The Prize Of Peril
(a.k.a. Le Prix Du Danger)

Director: Yves Boisset  
Gerard Lanvin, Marie-France Pisier, Michel Piccoli

I can always remember there being a television set in my house no matter how far I look back upon my life. My very first memories of television are that we only had two television channels, and since they were Canadian channels, there wasn't much on that I would call entertaining. A little later, our family upgraded so that we got the "big three" channels from the United States, and it's at this point my memories of television past start to become more rosy. I remember being captivated by cartoons such as Mighty Mouse and Abbott & Costello (yes, that comic duo had their own Hanna-Barbera cartoon show.) There was also Sesame Street and The Electric Company as well. At a very young age, I wasn't terribly interested in more adult shows, but I have a few memories of them. There were soap operas that my mother was interested in, but completely bored this reviewer as a small child. (Nowadays, I respect soaps for managing to crank out five hours of new material every week.) And then there were game shows. I confess that on shows like Hollywood Squares and Match Game, the one-liners from people like Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly went over my head, and I wasn't able to understand why these shows' attitude was that these people were extremely funny. One game show that I liked better was The Price Is Right. The host of the show, Bob Barker, came across as a very likable guy, and had a sense of humor that even this small child could understand a lot of the time. I remember playing along with the games at home, and seeing if I would win the prizes if I was in the studio playing. It didn't take me long to realize that I would be a lousy contestant, though I was consoled years later when I read an interview with Barker where he said he'd also be a lousy contestant if he played the show.

But some of my past memories of game shows seen as a child are much darker than the pleasant froth I got from those game shows I discussed above. There was one kind of game show that, even as a child, I despised. And that happened to be Canadian game shows. While I might have been of a single digit age, I knew there was something wrong about game shows with shabby looking sets and grand prizes that consisted of something cheap like a blender or a book. Even today, contestants in Canadian game shows like You Bet Your Ass are lucky to get anywhere near a thousand dollars as a grand prize. Because of being traumatized by these extremely cheap game shows as a youth, I can't take game shows that seriously even as an adult. Indeed, if you look at our modern day culture, you will see many people have this same attitude as I have. If you turn the channel, you will see that dozens of sitcoms and sketch comedy shows have dealt with game shows in a comic fashion, poking fun at their excesses. This has happened ever since television game shows started to air. This comic look at the game show genre has also happened in movies as well, like when Viewer Discretion Advised had a segment concerning an outrageous game show. When it comes to depicting in popular culture game shows that will supposedly happen in the future, however, things turn a lot darker. We have books like Stephen King's The Running Man that predict game shows in the future will involve stuff like killings and executions as entertainment.

Actually, I can understand why many people have a cynical theory that game shows in the future will be as dark and dismal as King predicted in his book. With every decade that goes by, new things start appearing on TV shows (not just game shows) that wouldn't have been allowed The Prize Of Periljust a few years earlier. It can be argued that mankind is sinking further into depravity every year. It's interesting to think about what may happen, which is why when I found a copy of The Prize Of Peril, its premise of a deadly game show in the future intrigued me. Though there were a couple of other things about the movie that also interested me. It was a French movie, and a foreign viewpoint promised I might see something I hadn't seen before. Another interesting thing was that the premise of the movie sounded very much like the one used in Stephen King's novel The Running Man. See if you agree with me: In France of the near future (though possibly it's an alternate present) there is a game show called The Prize Of Peril that has the entire country captivated. The contestants of the game show are taken by helicopter a mile away to a location from the studio, and once they reach that location they have four hours to get back to the studio. If they reach the studio in time, they will win a prize of one million dollars. It may sound simple, but there's a catch. At the same time, five armed hunters pursue the contestant with the intent to kill him. So far, no contestant has won the game, all being killed before reaching the studio. But the unemployed and struggling Frederick Jacquemard (played by French actor Gerard Lanvin) signs up for the game regardless of the risk, confident that he can win the grand prize. Indeed, once he's accepted by the television network and starts to play the game, he shows he's not an easy target, which soon gets the television network worried and scheming to stop him before he can get the million dollar prize.

