L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Platinum blonde high priestess - Lana Turner in The Prodigal, 1955

The Prodigal was a big budget CinemaScope and Eastmancolor biblical epic from MGM; it was also a lavish bomb. Very loosely based on the parable of the Prodigal Son, it lost the studio nearly three-quarters of a million dollars. (More than seven million today.) Dore Schary, head of production at MGM at the time, had tried to pull the plug on it after only a few weeks of shooting. He realized too late that Cecil B. DeMille held the franchise for this brand of Bible spectacle, but so much money had already been spent that they were forced to continue. Schary later said The Prodigal was the worst film he ever green-lighted during his tenure at the studio. Inspired by the garish splendor of the photograph above - yet another fabulous image I just stumbled across while looking for something else - G and I watched the film recently; we agree with Dore.

Why the high priestess of Astarte is presented in an oyster shell, I can't imagine...!

Top-billed Miss Turner appears to have had no illusions about the merits of the film, then or later. Still one of the studio's big stars at the time, she had to be coerced by Schary into making the film. In her memoirs she was quite frank about how stupid she found the script, how bad the costumes. (Apparently, she took the reigns as to her costuming and was responsible for paring them down to almost nothing.) She played Samarra, high priestess of the goddess Astarte, raised from early childhood to be little more than a lavishly adorned prostitute. She finds her humanity by the end, but still has to pay for all that previous and illicit sex with a fiery suicide. (Oh, sorry; SPOILER ALERT!) Her co-star was a wooden Edmund Purdom; Miss Turner had no kind words for him either. The saddest victim of the extravaganza, though, has to be Louis Calhern. Aside from his eventual dispatch via a stab to the neck - there's a curious amount of neck-stabbing in this film - it seems the film's only use for this fine actor is to embarrass him with an astonishingly ridiculous wardrobe: yards of satin drapery, gold fringe, spangles and beads... and those hats!

Frolicking with the huge statue of Baal which plays a dramatic role in the proceedings.


There's that statue of Baal at the top of the stairs.
Stuntman George Robotham as a soon-to-be human sacrifice, Turner, and a silly looking Louis Calhern. Not the worst of his costumes, though. Not even close.
In her "leaning board", on the set with Edmund Purdom.


Baal resting behind a palisade in Lumberton, New Jersey.

And what of Baal, you might ask? Along with a half-sized replica, the statue was reused in several subsequent films, but after the massive MGM auction of 1970, the eleven foot tall, 1.5 ton fiberglass statue found its way into the possession of a junk shop in Delaware. At some time before 1980, it was sold to a real estate company in the same state. In 2003 or 2004, and a little worse for the wear, it turned up in New Jersey; the neighbors complained. At last report - 2011 - it had been sold to a bar in Philadelphia.


  1. Any mention of "The Prodigal" always reminds me of a line from Jean Kerr's humorous book "Please Don't Eat the Daisies". At one point, she and her husband, theater critic Walter Kerr, bought a large, very eccentric house in Larchmont, NY. The courtyard featured Buddha statues and a fountain that drained into a fish pond through an antique diving helmet (which lit up!). Kerr writes that it reminded her of "An MGM set for The Prodigal. I kept expecting Edmund Purdom to step out of the fishpond..."