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
A highly controversial novel in its day, no studio initially wanted to finance the film. See more »
The location where Sister Sharon confronts the police captain and fire chief over erecting her tent is purported to be in Lincoln Nebraska. The opening part of the scene shows mountains in the background. There are no mountains around Lincoln. See more »
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" is an amazing film that does not seem dated at all, having lost none of its bite or appeal with the passing of time. Taken from the classic Sinclair Lewis novel of the same name, director Richard Brooks garnered an Oscar for Best Screenplay for his adaptation, and Burt Lancaster won his sole Best Actor Oscar for his performance as Elmer Gantry. Gantry is an over-the-top opportunistic traveling salesman who teams up with evangelist Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons) to promote religion in 1920's America. Gantry turns out to be the perfect publicity compliment to Sister Sharon, who, unlike him, is a true believer. Where she is quiet and gentle with her manner of preaching, he is all fire and brimstone, literally throwing himself about the audience and inflaming them into repentance.
Burt Lancaster commands the screen: all flashing teeth, athletic energy, charisma, and wild hair, using his own physical prowess to great advantage. The angelic and lovely Jean Simmons, who had legions of adoring male fans when she was in her ethereal prime, portrays Sister Sharon (loosely based on a well-known real-life revivalist of the early 1920's, Aimee Semple McPherson, about whom I'd heard from my grandmother) in a manner reminiscent of her character in "Spartacus" - she was the perfect choice for this role, as was Lancaster for his.
Shirley Jones was awarded the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her lively portrayal of prostitute Lulu Bains, whose past history with Gantry comes back to haunt him, with some of the best lines in the film - gleefully laughing as she dances about a room full of her fellow prostitutes, she recounts that "He rammed the fear of God into me so fast I never heard my old man's footsteps!" Watching Burt Lancaster in his prime use his athletic ability (he was a circus acrobat before he became an actor) and physical grace helps make his performance truly electrifying. And he also manages to believably evolve Elmer Gantry from loud-mouthed salesman to a sympathetic and honest human being over the course of the film.
The top-notch supporting cast includes Arthur Kennedy, Patti Page, Dean Jagger, and John McIntire.
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