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
George F. Babbitt, the main character in Sinclair Lewis' 1922 novel "Babbitt", is a minor character in "Elmer Gantry". His character is the one most responsible for bringing Sister Sharon's revival to his home town of Zenith and just so happens to be the brothel's landlord. See more »
Sharon gets into the car, behind the wheel and tells Elmer to get in, which he does, on the passenger side. In the next shot, the car goes by with Elmer driving. See more »
I was accosted by three painted women. Your streets are made unsafe by shameless, diseased hussies, rapacious pick-pockets, and insidious opium-smokers.
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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 »
Battle Hymn of the Republic
(circa 1856) (uncredited)
Music by William Steffe
Lyrics by Julia Ward Howe (1862)
Sung by the audience at a revival meeting
Reprised at the Zenith revival meeting and at the end See more »
For some reason Richard Brooks seemed to think of himself as the man best suited to turning great novels and plays into films, but if the results were at best entertaining ("The Brothers Karamazov", "Cat on a hot tin roof") they tended to fall far short of the originals. If "Elmer Gantry" worked better than most was largely due to Brooks ability to tell a rattling good yarn at a cracking pace and to the performances of a superb cast.
Burt Lancaster seemed born to play the role of the lustful traveling salesman whose desire for the Aimee Semple McPhearson-like Sister Sharon turns him into a charismatic preacher, (his performance here is a virtual reprise of his performance as Starbuck in "The Rainmaker" a few years earlier). As Sharon, Jean Simmons gives a luminous performance, all fragility and repressed sexuality and singer Shirley Jones is a revelation as a trampy prostitute; (both she and Lancaster were rewarded with Oscars). Not great then, but several cuts above what it might have been.
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