The Power and the Prize (1956) is playing on Turner Classic Movies on Sat, August 24, 2013 04:00 AM est. *NOTE*:A TCM programming day begins at 6:00am EST on the calendar day listed and runs to 5:59am EST in the morning on the next day. Hours listed at 12:00am to 5:59am EST in your reminder will be shown on the NEXT calendar day. Closed captioned.
“The Power and the Prize” is very much a movie of its time. Released in 1956, it reflects both the international situation of the mid fifties and the changing power structure at M-G-M.
Amalgamated World Metals is, on the surface, the perfect liberal paradigm for America. It is a huge international corporation run by unscrupulous men whose only interests are power and wealth. The Chairman, George Salt (of the earth? Burl Ives) is determined on destroying a small English metals company by forcing it into a disadvantageous deal. He sends Cliff Barton, the Vice-Chairman (Robert Taylor) to London negotiate the deal by pulling a fast one on the Brits.
Taylor, however, is to be the exception to the American-power-lust stereotype. When we meet him he seems pleasant but weak, going along with his boss’s plans, even planning to marry the boss’s niece. In London he meets a young woman (Elisabeth Mueller) who is administering a refugee agency for displaced artists. Since the agency is financed by Mrs. Salt, Barton is asked to verify its integrity while he is in London.
Mueller is emotional, almost hysterical, most of the time. She is artsy, hates Americans, hates businessmen, hates everything Barton stands for. Of course they fall in love. And, of course, Barton finds his true self by being exposed to her noble European sensibility. Within a week he turns his life around.
“Power and the Prize” was released in September 1956, two years after the notorious Army-McCarthy hearings into communism in America. The film emphasizes the “red scare” culture of the times, with various people inquiring into Mrs. Linka’s (Mueller’s) possible “commie” background.
M-G-M was undergoing significant changes at this time. In 1951 Dore Schary had maneuvered the legendary Louis B. Mayer out of the company. Mayer’s last production was “Quo Vadis,” representing the grand vision of quality entertainment that he had pursued for decades. Schary, while not rejecting entertainment, believed that movies should have a message. His films were tougher, grittier and didn’t always have a happy ending. Schary himself left the studio in 1956.
Robert Taylor worked for M-G-M longer than any other top ranked player. He had a relationship with Mayer that was close to that of a father and son. Mayer looked after his protégé while exploiting him at the same time. Robert Taylor and Cliff Barton have similar histories—both men who worked loyally for a large company and prospered by doing so. While Taylor and Schary weren’t close, the studio continued to support him while it dropped many others. Barton and Taylor are also decent, honorable men who can, with a little nudging in Barton’s case, be counted on to do the right thing.
The anti-communism theme is also relevant to the actor. In October of 1947, Taylor testified, albeit under duress, before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He did not call anyone a communist but made his opposition to communism in general very clear. The film even refers specifically to testifying before a congressional committee.
“The Power and the Prize,” is, then, a movie with layers. It is well acted by all of the principals. Sir Cedric Hardwicke is particularly effective as the beleaguered head of the British company that Amalgamated tries to con. Burl Ives blusters and bullies with gusto. Mueller throws herself into her part and has good chemistry with Taylor. Taylor, as always, brings a combination of restraint, glamor and goodness to his character. The other characters bounce off him like waves on a rock.
For some reason the film was filmed in black and white and in Cinemascope, which seems a waste. It would have been better in color or not in Cinemascope since it is essentially an interior oriented drama. Nonetheless it is visually sumptuous with a sort of East coast “Dallas” ambiance. Well worth a look. Review by me for the IMDB
This film is one of my very favourite Robert Taylor films, and not only for the above mentioned comments in your review. This was light hearted role for Bob as so many of his roles in his later films were westerns, period films or dramas with a dark edge. A rare chance to see Robert Taylor in a modern setting acting in a manner which may not be far removed from his real life. He was so incredibly handsome,and his captivating smile was ever present. Although Elisabeth Mueller overacted in her role, watching Bob in this very pleasant film was a delight to this long time fan. Thank you Judith for highlighting another of his films.
PS. I watched this film (again !!) just 2 nights ago so good timing for your review.
Hi, June, I really like this movie, too. For one thing RT looked wonderful and he was so believable. I like the bit where he climbs 5 flights of stairs and ends up winded at the top. Mueller should have been told to tone it down. I guess it wasn’t a good experience for her as she never did another American movie. Thanks for commenting.
Judith, she did just another one–a British MGM production, actually–along with Robert Mitchum and Gia Scala (yep, she played Paquita on “Tip On A Dead Jockey”) in 1959 and retired afterwards. Even though she overacts her role and is far from being the perfect leading lady for a devastating handsome, soon to be middle-aged Cliff Barton… what a pleasure is too watch “The Power and the Prize” again and again! I think June and I fully agree on how great were those two Koster movies. Interesting review of the film, Judith, as usual!
I do like the Koster movies. I just watched Tip again two nights ago. I love the scene where RT and Dorothy Malone sing a duet after doing some funny stuff with British accents. I’m convinced that he’s really playing the piano. I also love Rogue Cop. I think Chris Kelvaney is related to Matt Holbrook (except in being crooked, of course).