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Saturday, June 30, 2012

THE PRODIGAL (1955)

This minor entry from the glut of mid-‘50s WideScreen Biblical epics is a mash-up of the Prodigal Son parable & Elijah. Released under the insulting rubric ‘Cult Camp Classics,’ it’s none of the above, but merely Dull, Dull, Dull. Richard Thorpe, a vet M-G-M routiner, had recently surprised everyone with his unexpectedly lively megging of IVANHOE/’52, shot on location in the U.K. But back on his home turf, working on big, airless studio soundstages, he barely phones it in. At least Lana Turner looks yummy, a true High Priestess . . . of Burlesque. One look at those curves and the carefree Prodigal, Edmund Purdom, is ready to go the distance for her, unaware that Louis Calhern, Francis L Sullivan & Neville Brand (!) are all plotting to plunder his fortune, enslave him & make him renounce Jehovah. Purdom, who took over when Marlon Brando walked on THE EGYPTIAN/’54 and then replaced a fat Mario Lanza as THE STUDENT PRINCE/’54, isn’t bad at all as the heroic, if deluded Hebrew, if only he didn’t look so much like James Franco. (Check him out once he gets a shave.) Doomed to always be second choice. James Mitchell has fun as a mute who apparently learned to communicate from Harpo Marx and there’s actually a good perf from Joseph Wiseman as a conniving fair-weather ally. Plus, a great stuffed vulture for Purdom to fight! There’s even a big, bombastic Bronislau Kaper score! Sounds like goofy fun, but except for the busy last two reels, it’s kind of a drag.

DOUBLE-BILL: Instead of another bible story, why not stick with the M-G-M Middle-East tour of 1955 which continues from this film’s Culver City Damascus to Culver City Bagdad in KISMET.

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