Friday, June 24, 2011

THE PRIZE: Swedish Mayhem

"C'mon, Eddie, do your Rico impression! Please?"
Thanks to the miracle of Print-on-Demand DVDs, one of my favorite Hitchcock pastiches, The Prize (1963), as in Nobel Prize, has become available from the Warner Archive. It couldn’t happen to a more entertaining movie! Loosely based on Irving Wallace’s best-selling 1962 novel, it’s quite appropriate that much of The Prize’s action takes place in Sweden’s Grand Hotel in Stockholm, since this lively, sophisticated yet impish international thriller plays like a cross between the classic movie adaptation of Vicki Baum’s Grand Hotel and Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (my favorite film of all time, for those who came in late).

The folks at MGM clearly realized screenwriter Ernest Lehman’s witty dialogue would be as important to the success of The Prize as it was to Lehman’s Oscar-nominated screenplay for North by Northwest (1959), so they lavished The Prize with plenty of smart, snappy lines in addition to the time-honored glossy MGM production values. They also cast The Prize with many actors who’d worked with Hitchcock before and/or after they became part of the Prize package, like Paul Newman (more about his Hitchcock experience shortly); Marnie’s Diane Baker; The Birds’ Karl Swenson, along with veteran character actor John Qualen, as bickering room service personnel at the Grand Hotel; and frequent Hitchcock supporting player Leo G. Carroll as the Nobel committee’s outwardly calm but inwardly worried head honcho, Count Bertil Jacobsson. Virginia Christine of Folgers Coffee commercial fame briefly appears in The Golden Crown nightclub scene with Baker and friends and a wine chaser. (Fun fact: Ms. Christine was married to Fritz Feld of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and so many other comedies from 1940 to his death in 1993.) Fans of the classic private eye series 77 Sunset Strip (*snap snap*) may recognize Jacqueline Beer as another sexy secretary type, Monique, the mistress of Nobel Prize-winner Dr. Claude Marceau (GĂ©rard Oury, renowned as a writer/actor/director in his native France). One of the more entertaining Nobel winner vignettes is a piquant running gag in which Newman as Andrew Craig, the Nobel Prize winner for Literature, agrees to help fellow Nobel-prize winner Dr. Denise Marceau (Micheline Presle) pretend they’re having an affair to make her hubby and fellow Nobel-prize winner Claude jealous, culminating in an almost-naked Newman winding up in Denise’s suite with her slow-burning spouse—but I’m getting ahead of myself. The Prize is that kind of movie—very busy (mostly in a good way)! 

Between The Prize and Charade, 1963 was a great year for playfully glamorous Hitchcockian thrillers! Director of Photography William Daniels, who also did the honors for TV’s I Love Lucy and the Oscar-winning The Naked City, got to have fun with trick photography. Great driving symphonic score by Jerry Goldsmith, too, augmented here and there by musical riffs from Bernard Herrmann’s North by Northwest score and another musical riff I swear I’ve heard on Star Trek! Is it just me? Incidentally, I liked the way the filmmakers got past the language issues of the international cast of characters, as decreed by major domo Mrs. Ahlquist (Edith Evanson): “During Nobel Week, nothing but English is to be spoken, even when you quarrel…Now don’t let me hear another word about this, especially in Swedish!”

