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For some reason, this year's Nobel prize in literature has been awarded to the young author Andrew Craig, who seems to be more interested in women and drinking than writing. Another laureate is Dr. Max Stratman, the famous German-American physicist who comes to Stockholm for the award ceremony with his young and beautiful niece Emily. The Foreign Department also assigns him an assistant during his stay, Miss Andersson. Craig soon notices that Dr. Stratman is acting strangely. The second time they meet, Dr. Stratman does not even recognize him. Craig begins to investigate. Written by
Lehman's screenplay is deft, amusing, witty and a bit of a rip-off...
Ernest Lehman can be excused for borrowing liberally from himself in the course of writing the script for THE PRIZE, since he gets us hooked by setting up the tale with some very clever exposition in the first fifteen minutes by having waiters delivering a special guest tray to the various recipients of the Nobel Prize in Sweden at the Grand Hotel, with a sense of irony and humor in their shenanigans.
The sophisticated wit and humor doesn't stop there. As soon as the character of PAUL NEWMAN (as Andrew Craig, literature winner) is introduced, we're treated to another version of the sort of character Cary Grant played in NORTH BY NORTHWEST--a man who suddenly finds himself in a situation where he becomes the target of assassins who want him out of the way because he knows too much.
The similarities don't end there. There's a nudist convention that Newman has to barge into in order to escape two killers and he tries in vain to get them apprehended by the authorities. (Sound familiar?) There are people who refuse to believe his story of an attempted kill where he was thrown off a balcony and into the sea by a man trying to knife him to death. Another familiar moment occurs when he revisits a murder scene with the police--but the scene has been cleaned up and a woman denies that there was ever a dead body on the floor or that they owned a TV set (which is missing), as Newman claims.
Furthermore, every situation Newman is thrown into has its humorous side, mostly because of some stinging one-liners he gets to bandy around at the bad guys, like the waiter who only hours before is the one who threw him off the balcony. "How are the crepe suzettes? Is there a body in there?" Lehman keeps the yarn spinning along in dangerous territory, but always with a good deal of humor in the words and actions of DIANE BAKER (as a mysterious woman), EDWARD G. ROBINSON (in a pivotal role as a Nobel scientist replaced by a double), KEVIN McCARTHY, LEO G. CARROLL and others.
Handsomely photographed in Widescreen and color, it's no NORTH BY NORTHWEST as far as the suspense is concerned, but it is almost as diverting despite some mighty far-fetched escapes that only a writer as talented as Ernest Lehman could manage to make credible. Never read the Irving Wallace book, but I'm sure the crisp dialog can be attributed to Lehman, not Wallace, since it sounds so much like NORTH BY NORTHWEST at certain moments.
Nice jobs by PAUL NEWMAN and ELKE SUMMER as the foreign assistant assigned to be his aid during his stay in Stockholm and with whom, of course, he becomes romantically involved. Newman's breezy performance is full of cocky ease and he's clearly at home in this sort of caper.
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