The Prodigal (1955)

112, 115 or 117 mins | Drama | 6 May 1955

Director:

Richard Thorpe

Producer:

Charles Schnee

Cinematographer:

Joseph Ruttenberg

Editor:

Harold F. Kress

Production Designers:

Cedric Gibbons, Randall Duell

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

The opening credits conclude with the following Biblical inscription: "Though shalt have no other gods before me--First Commandment." Voice-over narration then explains that in the times before Christianity, most people worshipped many gods. The narration adds that "two of the most notorious" were the fertility gods Baal and Astarte, and notes that the film is based on the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son. According to a Jan 1954 LAT news item, Ava Gardner and Vittorio Gassman were originally cast as Edmund Purdom's co-stars. The news item also reported that some scenes would be filmed on location in the Holy Land, but The Prodigal was shot entirely on the M-G-M lot. Pre-production news items in HR reported that Russ Tamblyn was testing for a top role, that Niall MacGinnis would make his American screen debut in the film and that English actor Robert Coote had been cast as the "Barber-surgeon." These actors did not appear in the final film, however.
       The Prodigal opened to generally poor critical reception, with a number of reviews unfavorably comparing the brevity of the Biblical parable with the length of the film. Several critics also commented that the scantily clad Lana Turner would not have been out of place on the runway of Minsky's burlesque house. According to reviews, the film cost five million dollars to produce. A 4 May 1955 DV news item reported that, in the interest of diplomacy, all derogatory references to Damascus would be eliminated from the prints of the film sent to Syria. The Prodigal marked the last film project of costume designer Herschel McCoy, who ... More Less

The opening credits conclude with the following Biblical inscription: "Though shalt have no other gods before me--First Commandment." Voice-over narration then explains that in the times before Christianity, most people worshipped many gods. The narration adds that "two of the most notorious" were the fertility gods Baal and Astarte, and notes that the film is based on the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son. According to a Jan 1954 LAT news item, Ava Gardner and Vittorio Gassman were originally cast as Edmund Purdom's co-stars. The news item also reported that some scenes would be filmed on location in the Holy Land, but The Prodigal was shot entirely on the M-G-M lot. Pre-production news items in HR reported that Russ Tamblyn was testing for a top role, that Niall MacGinnis would make his American screen debut in the film and that English actor Robert Coote had been cast as the "Barber-surgeon." These actors did not appear in the final film, however.
       The Prodigal opened to generally poor critical reception, with a number of reviews unfavorably comparing the brevity of the Biblical parable with the length of the film. Several critics also commented that the scantily clad Lana Turner would not have been out of place on the runway of Minsky's burlesque house. According to reviews, the film cost five million dollars to produce. A 4 May 1955 DV news item reported that, in the interest of diplomacy, all derogatory references to Damascus would be eliminated from the prints of the film sent to Syria. The Prodigal marked the last film project of costume designer Herschel McCoy, who was often credited simply as "Herschel." The designer died in Feb 1956. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
26 Mar 1955.
---
Daily Variety
28 Mar 55
p. 3.
Daily Variety
4 May 1955.
---
Film Daily
28 Mar 55
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
10 May 54
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jun 54
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jun 54
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Jul 54
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jul 54
p. 21.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jul 54
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Aug 54
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Aug 54
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Sep 54
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Mar 55
p. 3.
Los Angeles Mirror
2 May 1955.
---
Los Angeles Times
22 Jan 1954.
---
Motion Picture Daily
28 Mar 1955.
---
Motion Picture Herald
2 Apr 1955.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
2 Apr 55
p. 385.
New York Times
14 May 55
p. 10.
New Yorker
21 May 1955.
---
Newsweek
30 May 1955.
---
Time
23 May 1955.
---
Variety
30 Mar 55
p. 8.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
David Bond
Charles Roberson
Patricia Jackson
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
SOUND
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
DANCE
Choreographer
MAKEUP
Hair styles
Makeup created by
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on "Luke, XV," New Testament. The Bible.
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
6 May 1955
Production Date:
2 August--24 September 1954
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
4 April 1955
Copyright Number:
LP4612
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Color
Eastman Color
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Duration(in mins):
112, 115 or 117
Length(in feet):
10,099
Length(in reels):
14
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17274
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

In the seaport of Joppa in 70 BC, chaos erupts in the marketplace as a guard, Rhakim, pursues Asham, a mute runaway slave. A young Jewish man, Micah, intervenes and buys the slave's freedom, but Asham is injured when the departing Rhakim throws a spear at him. Micah and his older brother Joram bring Asham back to their family farm, and their father Eli tells Micah he is arranging his betrothal to Ruth, the beautiful daughter of their neighbor Tobiah. One night, Micah is outraged to see a caravan of infidels from Damascus worshipping idols in the marketplace of Joppa. Micah spies Rhakim and follows him into a tent, where he encounters the powerful Nahreeb, high priest of Baal, who identifies himself as Asham's former owner and offers to buy him back for many times what Micah paid. Micah refuses, then watches, entranced, as the alluring Samarra, the high priestess of Astarte, performs devotions to the pagan goddess. Micah vows that he will have Samarra at any cost, and Nahreeb confides to Rhakim that he is planning revenge against both Asham and Micah. Tormented by his obsession, Micah asks Eli for his portion of the family's wealth so that he may pursue Samarra. Eli angrily strikes him, but later relents and gives Micah half his portion, as well as his blessing. After saying goodbye to his father and brother, Micah calls on Ruth and sadly ends their betrothal. Meanwhile, at the temple of Baal and Astarte in Damascus, Samarra tutors a little girl named Yasmin, the future high priestess. Nahreeb meets with the moneylender Bosra and discloses his plan to foment unrest among the desert tribes, then buy up ... +