Paul Newman plays our charmingly sardonic hero, the hard-drinking, womanizing, and of course, Nobel-winning author Andrew Craig, honored for his novel The Perfect State. Indeed, according to the media montage in the film’s opening credits, Andrew is the youngest author to be thus honored since Rudyard Kipling. (Would that make fictional Andrew Craig the Nobel Prize equivalent of real-life youngest Best Actor Oscar-winner Adrien Brody? But I digress….) Andrew is just interested in the money — and maybe also Inger Lisa Andersson (Elke Sommer), the cool, beautiful blonde Foreign Office attachĂ© assigned to keep his scamp tendencies in line. We can feel the chemistry beginning, but Inger Lisa isn’t going to make it easy for him:
Andrew: “How much do you know (about me)?”
Inger Lisa:
“Your lack of regard for the Nobel Prize; your threat to turn it down; your decision to come to Stockholm only because fifty-thousand dollars…how did you put it in Time Magazine?”
“‘Ain’t hay?’…Yes, I think you have caught the outer man, Miss Andersson. But bear in mind that nine-tenths of the iceberg is generally hidden from view.”
Inger Lisa:
“In your case, it happens to be ice cubes.”
For Andrew, having Inger Lisa on his side is sheer delight!
When our irreverent hero gets around to schmoozing with his fellow Nobel Prize winners, he meets Dr. Max Stratman (Edward G. Robinson, another Team Bartilucci favorite), the Nobel Prize winner in Physics. Dr. Stratman is a native German who reluctantly cooperated with the Nazis only to keep his family safe. The endearing Stratman gently chides Andrew in a warm, fatherly way about his flippant, mercenary approach to his Nobel honor. Andrew and Dr. Stratman agree to get together over a bottle of schnapps the next day. But what a difference a day makes: when they cross paths again at the Nobel press conference, Dr. S. acts as though he’s meeting Andrew for the first time! Little does Andrew know that after they said their goodbyes the night before, Eastern Bloc spies kidnapped the real Dr. Stratman to drag him back behind the Iron Curtain, replacing him with his lookalike brother (Robinson pulls double duty here; wonder if MGM paid him twice?), who plans to use the Nobel ceremony to denounce the West before Dr. Stratman “defects.” What’s worse, his lovely niece Emily Stratman (Baker) is playing ball with the bad guys. But Emily’s mercurial behavior is puzzling; is she really a modern-day Mata Hari, or do the bad guys have a hold over her, or what? It’s interesting to watch Emily’s expressions throughout the film, with her sweet face and shifty eyes always at odds with each other; it intrigues and amuses me (granted, I’m easy to please).

Meanwhile, Andrew grudgingly reveals his dirty little secret at the press conference: acclaimed though they are, Andrew’s literary novels haven’t been selling well — but the “private-eyewash” detective novels he writes under a pseudonym are selling like fresh hot pancakes with lingonberries! (Hey, Andrew, if you don’t want the pulp fiction gig, I’ll gladly take it, and so would any number of writers I know!) Skeptical interviewers ask Andrew for an example of his ability to find story material in whatever situation is at hand. Naturally, Andrew improvises a storyline about a Nobel prize winner — who just happens to be a lookalike imposter. You can almost hear the alarm bells going off for Emily and the counterfeit Stratman. Before you can say, “George Kaplan,” Emily, Off-Brand Stratman, and a couple of sinister fedora-wearing jaspers in trench coats are doing their damndest to screw up whatever shreds of credibility Andrew has left (ah, the time-honored “Hide the Corpse” gambit never gets old). Failing that, they’re happy to make Andrew a dead man who’ll tell no tales!

Winning the Nobel Prize turns life upside-down for author Andrew Craig (Paul Newman) when neo-Nazi thugs in Swedes’ clothing decide he’s a man who knows too much!

Our award-winning amateur sleuth thinks he’s finally catching a break in the case at the Nobel banquet. Andrew overhears the wife of fellow Nobel honoree Dr. John Garrett (Kevin McCarthy, yet another Team Bartilucci fave) as she mentions seeing a patient at the local sanitarium who looked like Stratman. This leads to more double-crossing Mata Hari antics from Emily, and the movie’s highlight: Andrew is chased at night from the sanitarium to a nudist conference, in a sequence that winks broadly at North by Northwest’s classic auction scene. According to the IMDb, an uncredited young Britt Ekland is in that nudist seminar as well. With so many attractive blondes in the audience, it was hard to tell one from the other. I wonder what Hitchcock would have said? (Perhaps, to quote The Producers, “Ah-woo-wah, ah-woo-ah-wah!”)
Ironically, Newman is more successful as a Hitchcockian hero in The Prize than he was in Hitchcock’s own Torn Curtain (1966), which had its moments, to be sure (like that great farmhouse scene; you’ll never look at your gas oven quite the same way again). But with its action-packed script, great dialogue, and appealing cast, The Prize is simply more fun than Torn Curtain. If you’re somehow listening in the hereafter, Sir Alfred, no offense intended; we still love you and your movies!

These hairbreadth escapes are getting Andrew's goat!
Not only does Newman let his funny flag fly, but he has delightful chemistry with the irresistible Elke Sommer, she of the eminently kissable lips, in one of her earliest big-screen roles. Sommer won a Golden Globe as Most Promising Newcomer, and the sultry yet ultimately sweet Diane Baker was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Director Mark Robson had worked with Lehman and Newman earlier in From the Terrace (1960), so I’m not surprised that they worked together so well on The Prize. 

