The Prodigal (1955)

Back in the 1950’s (and in the early 1960’s) there were many historical epics, some of which, The Prodigal included, were based on stories from the Bible. Bible films in particular were popular during the early 1950’s, and this was another film that you could say was trying to capitalise on an overcrowded market. These were film that, while typically expensive productions for their time, would generally expect to turn a sizeable profit. This film wasn’t one of them. It flopped upon release and was generally dismissed back in its day, and even its producers looked back on it with disappointment. In all honesty, I can see why. The film itself wasn’t very special.

The story is based loosely on the New Testament tale of the prodigal son, in which a selfish man abandons his family for a fleeting pursuit of pleasure. In the film, this is interpreted as the story of Micah, a young Hebrew farm boy who, after first seeing Samarra, the high priestess of the goddess Astarte, journeys to the city of Damascus in order to have her, but after being led astray and losing almost everything, he eventually returns to his family, as in the original parable.

While fairly original in its interpretation of the Biblical parable, the story itself is rather underwhelming as a film. I’m fairly certain that they wrote the film as the same kind of morality tale as the parable itself, though going as far as to put the first biblical commandment right after the title sequence just to preach to the converted. The narrative itself is somewhat stilted, and the pacing is quite slow. Much of the film is actually quite boring when you really think about it.

In this regard, some of the blame can be shifted to the film’s cast of rather unimpressive stock characters. I wouldn’t say they weren’t trying. Edmund Purdom wasn’t very bad as the film’s protagonist, and as the high priestess, Lana Turner tried breathing as much life into the film as she could, but in the end it didn’t do much with a lifeless script. The characters lack any sort of real passion even where its appropriate, and they were broadly incapable of delivering a worthy performance, killing whatever dramatic tension there may well have been.

The film itself actually looks quite nice, with a number of lavish set pieces, including what I can only assume a statue of the god Baal, and the costumes are also quite nice. The special effects are alright, but they aren’t necessarily the best. In one part of the film Micah gets attacked by a vulture, but they used a model that doesn’t look much like a vulture at all, more like a Harryhausen-style model of a giant buzzard. I personally don’t consider The Prodigal to be a bad film though. It’s certainly not the worst that it could have been, but it’s not very special either. It was basically a by-the-numbers Bible film that the producers couldn’t even save no matter how hard they tried, and in that respect, it’s no wonder that it failed.

  • Score: 62%
  • Grade: C

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