In the seaport of Joppa in 70 BC, chaos erupts in the marketplace as a guard, Rhakim, pursues Asham, a mute runaway slave. A young Jewish man, Micah, intervenes and buys the slave's freedom, but Asham is injured when the departing Rhakim throws a spear at him. Micah and his older brother Joram bring Asham back to their family farm, and their father Eli tells Micah he is arranging his betrothal to Ruth, the beautiful daughter of their neighbor Tobiah. One night, Micah is outraged to see a caravan of infidels from Damascus worshipping idols in the marketplace of Joppa. Micah spies Rhakim and follows him into a tent, where he encounters the powerful Nahreeb, high priest of Baal, who identifies himself as Asham's former owner and offers to buy him back for many times what Micah paid. Micah refuses, then watches, entranced, as the alluring Samarra, the high priestess of Astarte, performs devotions to the pagan goddess. Micah vows that he will have Samarra at any cost, and Nahreeb confides to Rhakim that he is planning revenge against both Asham and Micah. Tormented by his obsession, Micah asks Eli for his portion of the family's wealth so that he may pursue Samarra. Eli angrily strikes him, but later relents and gives Micah half his portion, as well as his blessing. After saying goodbye to his father and brother, Micah calls on Ruth and sadly ends their betrothal. Meanwhile, at the temple of Baal and Astarte in Damascus, Samarra tutors a little girl named Yasmin, the future high priestess. Nahreeb meets with the moneylender Bosra and discloses his plan to foment unrest among the desert tribes, then buy up the limited food supplies and use the people's desperation both to enrich himself and to win converts to Baal and Astarte. Damascus is soon gripped by famine, and Micah is appalled by the poverty when he and Asham arrive in the town. Micah sets up residence in Damascus, arraying himself in fine new clothes, buying a villa from Bosra and entertaining lavishly. After he is barred from the temple as an "infidel," Micah writes Samarra's name on the tinted wall where women sell themselves, and soon Samarra's slave Elissa arrives to escort him to the high priestess' chamber. Intoxicating Micah with a kiss, Samarra bids him to obtain the pearl that Solomon bought for Sheba, and make a gift of it to Astarte. Scorning Samarra's belief in idols, Micah refuses. Asham wordlessly counsels his friend to return to Joppa, and Micah agrees and puts his estate on the market at half its value. Later, at a banquet given by Bosra, Micah plays cards with Nahreeb and spends all his winnings to buy Elissa for Asham. Bosra offers to sell Micah the pearl that Samarra desires, and Micah sends Asham to Joppa with a message for Eli requesting the remainder of his fortune. Over Joram's objections, Eli complies, but declares Micah dead to him from that day forth. Too desperate to wait for Asham's return, Micah borrows the money for the pearl from Bosra, paying little attention to the contract Bosra has him sign, and after Samarra places the pearl in Astarte's crown, she returns with Micah to his villa. After consummating their passion, Micah tells Samarra he wishes to marry her, but she is unwilling to surrender her rank as high priestess. When Asham returns from Joppa with the gold, Rhakim's men attack and burn the villa, stealing the gold and killing Elissa. Unable to repay his loan to Bosra, Micah and Asham are forced into slavery. One day, Samarra visits Micah in his cell and says Nahreeb will set him free if he will publicly renounce his god. Declaring her love for him, Samarra urges him to fake this proclamation, but Micah is firm in his faith. Determined now to be free, Micah and the other slaves devise a plan: with the help of an imprisoned barber-surgeon, Micah feigns death and is thrown into a pit to be eaten by vultures. After escaping from the pit, Micah seeks sanctuary with a group of beggars who are planning to overthrow the brutal pagan regime. Fierce fighting spreads throughout Damascus when the revolution begins, and Asham succeeds in killing Nahreeb. Bosra urges Samarra to flee, but although she sends Yasmin away, she refuses to abandon Astarte. The rebels storm the temple, and Micah sadly gives the order for Samarra to be killed. The shrine to Baal and Astarte is dismantled and the idols burned. Later, with the tyranny in Damascus vanquished, Micah and Asham return to Joppa. Eli joyfully embraces his son, and orders a feast to celebrate his return. At the banquet, Joram complains that his brother's extravagant reception exceeds any gift he has ever received, but Eli replies that Micah was dead but is alive again. Micah is delighted when Ruth comes to join in the festivities, and as Eli looks on proudly, the two brothers warmly clasp hands. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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