Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, September 1, 2016


Edmund Purdom and Lana Turner
THE PRODIGAL (1955). Director: Richard Thorpe.

Micah (Edmund Purdom) of Joppa is betrothed to Ruth (Audrey Dalton), but on a trip to Damascus he takes one look at High Priestess Samarra (Lana Turner) and is instantly smitten. He asks his father for his inheritance so he can go off and claim this woman, who worships pagan gods such as Astarte and Baal, and his father gives him the money but says he is now "dead to him". But getting to Samarra as a bearded "interloper" might be a bit of a problem. MGM has taken a simple Biblical parable and "fleshed" it out with a story that is pure Hollywood, but quite entertaining on that level. Purdom is fine as Micah, but Turner, besides being a bit too old, seems to have no clue as to the inner thoughts and feelings of the (admittedly underwritten) character she's playing -- she's just saying lines. There's a host of good character actors in the film, including Cecil Kellaway, seen briefly as the governor; Neville Brand [Eaten Alive] as an evil and sadistic soldier, Rhakim; Henry Daniell as the slave, Ramadi; Jay Novello as a merchant; John Dehner as Micah's brother; and Joseph Wiseman as another slave and instigator. Louis Calhern as the High Priest Nahreeb offers one of his rare indifferent performances, as costume dramas aren't his cup of java. "You hunger for [freed slave Asham] as a pig for husks," Micah tells Nahreeb, and even Samarra tells her High Priest that she doesn't like what he does to his slaves. Francis L. Sullivan [Hell's Island] is better as the portly Bosra. Although Paul Cavanagh is listed in the cast, I couldn't spot him. Although he hasn't a line of dialogue as the mute Asham, who comes to work for Micah, James Mitchell is effective; most of his credits were on TV and All My Children. Little Sandy Descher [Them] plays the strange little girl, Jasmin, but she's not very memorable. Highlights of the film include Micah's battle with a determined vulture in a pit of skeletons and a man who sacrifices himself for Baal by throwing himself into a pool of fire. The film's religiosity never becomes overbearing.

Vwerdict: Not exactly the bible, but worth a look. *** out of 4.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill, watched this one recently and agree with your assessments. The pagan pageantry is fun, but poor Lana is kind of in a trance! Thanks for calling out James Mitchell; no one knows who he is, but he was amazing as Palmer Cortlandt in All My Children and also in one of my favorite films The Turning Point with Anne Bancroft and Shirley Maclaine.
Love these costume epics, though, in Vista Vision or whatnot!! Eye candy!

William said...

According to Lana herself in her memoir, Purdom was insufferable and arrogant, and worse, had garlic breath during his love scenes with her. No wonder she was in a trance!