Movie 13min

The Modern Prodigal (1910)

A Story in Symbolism Showing the Egotism of Youth.

+ 6 images
Director D.W. Griffith
Country United States
Language English
(Alternative) The Modern Prodigal - A Story in Symbolism
Arrest Based on the Bible Black and White Children Drama Egoism Melodrama Mercy Modern Adaption Mother-Son Relationship Parable of the Prodigal Son Pig Police Prison Punishment Rescue Short Silent Film Symbolism Theft

In the opening of this subject we find the callow youth as he points towards the city's spires, exclaiming to his dear old mother, "Mother, there in the big city is my sphere. There will I turn the world over." Off he goes cityward, ambitious and presumptuous, and perhaps we may add reckless. Alas, the city's whirl is quite a change from the simple quiet life in the country and the youth falls a victim to the snares that beset the unsophisticated. After a bitter experience he returns, and in symbolism we show him in the raiment of sin, a convict's suit. Approaching his old home, he sees there in front of the door the old chair in which sat his mother on the day of his depart. What a difference! On that day there shone the sunshine of hope; today, the clouds of despair. As he regards himself in his prison garb, he utters that penitential cry of the ancient prodigal, "I am no more worthy to be called thy son." Turning away, he staggers exhausted to the pigsty, where he eats ravenously the husks upon which the swine feed. At this point we show the other side, the watchful father and his son. The father is the sheriff and has just received the notice of a convict's escape and a reward offered for his capture, the poor convict, meanwhile, being hounded from place to place by the pursuing guards. The sheriff's young son yields to temptation and is guilty of stealing apples and then lies about it. For this the father chastises him, so in the spirit of rebellion, he goes swimming with his playmates. Here he is guilty of disobedience and is made to suffer. Going beyond his depth, he is carried by the swift running current into the rapids. The boy's drowning seems inevitable, but the cries of his companions are heard by the fugitive, who is hiding in the bushes by the side of the stream, and at the risk of his life and liberty he plunges into the seething torrent and drags the child to safety just as the father having been informed of the child's peril. Here is an awkward situation. He is torn by conflicting inclinations. As father of the rescued boy, he owes the fugitive an immeasurable debt of gratitude, but as sheriff it is his duty to arrest the convict. Here is where duty is unreasonable. However, there is no compromise where duty is concerned, and he is forced to perform it, odious though it be. At his home he leaves the prisoner in charge of his wife while he gets his carriage. The mother allowing maternal love to guide her feelings, feigns sleep that the prisoner may escape with a suit of civilian clothes, and return to his own despairing mother. As the poor unfortunate approaches his home, his mother, stretching forth her hands, exclaims, "My son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found."

Source: Moving Picture World

This picture was shot entirely outdoors. A young man of the community, now an escaped convict, returns to see his aged mother. Prison guards can be seen searching thoroughly for him while he hides in the bushes near a creek where two boys are swimming. One boy gets out in deep water and the current begins to carry him away. The criminal jumps in the water and rescues him, just as the boy’s father, the sheriff, appears on the scene. The sheriff thanks the convict profusedly but takes him into custody. He arms his wife and leaves the convict in her charge while he harnesses a horse. The wife pretends to fall asleep, and the last scene shows the prisoner picking up a bundle of clothes she has provided for him and kissing her brow.

Source: Library of Congress

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George Nichols - The Sheriff
Guy Hedlund - The Prodigal Son
Clara T. Bracy - The Prodigal's Mother
William J. Butler - A Farmer
Jack Pickford - The Sheriff's Son
Kate Bruce - The Sheriff's Wife
Edward Dillon - Guard
Frank Evans - Guard
Francis J. Grandon - At Post Office
Mack Sennett -
Lester Predmore - One of the Boys Swimming
Bess Meredyth - Author (Novel)
Dell Henderson - Writer
G.W. Bitzer - Cinematography (Other)
D.W. Griffith - Director
Show all
D.W. Griffith in a league of his own

I think this is the first quarter-length film from 1910 that I've seen with this kind of storytelling quality to it. The narrative is not simply straightforward, but it ties two stories into one, at the same time as portraying the parable from the Bible in a modern setting. The first story is about a man leaving his old mother, ends up in prison, escapes, and is followed by the police. The second is the Sheriff's family, where the son is taken in stealing. He goes swimming with his friends, almost drowning, but is saved by the convict. The Sheriff shows no mercy even if he is thankful, wants to bring him back to prison, but his wife thinks otherwise and the convict gets to return home to his mama.

This is a quite complex story masterfully told from a lot of artistic angles, cuts, great acting, and all that is needed for us to understand the story. I would like to see this is better quality, but the version on youtube still manages to show how good the direction and moviemaking of D.W. Griffith was.