Our hero's foe gets the point at Stockholm's Orpheus Fountain
As I mentioned earlier, the other Nobel honorees’ little subplots weave in and out of Andrew’s Hitchcockian hell. In addition to the jealousy charade that Andrew and Denise Marceau pull on Claude Marceau, the Nobel Prize for Medicine gets split as well, since the recipients all came by their findings independently; Dr. Garrett is hell-bent on proving that Italian doc Carlo Farelli (Sergio Fantoni from Luchino Visconti’s Senso) cribbed his research. Farelli brings his aging mother (Grazia Narciso, who guest-starred on Peter Gunn and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, among others) to Stockholm with him, though she seems to be there primarily as a sight gag. Sometimes all these mini-plots result in what Joe Bob Briggs would describe as “the plot getting in the way of the story” but they’re well-acted and entertaining overall. 

Elke Sommer wins Golden Globe over nominee Diane Baker.
Does that mean blondes really do have more fun?
The Grand Hotel has everything, including half-naked Paul Newman!


  1. This is an auspicious day here at TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED: as of today, I have 50 Followers! You like me, you really like me! :-) But seriously, I'm honored and flattered that you guys have been reading and (presumably :-)) enjoying my daft little movie blog. Thanks a million, everyone!

  2. 50 is great, Dorian! Congrats. I love an even number. :) I'm back to being able to post directly on your blog. At least for now. Every day is a new online adventure.

    I'm not as wild about THE PRIZE as you are, Dorian, but I do have fond memories of it. Thanks for the reminder. I hadn't thought about this film in years! I am such a big fan of early Paul Newman. (Adored him in THE LONG HOT SUMMER and SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME and even in FROM THE TERRACE.) Not so much, Elke Sommer. To my mind she always played the same character, never believable (I'm sorry but I never could believe that there was a brain tick-tocking somewhere in that skull) but with her looks, nobody cared.

    I liked Edward G. Robinson. By the way, what was this man's allure? I never could, never did, figure it out. Liked the 'double' storyline in THE PRIZE. Liked Leo G. Carroll - he could express a man resigned to the invevitable, a man determined not to be shocked - better than just about anyone.

    But never for one moment do I believe that the character played by Paul Newman was there because he'd won a Nobel Prize. That whole thing just didn't work for me. Possibly because I never got the idea that he 'believed' it either.

    But having said all this, I did then suspend my disbelief once upon a time, and enjoyed the film anyway. :)

    I'm going to have to see about watching this again at some point.

    What is this DVD on demand thing you mentioned?

  3. Yvette, I'm glad you were about to get into the blog; getting into Blogger nowadays seems to be like getting into some kind of exclusive nightclub! :-) Print-On-Demand DVDs are all the rage these days. You see, some movies aren't in as much demand as big blockbuster movies, yet there are a number of people who want them. That's where companies like Warner Archive and MGM Movies come in, printing just small quantities of DVDs of films as needed for the relatively small number of movie fans who want what Warner Archive and MGM Movies have to sell. Not too many whistles and bells on these DVDs, but most if not all of them at least have trailers. The prices are quite reasonable, too, around $20 or less. Such a deal! :-)

    I got a kick out of your review of THE PRIZE, even if I liked it better than you did! :-) It essentially plays like NORTH BY NORTHWEST JR., and that's enough for me to enjoy myself. As you noted, the key is to suspend disbelief! :-)

    We love Edward G. Robinson! He may not look like Paul Newman, but he's got tremendous screen presence and wonderful nuances in his performances, whether he's playing a hero, a villain, or a character role. Barring unforeseen circumstances, you'll get a nice reminder of what Eddie G. can do as a character actor in my next TotED blog post, DOUBLE INDEMNITY! :-) It's a pleasure to talk movies (and books) with you, Yvette, as always!

  4. I've always enjoyed THE PRIZE and was delighted to see that you reviewed it (and included that nice pic of Elke, who I admire solely as an actress). The 1960s was a great decade for these entertaining escapist pictures--I also like CHARADE, MIRAGE, and ARABESQUE. As I've said before, Dorian, you and Vinny have excellent tastes in movies.

