Thursday, December 8, 2011

Meanwhile, back in Sweden

This is the week that the Nobel Prizes are being awarded, as happens every year on the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel. So why am I mentioning this in a blog about classic movies? Well, it's because TCM is using this as an opportunity to show The Prize this afternoon (December 8) at 3:15 PM.

Paul Newman stars as Andrew Craig, the reclusive American writer who is being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. However, Craig has a problem: he's got a bad case of writers' block, and hasn't been able to come up with any of the sort of literature that the Nobel committee would award for the past five years. During that time, he's been making his living by writing detective stories under an assumed name. But, he's not the only Nobelist to have problems. All of them do. The winners in chemistry are a husband and wife who are at each other's throats, to the point that the husband has brought his mistress to the prize ceremony in the guise of his "secretary". And then there are the medicine winners, Sergio Fantoni and Kevin McCarthy. These two play an Italian and American doctor respectively, each of whom thinks the other pilfered his work in coming up with the discovery that joint won them the Nobel.

The biggest problem of them all is had by the physics prize winner, Dr. Stratman (Edward G. Robinson). He doesn't know it, but he's about to be kidnapped, abducted to East Germany, and replaced by a lookalike (who is unsurprisingly also played by Edward G. Robinson) who is going to announce his defection to East Germany. Dr. Stratman does have one good thing going for him, however, which is that he bumped into Craig before getting kidnapped. The reason this is a good thing is that Craig sees Stratman again at a mixer held after the kidnapping, and when "Stratman" doesn't recognize him, suspects that there's something up. Craig, having written a bunch of detective stories, immediately begins to investigate.

At the point the plot begins to break down a bit, if only because it's a bit unrealistic. It is, however, rather entertaining. Craig's investigation causes problems not only for the people trying to spirit Stratman away, but also for the Swedish authorities, who have this crazy American going nuts in the streets of Stockholm. (One of the more interesting escapades has Craig winding up in a meeting of nudists. Women will be disappointed that we only see Paul Newman from the waist up.) This is especially bothersome to the young Elke Sommer, who has been assigned the task of being Craig's minder, and winds up falling for him along the way. Eventually the other prize winners get involved as well, and help solve the disappearance in a satisfying way.

As I said, it's unrealistic, but fun. A lot of that fun comes from screenwriter Ernest Lehman, who had previously done the screenplay to North by Northwest. So, as you can probably figure, The Prize has a lot that looks as though it would be right at home in a Hitchcock movie. In fact, it was directed by Mark Robson, whose work ranges from Val Lewton's The Seventh Victim to fun dreck like Valley of the Dolls. (Along the Hitchcock lines, Stratman's niece is played by Diane Baker, who would appear a year later in Marnie as Sean Connery's sister-in-law.) There's both humor and suspense, and Swedish scenery that's lovely to look at. Edward G. Robinson doesn't have a particularly challenging role here, but he was always professional. The same is true for Paul Newman.

If you want great groundbreaking cinema, The Prize is not the movie for you. But if you just want to sit back, relax, and watch something that's not too taxing, The Prize is more than perfect for that. It's gotten a release to DVD as part of the Warner Archive.

No comments: