MGM spent -- and lost -- a fortune on The Prodigal, and the money is very visibly spent. There are lavish sets, elaborate costumes and some choice Joseph Ruttenberg cinematography. Now if only the studio had decided to spend more than $1.98 on the screenplay. Actually, to be fair, it's clear that a lot of effort went into the script -- but it was far too much effort and far too little talent. The very simple, very effective Biblical story that is its basis was blown all out of proportion and out of recognition, to the extent that the point of the original story becomes secondary. This is bad enough, but what makes things worse is that the plot that has been concocted is trite and unconvincing, though not as trite and unconvincing as the dialogue that has been ladled onto it. To make matter worse, the crucial leading role was given to Edmund Purdom, a very handsome man but an actor that required careful handling to be effective; in here, he's about as wooden as they come. Lana Turner is anything but wooden, looking about as delectable and fleshy as is humanly possible, and she gives the part everything she has -- unfortunately, to the point that it becomes a bit campy. Still, considering the script, this was the only choice she had, and at least she keeps her part interesting and lively. The only performance that is actually good is James Mitchell -- and that's probably because his character is a mute and is therefore spared the overripe dialogue the others must suffer through. Fans of overdone Biblical epics may enjoy Prodigal, but others should steer clear.
Richard Thorpe's The Prodigal (1955) has gotten treatment so exalted as part of Warner Home Video's "Cult Camp Classics" DVD series, that the DVD itself almost seems to cross over into "camp." The transfer is beautiful -- a little pale, perhaps, compared to the original release, but rich in detail -- letterboxed to its proper anamorphic widescreen (2.35-to-1) aspect ratio; and the audio mastering has brought Bronislau Kaper's music into its full glory. The movie is a hoot-and-a-half, even as Hollywood Biblical epics go, but it is great fun, and it does have a lot of entertainment value, even if it entertains in ways that no one involved would have intended. And the commentary by Drew Casper illuminates much of the culture of the time, although he tends to rely on more 10-dollar words in his talk than this reviewer is comfortable hearing -- and there are moments, such as his account of Edmund Purdom's movie career, that seem to cross over into campiness; at least, it was difficult for this reviewer not to laugh over parts of it. Still, one gives him credit for even tackling a commentary track on a picture such as this, so long on running time and cast names, and short on actual content; it's a tough job to fill that time with anything of substance, as is painfully obvious watching the movie, and Casper at least brings enthusiasm to what he's doing, which can draw the viewer and listener in, better than some commentaries that this reviewer has heard. The picture gets 24 chapters which seem to be well-placed, and the original trailer is here as well. The dual-layer menu opens automatically on start-up, with the "play" option in the default position.
All Movie Guide - Craig Butler
|Source:||Warner Home Video|