  5. Suspension of disbelief - if we can manage that, we can enjoy just about anything. Well, a 'well-done' anything, anyway. If you can't do this then I think you're missing out on a lot of terrific movies and books and works of art. Not everything in the world has to make complete sense - HEAVEN KNOWS! :)

    Edward G. Robinson was always one of those actors whose screen presence was more than the sum of his parts - don't you think? There was just something special about him that always triggered a response in the viewer. I always liked him. And I hear that in reality he was a very erudite, charming, educated man - an art collector. Like Vincent Price in that respect.

    Thanks for the tip on 'movies on demand' Dorian. I'm going to have to investigate. I usually just rely on Netflix, but I think I'd like to take a more pro-active stance when it comes to finding movies I especially like.

    I do want to run down ABOVE SUSPICION with Joan Crawford, Fred MacMurray and Basil Rathbone. Haven't seen this anywhere. (Terrific book too, if you haven't read it. By Helen MacInnes.)

    Thinking about Paul Newman (and when is that ever a bad thing?) reminds me I might want to talk about one of my favorite of his films one of these days. Stay tuned.

  6. Oh yes, Rick, I'm sure you admire Elke Sommer "solely as an actress"! ;-) Seriously, though, I'm delighted to hear you enjoy purely entertaining escapist movies like THE PRIZE, CHARADE (both of which first came out the year I was born, by the way :-)), MIRAGE, and ARABESQUE as much as Vinnie and I do. The world needs more fun, smart, witty movies like those. Thanks for your remarks and for having great taste in movies! :-)

  7. Yvette, I agree wholeheartedly with what you said about suspension of disbelief, as well as your comparison of Edward G. Robinson and Vincent Price, both gents who by all accounts were lovable joes in real life and not at all like some of the villains they played in movies.

    It's been years since I sat down and read Helen MacInnes' books (used to read them in high school and college), though if I ever have free time again, I'd certainly like to read them again! For some reason, MacInnes' books don't always translate well to the big screen (like the film adaptation of THE SALZBERG CONNECTION, which had one, count 'em, ONE good scene, a fairly inventive car chase). The film version of ABOVE SUSPICION sounds promising, though; I'd like to give that a try sometime!

  8. Really fun post -- never saw movie -- don't know why -- great cast -- wonderful writer and composer -- enjoyed it a lot.....

    Remember me telling you I was trying to learn to edit myself? How was that? Maybe too much? LOL!

    Seriously, your review makes this sound like a movie I might like. Such a wonderful cast of character actors and, of course, the NewMAN! I am an Edward G. Robinson lover -- it's true that his persona is hard to pinpoint. I always think of him as I do Charles Laughton -- just a great actor who had the Gift! When I did my gangster thing, I found a quote by him where he said about himself that some have youth, some have beauty, but "I have menace." Even when he is not a gangster, he still always has that underneath!

    Diane Baker has always been a favorite of mine. She was so good in Marnie, and I always wondered why she wasn't bigger than she was in movies. As for Elke, well, I'm not a fan either. Rick just wouldn't understand! LOL! I did like the line she uses to Newman about ice cubes.

    Really good article, Dorian, with lots of interesting facts about the 6-degrees-of-separation among the actors. And I'm with you - I would be happy to lower myself to writing pulp fiction (I wouldn't have far down to go!)

  9. Learning to edit yourself? Becky, my dear, that was practically shorthand! :-) All kidding aside, thanks muchly! I'm glad you enjoyed my PRIZE package, especially the "Six Degrees of Separation" aspect; guess it IS a small world after all! As a matter of fact, I thought about some of the things you said in your gangster blog post about Edward G. Robinson while I was writing the PRIZE post.

    Diane Baker's been a favorite of mine for some time, too, including her later films like SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and HARRISON'S FLOWERS. That reminds me: I've just GOT to blog about one of my favorite Gregory Peck/Diane Baker movies, MIRAGE, before the summer is over!

    Oh, and I've been meaning to tell you: I LOVE that medieval/stained-glass-looking "B" you've been using for your avatar. It's classy and cool, just like you! :-)

  10. Thanks D -- I'm glad you like my B! And, I FORGOT to tell you congratulations on hitting the big 5-0. It couldn't happen to a nicer blog! We LIKE you, we really LIKE you!

  11. Aw, many thanks for your congrats, Becks! Aren't these mutual admiration societies fun? :-)

  12. Dorian: I love ABOVE SUSPICION, the film. I think you'd like it too. It'a a terrific spy film. Buy you might ask yourself - MacMurray and that man-eater Crawford?

