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The opening credits conclude with the following Biblical inscription: "Though shalt have no other gods before me-First Commandment." Voice-over narration then explains that in the times before Christianity, most people worshipped many gods. The narration adds that "two of the most notorious" were the fertility gods Baal and Astarte, and notes that the film is based on the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son. According to a January 1954 Los Angeles Times news item, Ava Gardner and Vittorio Gassman were originally cast as Edmund Purdom's co-stars. The news item also reported that some scenes would be filmed on location in the Holy Land, but The Prodigal was shot entirely on the M-G-M lot. Pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter reported that Russ Tamblyn was testing for a top role, that Niall MacGinnis would make his American screen debut in the film and that English actor Robert Coote had been cast as the "Barber-surgeon." These actors did not appear in the final film, however.
The Prodigal opened to generally poor critical reception, with a number of reviews unfavorably comparing the brevity of the Biblical parable with the length of the film. Several critics also commented that the scantily clad Lana Turner would not have been out of place on the runway of Minsky's burlesque house. According to reviews, the film cost five million dollars to produce. A May 4, 1955 Daily Variety news item reported that, in the interest of diplomacy, all derogatory references to Damascus would be eliminated from the prints of the film sent to Syria. The Prodigal marked the last film project of costume designer Herschel McCoy, who was often credited simply as "Herschel." The designer died in February 1956.