It does sound somewhat like The Running Man, doesn't it? But I doubt that these French filmmakers had read that book before making The Prize Of Peril, seeing that King's book was released just a year before this movie came out, and that King's book was initially not popular because it was first published under a pseudonym. As it turns out, the credits of The Prize Of Peril reveal it is an adaptation of the 1958 Robert Sheckley short story of the same name. (Of course, knowing this fact then makes one wonder if King knew of Sheckley's story before writing The Running Man, but I won't get into that and instead concentrate on reviewing this movie.) Anyway, while I have never read anything of Robert Sheckley, my research of him uncovered that he often wrote in a comic or satirical vein. The makers of The Prize Of Peril seem to have respected their source story because their movie doesn't always take things seriously, and sometimes the movie's humor does work. For example, in the qualifying test for wannabe game show contestants, the contestants find themselves in flying airplanes without pilots, and have to somehow figure out how to land the airplanes without killing themselves. Later on, during the game show broadcast, there are comic commercials or amusingly forced references to the show's sponsors. But the biggest source of humor to be found in the movie comes from actor Michel Piccoli (Atlantic City) as the host of the game show. Although he is dubbed (like all the actors of this French/Yugoslavian co-production), he gives a very animated performance, frequently flashing a wicked grin and giving off comic gestures and exaggerations that show he's having as much fun playing this character as the character is having with being in command of a popular game show.

While I am sure that the comic aspects of The Prize Of Peril will be somewhat of a welcome surprise to people who find this movie in their local dusty thrift store, I have a feeling that their main desire will be to be entertained with well-done action sequences, so I'll get into those sequences next in this review. As you may have guessed, despite being a co-production, this was not a high budget movie (the budget looks to have been not much more than an Italian actioner of the same period), so the action sequences are not large scale. With its limited funds, the movie instead aims at making the action realistic and gritty. I will admit that the action at times had me interested, building suspense in some sequences and delivering some satisfying violence in others. Despite moments like those, however, I have to admit that I didn't get involved with the on-screen action as much as I would have liked, and as a result I can't muster enough enthusiasm to recommend The Prize Of Peril. The biggest reason why the movie failed to move me enough was with the depiction of the character of Frederick. The movie fails to construct him in a way that would grab the audience and put him on his side. There's no time devoted to showing his life before the game show; the first time we see him, he is in the audition room of the TV studio. We learn very little about him from that point on, and the little we learn does not endear him to us. For example, we learn that he has been unemployed for just a week - he's not exactly desperate for money for him and his loved ones. Indeed, when he reveals his motivations for playing on the game show, we learn that he's basically greedy and not wanting to do something like get another job. He doesn't listen to his pleading girlfriend; he's just out for himself. As a result, I was more hoping that this character would get punished in the end in some way, rather than winning the million dollar prize that the public (for some unknown reason) wants him to win as well.

As disappointing as the writing may be for this central character, it is certainly a lot better than how some of the other characters in the movie have been written. In the first part of the movie, the movie takes pains to introduce two female characters - Frederick's girlfriend, and a journalist who publicly condemns the game show - who we are lead to believe will each play some part in the events that are to follow. Yet these characters are dropped quickly and never mentioned again. There seems to be no reason why the characters are in the movie in the first place. As it turns out, the bad writing found in The Prize Of Peril goes beyond the movie's characters. For one thing, the movie spends far too much time detailing what happens before the game starts for the protagonist - more than half the movie first goes by, as a matter of fact. Many people in the audience will get impatient before the movie really gets going. And when the game does start, the movie doesn't explain beforehand most of the rules of the game. Instead, the movie resorts to having Frederick several times finding television sets tuned into the game show, and the host of the game show telling Frederick of various rules. It comes across like the movie is making things up as it goes along, which is frustrating for the audience. It doesn't help that some of the rules Frederick learns about are ludicrous, like the fact that participants in the game show are forbidden to fight back against the people hunting them down. (Wouldn't that rule turn off many potential contestants?) As you can see, you can't take The Prize Of Peril very seriously, just like the real life Canadian game shows I have suffered through. One has to wonder why France didn't co-produce with Canada instead of Yugoslavia, since both countries clearly have a lot in common when it comes to making bad game shows. In game show terms, this movie is a "zonk".

(Posted February 9, 2015)

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: The Hunting Party, Overkill, Raw Courage