    Yeah, I know.

    But somehow they make it work. Crawford tones herself down a bit. And Basil Rathbone is wonderfully sinister as an evil Nazi who had been to school at Oxford (no less) with MacMurray's character.

    This is not a classic, just a terrific film.

    Maybe I need to write about it on the blog. I'll have to organize my scattered thoughts. It's been a while since I've seen the thing. But my memories of it are very fond.

  13. Hey, folks, please give a great big TotED welcome to our newest smart and snappy Followers, LIFE BETWEEN FRAMES and those brash, fun Brits, THE FRIDAY NIGHT BOYS! If you're already familiar with these blogs, you know they're well worth reading. If they're new to you, by all means check them out at the links below:

  14. Yvette, I seem to recall a time in cinema history when Joan Crawford was (gasp!) an ingenue instead of the formidable force she became in later years. :-) I'll admit I have to wrap my mind around the concept of Crawford and MacMurray playing a couple -- then again, when I was just a kid watching MY THREE SONS and MacMurray's Disney films **SPOILER ALERT** I never would have imagined him in the kind of noir-type roles he performed so well in DOUBLE INDEMNITY, or the weasels he played brilliantly in THE CAINE MUTINY and THE APARTMENT. Thanks for the ABOVE SUSPICION tip, my friend!

  15. Wonderful article with terrific information and you really captured the fun that is the stylish thriller "The Prize".

  16. Beaucoup thanks for your praise of my PRIZE blog post, Caftan Woman! I'm glad you enjoyed it as much as I did! :-)

  17. Oh Dorian,
    I love Newman's early films (one gorgeous man) but I've never seen this film or heard of it before now.

    This was a very detailed review and now that you've described it as 'Hitchcockian' then with it being a thriller with such an interesting cast of characters I just hope that I can actually find it somewhere. (Admittedly I've only seen a handful of Elke Summer vehicles too)

    I'm always waiting around for your great reviews but it's always a bonus when I get here and it's a review on a film I've never heard of. Glad to hear that your fav film is NBN. My favorite film is Rebecca.

    Fabulous! Oh, and Hello Vinnie.

  18. Page, I'm delighted that you enjoyed my detailed review of THE PRIZE -- thanks ever so much! You and our fellow movie mavens will be happy to hear that THE PRIZE is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive -- AND they're having a big sale this weekend! For more details, here's the link:,default,sc.html

    Happy to hear that you and I are both Hitchcock fans, too! Vinnie (who says "Hiya") and I are proud to say that we've been turning on the youngsters in our lives to classic movies -- gotta start off that next generation of film fans right! :-)

  19. Dorian,
    Thanks for keeping and eye out on this film and providing the link.

    I'm glad you're exposing the little ones to the classics. The best memories I have with my mom are watching the old Thin Man films together.

    Hoping others are opening these kids eyes to more than Harry Potter and the Twilight series.


  20. Page, I agree that today's movie-going youngsters need to realize there's more to movies than HARRY POTTER and TWILIGHT (not that there's anything wrong with that; the young'uns have to start somewhere! :-)). We're huge THIN MAN fans, too, by the way.

    One of our family's favorite anecdotes along those lines (I apologize in advance if it turns out I've already told you this story) is from when our niece Jen was a preschooler (she's married and in her twenties now). Vinnie and Siobhan and I were watching NORTH BY NORTHWEST on TV, and to our delight and surprise, little Jen really got into it! During Cary Grant's sexy scenes with Eva Marie Saint on the 20th Century Limited, it soon became clear to Jen that Roger and Eve were going to sleep together. With the confidence of childhood, Jen chirped, "It's okay, they'll both have their pajamas on!" :-)

  21. Dorian, I have never even heard of this flick! And here's me, claiming to be a true Edward G. Robinson fan!

    I really like the devilish playfulness of "Charade", so I think I will like this bit of "Swedish Mayhem", to borrow your phrase. Thanks for the review and for introducing this movie to me. :)

    1. Ruth, I'm delighted that you enjoyed my post on THE PRIZE! I hereby usher you into the Sisterhood of THE PRIZE and all its fun and adventure! Consider it a little Christmas gift of sorts! :-) All of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ wish you and yours a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and anything else you'd like to enjoy over the holidays, my friend!