Pagan gods in Joisey
Above: Samarra’s deity, now an ornate lawn jockey; click to enlarge
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s The Prodigal (1955) is based ever so slightly on a parable from the New Testament (Luke 15:11-32), about a young man, Micah, on the road to ruin after leaving his family and responsibilities to sow some wild oats — in this case, Lana Turner as the hootchie mama pagan priestess Samarra. People still ooh-and-aah over Lana’s justifiably celebrated shorts-and-turban entrance in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), but for my money there’s no topping her torrid arrival in The Prodigal, dressed for sex and sauntering to the erotic strains of Bronisław Kaper’s lovely background score. (You’d be well advised to watch this with a set of quality headphones.) A product of the Hollywood bullshit apparatus, the narrative, though set in ancient Syria (Damascus to be exact, a name whose pronunciation is forever poxed by Curly of the Three Stooges), is rife with actors who pontificate lines like Peter Ustinov reciting Richard III and antagonists who sound as if they just came off a Jimmy Cagney picture. You’re almost waiting for Louis Calhern’s cosmopolitan High Priest and Neville Brand’s neanderthal guard to hiss “you dirty rat” at Edmund Purdom’s beefcake Micah.
Part of the opulent production was a full-service sacrificial temple, complete with an 11’ statue mounted over a platform where The Chosen could dive into a flaming pit two storeys below. Like the Ruby Slippers and Charlie Kane’s sled, the hefty (purportedly 2,000 lbs) pagan figure found its way into the hands of a madcap collector who must’ve had grand plans for its exhibition. Instead, it ended up weather beaten and abandoned, later to be found in the woods by yet another idealistic soul who envisioned it as the ultimate lawn ornament. Now perched in a neighborhood yard in Lumberton, New Jersey (see the photo above), you can read about the fate of Lana’s former deity @ Lost in Jersey. You can purchase The Prodigal from Amazon: click here.
Above: the statue as used in the film, top center; click to enlarge lobbycard