Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The Power and the Prize (1956)

THE POWER AND THE PRIZE (1956) is a film about corporate warfare mixed with romance, in the tradition of other mid-'50s business-themed films such as EXECUTIVE SUITE (1954) and WOMAN'S WORLD (1954).

Cliff Barton (Robert Taylor) is the righthand man of George Salt (Burl Ives), chairman of Amalgamated World Metals. Cliff, as Salt's heir apparent, is also engaged to marry Salt's young niece Joanie (Nicola Michaels).

A business trip to London forces Cliff to confront his dissatisfaction with Salt's cutthroat business tactics. When Cliff meets and falls head over heels for a lovely war refugee pianist (Elisabeth Mueller), he also must face up to the fact that he is engaged to the wrong woman.

The film, which runs 98 minutes, moves a bit slowly at times, but it's nonetheless absorbing and is well worth seeing for the excellent cast. Robert Taylor fans will find it particularly enjoyable, as he appears in the vast majority of the scenes as the conflicted business executive whose core values are rock solid.

The attraction of the steady, mature Cliff to the excitable Miriam (Mueller) is somewhat perplexing at first, but it seems that the answer to their relationship must be, at least in part, that opposites attract. Maybe someone as passionate as Miriam, even though she could be a bit silly, was what Cliff needed in his life.

I found Elisabeth Mueller's character overdone, particularly in the early going, but the character improved as the film went on. I particularly liked her last few scenes. She has an interesting confrontation with Mary Astor, who plays Salt's wife. Astor makes the most of her very brief screen time.

Burl Ives plays the power-grabbing, ruthless tycoon Salt with an underlying layer of sadness which adds an interesting dimension. I particularly enjoyed Charles Coburn and Cedric Hardwicke as businessmen who see through Salt's machinations and realize which of Amalgamated's executives is made of the right stuff.

The film's supporting cast includes Cameron Prud'homme, Richard Deacon, Richard Erdman, and Ben Wright, who may be best known as Herr Zeller in THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965).

The film has a great look, thanks in large part to its cinematography and costume design. The movie was shot in black and white CinemaScope by the great George Folsey, a 13-time Oscar nominee. Folsey shot two of my favorite movies, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) and SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954). He also filmed EXECUTIVE SUITE.

Helen Rose was Oscar nominated for Best Costume Design for THE POWER AND THE PRIZE. Rose's most famous design was also created in 1956, but it wasn't for a film -- she designed Grace Kelly's wedding gown.

THE POWER AND THE PRIZE was directed by Henry Koster. If I see Koster's name on a movie, I know chances are excellent that I'm going to enjoy it. Koster directed some of Deanna Durbin's best films, including THREE SMART GIRLS (1936), FIRST LOVE (1939), and IT STARTED WITH EVE (1941); the somewhat overlooked romantic comedy THE RAGE OF PARIS (1938) starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Danielle Darrieux; the charming Irish fantasy THE LUCK OF THE IRISH (1948) starring Tyrone Power; and COME TO THE STABLE (1949), a lovely film about the power of Christian faith which deserves to find a much wider audience.

THE POWER AND THE PRIZE has not had a VHS or DVD release. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available online.

Update: THE POWER AND THE PRIZE is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive.


Blogger Eric Lehner said...

Hello - Posting from Canada.

We saw the film for the first time tonight. Excellent dialogue and mature characters. This film illustrates what is meant by the term "Hollywood's Golden Era". This film is well suited for those who enjoy finely crafted rapartee.

10:38 PM  

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