Prodigal, The (1931): Pollard’s Pre-Code Melodrama, Starring Lawrence Tibbett, Esther Ralston, Roland Young

The Prodigal, a Pre-Code early talkie, directed by Harry A. Pollard, and starred Lawrence Tibbett, Esther Ralston, Roland Young and Hedda Hopper.

In this family melodrama, Tibbett plays Jeffry, the proverbial black sheep of an aristocratic Southern family. After several years on the bum with his buddies Doc and Snipe, Jeffry returns home, where he falls in love with Antonia (Esther Ralston), the young wife of his hateful older brother Rodman (Purnell Pratt).

The film was provocative in its time due to its non-judgmental view of adultery. In the last scene, the brothers’ mother endorses the illicit romance, telling Tibbett and Ralston how lucky they are in finding each other, proclaiming “this is the twentieth century!” was unusual in its candid approach.

It’s the kind of resolution that could never have prevailed after the 1934 Production Code came into force.

Also nonconventional was the insertion of songs in what was essentially a serious (“scandalous”) melodrama.


Directed by Harry A. Pollard
Screenplay by Bess Meredyth and Wells Root, based on their story
Music by Herbert Stothart
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Edited by Margaret Booth
Produced and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date: February 21, 1931
Running time: 76 minutes