Monday, October 8, 2012

Surprisingly Good: "The Prodigal" (1983)

Taking place in the northwest United States, the story concerns a family in crisis awaiting a Billy Graham crusade.

John Hammond is Greg Stuart, a pot smoking fisherman who decides to take a job as a tennis pro at a country club. He gets along unwell with his parents, Hope Lange and John Cullum, who have problems of their own. Cullum is an insurance company executive who is working himself into an early grave, and ignoring his frustrated wife. Lange, looking for some kind of affection, begins flirting with Ian Bannen, a local author. Arliss Howard, in one of his first films, is Hammond's brother. A seminarian who lives in a bad part of town, the rest of his family makes light of Howard's apparently showy poor living. He and his girlfriend begin empowering their fellow tenants, which gives the violent property owner reason for concern.

Hammond takes up with Morgan Brittany, a spoiled rich girl who plans to market Hammond as a major tennis pro. Hammond soon gets involved in a drug deal with former fishing buddy Joey Travolta, and is injured. Brittany leaves, and Hammond is alone. These four all attend a crusade by Billy Graham, and the three men stand together and meet during the altar call. Hammond, in the final scene, returns home to his parents.

Despite the subject matter and Graham's involvement, this is by no means a wishy washy preachy film. Graham's few scenes are wonderful, and he speaks more truth in his statements than others do in their lifetime. His analogy about the ant hill serves to answer those who wonder why God is not a part of some lives.

I do wish the writer/director had closed out the various stories he had going. What about the tenants? Did Cullum leave his job? Did Lange begin writing? These are especially noteworthy in that the viewer comes to be very involved in these people's lives. The early 1980's filming looks a little dated, although there are some shots of the ocean that are breathtaking.

The most jarring aspect of "The Prodigal" is its unapologetic talk of Jesus Christ. Considering the subject matter of motion pictures today, it is shocking to hear the lost give their lives to Jesus Christ and not be embarassed about it, or get shouted down by idolizers or tree worshippers.

While not a perfect film, "The Prodigal" is very good, and does its job very well. I definitely recommend it. (* * * *) out of five stars.