Elmer Gantry is a fast-talking, hard-drinking traveling salesman who always has a risqué story and a hip flask to entertain cronies and customers alike. He is immediately taken with Sister Sharon Falconer, a lay preacher whose hellfire-and-damnation revivalism has attracted quite a following. Gantry uses his own quick wit and Bible knowledge to become an indispensable part of Sister Sharon's roadshow, but his past soon catches up with him in the form of Lulu Bains, now a prostitute. While Gantry seeks and eventually gets forgiveness from Sharon, tragedy strikes when she finally manages to get out of her revivalist tent and opens a permanent church. Written by
Scrolled before the opening credits: "We believe that certain aspects of Revivalism can bear examination- that the conduct of some revivalists makes a mockery of the traditional beliefs and practices of organized Christianity! We believe that everyone has a right to worship according to his conscience, but- Freedom of Religion is not license to abuse the faith of the people! However, due to the highly controversial nature of this film, we strongly urge you to prevent impressionable children from seeing it!" See more »
"Elmer Gantry" can be considered the quintessential exploration into the omnipresent duality existing between a person's religious faith and simultaneous character defects. Burt Lancaster is bold and provocative as the title character who is preaching to you one moment and drunk and surly the other. The acting and directing is superb to the point that it becomes difficult to remember that it is only a movie. Jean Simmons is lovely and convincing as as Sister Sharon Falconer, the charismatic female evangelist who wins Gantry's heart (and lust)as they team up to jump-start America's dwindling religious beliefs. Of course, turmoil closes in on them as their inherent instincts of love overpower their adherence to the Christian principles they attempt to profess.
This is a searing message, indeed, that should be heeded by the Jimmy Swaggarts and Oral Roberts' of the world. Evangelism can be a dangerous platform when it allows a single person to rise to power while removing him (or her) from the fact that he is still a human and, thus, still vulnerable to the instincts and flaws he vehemently opposes on stage. It is thrilling to see how the Bible-Belt public shift their view so quickly when they first support and believe in the sincerity of Gantry and Sister Falconer but then witness their humanity and become violent. The scene where the heckling crowd throws garbage at the ostracized couple while a man plays a jazzed up rendition of "Onward Christian Soldiers" on the trumpet after Gantry is caught with a prostitute (played to the hilt by Shirley Jones) is both amusing and sad. If you enjoyed the book, you will not be disappointed with the movie in the least.
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