MOD Movies: Sixties Thrills
"The Prize" and "Dark of the Sun" from the Warner Archive
"The Prize" (Warner Archive) refers to the Nobel Prize in this 1963 cold war thriller. Cynical, hard-drinking, shamelessly womanizing author Andrew Craig (Paul Newman) has reluctantly arrived in Stockholm for the awards ceremony, where he insists it's only for the prize money. But once he's there he finds plenty of reasons to stay: Elke Sommer, booze, Elke Sommer, nightlife, and let's don’t forget Elke Sommer. She plays his "handler" Lisa Andersson and Andrew would like nothing else than some very personal handling from her. And then there's the mystery of the physicist (Edward G. Robinson) with the sudden personality change, a curiosity that sets Andrew's mystery-loving mind whirring and sends him into his very own Hitchcockian adventure with shadowy thugs, tantalizing clues and a web of conspirators determined to either make him look foolish or kill him.
I don’t make the Hitchcock comparison flippantly. "The Prize" is nowhere near the level of the Master's work but it does reverberate with echoes of "North By Northwest," thanks in small part Leo G. Carroll in a small role and in large part to screenwriter Ernest Lehman, who adapts Irving Wallace's novel but tosses in set pieces right out of his great Hitchcock lark. Give the man credit for reworking the "North by Northwest" auction scene into a nudist lecture! Lehman has plenty of fun with the dialogue, both in Andrew's sassy flirtations ("And what was she wearing?" "Sort of an off-the-shoulder smile") and his smart-aleck remarks when no one believes that someone is trying to kill him. Newman tosses it all off with the sly bad boy charm he wielded in his early stardom in films like "The Long Hot Summer" and "Hud."
This is far more lightweight and familiar than those Newman classics and director Mark Robson goes through the paces with sturdy but anonymous professionalism. The pacing is snappy and the romantic interludes entertaining, but Robson never actually wrings any suspense or tension or thrills from this romantic thriller. Newman's rascally performance keeps the film going while Elke Sommer is sexy, sharp and delightfully exasperated by Andrews shenanigans, which she finds increasingly hard to resist.
Next to the refinement of "The Prize," the 1968 "Dark of the Sun" (Warner Archive) is raw adventure, a film in the mold of "The Dirty Dozen" dropped into the civil war chaos of the Congo. Rod Taylor is the mercenary soldier hired by the besieged government to take a train through the jungle to retrieve a fortune in diamonds from the mines before the rebels get it (rescuing the civilians is an afterthought, as far as the government is concerned). Even more dangerous than the rebels is the Teutonic army officer (Peter Carsten) under orders to accompany the mission. If you've seen the cover, he's the one wielding the chainsaw against the unarmed Taylor. Nice guy.
Jim Brown (fresh out of "The Dirty Dozen") is Taylor's second-in-command and conscience, a man fighting for his country rather than a paycheck, Kenneth More an alcoholic doctor who would rather spend the trip soused and Yvette Mimieux a civilian on hand mostly to react to the despicable behavior on display. And some of it is truly inhuman, thanks to Karsten's former Nazi officer, who ready to murder anyone between him and the diamonds, even a pack of orphan children. Black children, of course, which puts the racial divide front and center even as the dialogue takes pains to avoid slurs and epithets.
Jack Cardiff was one of the great cinematographers before he turned to directing and it is a terrific looking movie. The lush visuals contrast with the brutality and sadism of the violence, which Cardiff presents with real grit. It's like an unsavory Alistair Maclean thriller with racial politics tossed in and then largely danced around and characters who don't even pretend to hide their mercenary impulses. But say what you will about the confused morality, it does deliver the goods in terms of compromised heroes and despicable villains doing anything it takes to survive a war zone mission.
Both of these recent releases are presented in remastered editions and they look very good: solid color, clean image, muscular Dolby Mono soundtrack. Both are anamorphic widescreen, a reminder of the days when Hollywood loved its wide spectacles.