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William A. Seiter
A mishmash of comedy, drama, music, and racist portrayals.
"The Prodigal" appears to be assembled from leftover script ideas from other films. It opens with some pretty good scenes of the lives of tramps in the early Depression years. Soon it focusses on Jeff Farraday, one of the tramps who actually comes from a wealthy Southern plantation family. Jeff has been exiled from the family, served time in jail, and is detested by his brother Rodman and sister Christine. The Farraday family seems to be withstanding the Depression quite well. Jeff returns to the plantation with a couple of other bums, is welcomed by his adoring mother, scorned by his siblings, and falls in love with the charming and perky Antonia, the wife of his brother Rodman. Rodman, of course, is a cruel, bullying stuffed shirt who hates Antonia but won't give her a divorce.
The film veers from melodramatic family conflict to awkward love scenes to thoroughly unfunny comedy to incongruous musical numbers. Jeff is played by opera-singer Lawrence Tibbett who frequently breaks into song. Tibbett can really sing but he can't act, nor can any of the other characters in this mishmash. But then with lines like these, it would be impossible for any actor to seem anything other than ridiculous.
Not to be overlooked are the really horrible portrayals of the blacks on the plantation. Even for the time (when Aunt Jemima type characters are standard), these racist portrayals are extreme. One farmhand is a whining, sniveling wimp; other scenes involving the darkies' BBQ make a viewer want to crawl under the table.
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