disguise. After the ceremony, which goes off without a hitch, Craig and Inger agree to have a fling.

The only prize this film takes is the booby prize for crudeness.