Ernest Lehman and "The Prize"

Ernest Lehman wrote the screenplay for the 1963 movie The Prize, starring Paul Newman, Elke Sommer, and Edward G. Robinson. While the plot follows activities surrounding a fictional Nobel Prize ceremony, the genre (a spy thriller with a romance B-story) is similar to the 1959 film North by Northwest, which Lehman also wrote. North by Northwest was an original story, while The Prize is based on the novel of the same name by Irving Wallace.

While some have called The Prize derivative of North by Northwest, I'm not sure I will go so far. However, there are a few scenes in each that closely parallel each other. For example, in North by Northwest, Thornhill (played by Cary Grant), to escape being killed by the spies in the room of the Antique Auction, causes a fight and the police are called to arrest him. There is a similar scene in The Prize where Craig (played by Paul Newman) is chased by spies trying to kill him. He escapes into a meeting room of a Swedish nudist society (to be shot in a way that "good taste will prevail", according to Lehman's screenplay). There again, to avoid death at the hands of these spies, he raises a confict requiring the police to come and arrest him.

However, there are some interesting aspects what make The Prize worth studying, and here is one lesson to take away from the screenplay. To set this up, Emily (played by Diane Baker) has taken an interest in Andrew Craig. She has been introduced as the sweet niece of a Nobel prize scientist (played by Edward G. Robinson).

This is how Ernest Lehman describes a secret conversation. At this point, only "Ivar" is known by the audience to be a "bad guy" and likely an enemy spy. So this scene is important to the plot as it reveals to the audience that Emily is not the sweet woman we've been led to believe.


They dance in silence until they are on the far side
of the floor. Casually, they glance in the direction
of the Berghs’ table. (We will INTERCUT one or two
POV SHOTS from the dance floor. These shots will
indicate that Emily and Ivar know they cannot be
seen, through the intervening dancers, from the table.)
The dance MUSIC is very loud. We will not hear words.
But we will *see* lips moving now. First Emily says 
something to Ivar. He replies at some length. Emily
nods, speaks to him again. He addresses several
sentences to her. She makes a final remark. Then their
lips fall silent and they continue to dance as before.
Throughout this exchange, their faces have been
without expression.

For more on Ernest Lehman, read the excellent book "Ernest Lehman: The Sweet Smell of Success" by Jon Krampner.

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