Mark Robson's European military heist caper "A Prize of Gold" casts Richard Widmark as a U. S. Air Force sergeant with a little larceny on his mind. Since I have not read Max Catto's novel, I cannot say with any certainty how slavishly scenarists Robert Buchner of "Dodge City" and John Paxton of "Murder, My Sweet" adhered to the printed page. Nevertheless, Robson, Buchner and Paxton generate considerable suspense as the story unfolds. The filmmakers do an excellent job of setting up the situation and the setting. The first-class cast looks believable and nobody delivers a bad performance. Lenser Tom Moore, who went on the shoot "Goldfinger" and "Diamonds Are Forever," always has his cameras in the right place. Bill Lewthwaite cuts the action together smoothly, and Robson orchestrates the events in such a manner that "A Prize of Gold" never wears out its welcome. Mind you, the first half of the film moves rather slowly but Buchner and Paxton have a lot of exposition to cover. Altogether, producers Irving Allen and Albert R. Broccoli haven't skimped on anything, and the productions values look more than sufficient.
As the film unfolds, a firm is cleaning out a Berlin canal during the Cold War occupation and find $16-million in Nazi gold bullion. The British and the Americans fly it out in different planes to London with armed British and American personal aboard. As conniving Joe Lawrence, Widmark is a selfish individual who gets away with everything wielding blackmail against his commanding officer, Major Bracken (Alan Gifford of "Town Without Pity") who is guilty of marital infidelity. Initially, the trouble for Joe starts when he shows off his new digs to a British NCO, Sergeant Roger Morris (George Cole of "My Brother's Keeper"), and leaves his jeep unattended so that a wayward German youth can steal it. Sergeant Lawrence and Sergeant Morris catch hand-holds and foot-holds on either side of the cab of a truck and the vehicle careens away in hot pursuit of the impetuous youth. The youth crashes Joe's jeep and breaks an axle. He flees from the scene of the wreck, and Lawrence chases him to an out-of-the-way building that is being utilized as a school for orphan German children. Lawrence nabs the youth and confronts Maria (Mai Zetterling of "The Lost People") who serves as their teacher. No sooner has Joe seen her than he becomes infatuated with her. She warns him to stay away, and then Joe meets a wealthy German businessman, Fischer (Eric Pohlmann of "Lust for Life"), who informs Joe that he is a persona non grata. It doesn't take Joe long to behave like a Galahad and rough up Fisher and send the old leech packing, much to Maria's chagrin. Of course, Maria was only using him as a way to pay their passage—her fellow teachers and students—to Rio de Janeiro. Now, Joe is hopelessly in love with Maria and no longer acts like his own selfish personality. They tool around Berlin during the lighter moments of this melodrama in a bizarre German car known as the Messerschmitt KR175 that seats two people one behind the other and looks like the compartment of an airplane. Ironically, if he hadn't gotten romantic over Maria, he might have spared himself a lot of trouble.
Sergeant Morris tries to entice Joe to join him on a deal to steal a plane load of gold and vanish. Joe sees this as a neat way to compensate for his interference with Fischer and Maria and get her and the children to Brazil. Morris brings in a relative, Uncle Dan (Joseph Tomalty of "Moby Dick"), and Uncle Dan arranges a meeting with a retired criminal, Stratton (Donald Wolffit of "Becket"), who wants to have anything to do with them. Nevertheless, greed destroys the better part of Stratton's discretion, and he tags along. He introduces them to a former British flier, Brian Hammell (Nigel Patrick of "The League of Gentlemen"), who agrees to fly the C-47 for a fourth of the loot to an obscure landing field no longer used by the Air Ministry.
Reluctantly, Joe and Morris accept him against their better judgment. Before they know it, flight schedules are changed, and the last flight of gold is poised to be flown out of Berlin. Joe scrambles to alert everybody, and he persuades Major Bracken into letting him fly with the shipment on the pretext that a woman is involved. Joe engineers it so Brian boards the C-47 just as it is about to take off against the wishes of the suspicious pilot. Brian is a flippant sort of fellow, and he turns out to be trigger-happy. After Joe convinces the pilot to allow him to stay aboard, the C-47 takes off once it has picked up a crate of fragile china. Not long after they enter English airspace, Joe and Morris compel the two pilots to leave the flight deck and Brian takes over. During a brief scuffle when one of the crew tries to knock Joe out, Brian wounds the crew member. Brian lands them, and Uncle Dan and Stratton flash the lights on their cars so he will know where to land. Despite his struggles to stay out of the heist, Stratton finds himself up to his ears in the heist. Once they have trucked the gold into London, Joe and Morris have second thoughts and decide to turn themselves over to the authorities. Stratton, who car was burned at the airport, agrees to get out of sight, and he pays all passage costs for Maria and company to Brazil. Brian kills Morris, but he isn't so fortunate with Joe.
"A Prize of Gold" is clearly a crime-does-not pay caper, and Joe admits his guilt, but gets to see Maria and the kids off at the airport.