Elmer Gantry

1960

Drama

0
Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 94%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 86%
IMDb Rating 7.8 10 9987

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Synopsis


Uploaded By: FREEMAN

Director

Cast

Jean Simmons as Sister Sharon Falconer
Burt Lancaster as Elmer Gantry
Shirley Jones as Lulu Bains
Dean Jagger as William L. Morgan

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by highclark 9 / 10

And there was light.....9/10.

And there was light---9/10.

All you need to know about the character of Elmer Gantry is neatly summed up in the first 10 minutes of the film. The film opens as we see Gantry holding court around a table in a bar, telling jokes and anecdotes of sexual conquests one minute, and then the next minute is helping out two wayward parishioners by passing the hat around the bar and preaching in earnest the word of God. Lancaster plays out the duality in the role of Gantry as everyman/ preacher brilliantly throughout the film. We're witness to his meteoric rise within the ranks of the religious road show, we see his stumbles within those ranks and his eventual fall from popularity to an even more impossible grace under fire (literally), but most importantly we see the ability of his character to serve both his rise and fall in ways truly unexpected.

Gantry finds that there are many who will listen to him wax eloquent on the bible. But when Gantry sees Sister Sharon Falconer (as played by Jean Simmons) he forgets about getting closer to the lord and decides to ingratiate himself into her 'inner circle'. Gantry can see that the 'old time religion show' is a soul saver on Sunday, but quite a moneymaker on Monday. There are 'two very different' Gantry's, the one who has a lifetime of sexual anecdotes and the other who's true love is for the bible. What we are not in store for is the third Gantry; the one in love with Elmer Gantry and his own voice. In any case, Gantry sees a golden opportunity to satisfy all three Gantry's and he goes for it. Through his ability to con and sweet talk his way to the top, Gantry makes all of the right friends and maneuvers himself to a spot underneath Sister Sharon Falconer.

Gantry's fall comes in the form of Lulu Baines (as played by Shirley Jones), a prostitute with a past history with Gantry. As Gantry's popularity on the 'road show' circuit starts to hit its zenith, Baines appears into Gantry's life once again as she sets up Gantry for blackmail. How Gantry deals with Baines and the loss of trust from Sister Sharon is one of the best moments from the film. And although her time on screen doesn't come close to matching that of both Lancaster and Simmons, it is the performance of Jones in one scene that practically steals the show. Jones' speech to the ladies in the brothel about Gantry "Ramming the fear of God so fast" into her was exhilaratingly fun and mildly erotic. I would think it was largely this scene that got her noticed by the Academy in 1960.

However great Lancaster is as Gantry (Oscar winning performance) and spectacular Jones is as Baines (another Oscar winner), let us not forget how easy it would have been for this movie to have THREE Oscar WINNERS!!! Yes, Jean Simmons was robbed by the Academy that year. I think there are at least three reasons as to why Jean Simmons was not given the Oscar that year. One is the brutally lame ending to the movie. Sister Sharon is left to walk about the fiery inferno of her newly built church, while everyone around her is knocking her to the ground trying to escape. Sister Sharon is oblivious to human stampedes and is more concerned in urging everyone to remain calm. A performance that must not have been lost on John Landis when he made Kevin Bacon reprise it in 'Animal House' some 18 years later (sans the fire). It was a shame to see her babbling like an idiot while certain death surrounded her. That's one reason, but the other two reasons are probably more to the truth. You see, Jean Simmons wasn't the only actress who can claim to have been robbed on Oscar night, so could Shirley Maclaine. The Oscar could have gone to either one, but if it had gone to Jean Simmons, The Academy would've had a hard time giving any award to the 'The Apartment' or its director Billy Wilder. How could 'Elmer Gantry' win three of the four main awards yet not walk away with the Best Picture? It's also been said the Academy felt bad for Elizabeth Taylor as she was not only recovering from the recent death of her husband, Michael Todd, but also that she had just needed an emergency tracheotomy only weeks before the awards. However, one point should be clear, Elizabeth Taylor never should have won the Oscar over the performances that year from Simmons or Maclaine.

Another performer from the movie who gives a great performance is Arthur Kennedy as Jim Lefferts. Lefferts is the skeptical newsman who follows the 'road show' waiting to see a miracle or perhaps to see many a false prophet fall. One scene that stands out is the scene where Lefferts is dictating an article on the exploits of Lancaster and Simmons' religious road show. While he is dictating he is also absent-mindedly sharpening a pencil. As Lefferts comments become to take on more of a cynical tone, the pencil in his hand also becomes sharper. Once Lefferts is through with his thought, the pencil has been sharpened to a fine point and his thoughts are ready for print. He writes, "Is it a church, is it a religion or is it a circus sideshow complete with freaks, magic and rabble rousing?

This is a fine film with a slightly disappointing ending. I can't accept that the errant fling of a cigarette can flash through the heavens like a message from God, but if ever a bolt of lightning was captured onto the silver screen, it was the bolt from Burt Lancaster as Elmer Gantry. 9/10.

Clark Richards

Reviewed by bkoganbing 10 / 10

What a Prophet we have in Sinclair Lewis

Elmer Gantry the novel came out in 1925 and it took 35 years to get it to the screen. But it certainly was worth the wait. The movie provided Burt Lancaster, Shirley Jones, and Richard Brooks all with Oscars and it has become a classic. But we sure view it differently 80 years after the book and 55 years after the movie debuted.

Inherit the Wind and Elmer Gantry came out in the same year and both were set in the Twenties. Both dealt with fundamentalist religion and the power it held. Both films got Oscar nominated for best film and for Best Actor for it's first billed male player.

In 1960 when you saw both films they were viewed as tales of a bygone era. Evangelists like Elmer Gantry and Sister Sharon Falconer have the kind of power that thankfully we don't give the fundamentalist community now. Even seeing film clips of Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson, they seemed quaint and old fashioned. Fortunately we'd outgrown the nonsense of that era.

But Sinclair Lewis proved to be a prophet. No one could ever have dreamed in 1960 that fundamentalist Christians would have the political power they do today. What Lewis if he were alive today would do with Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, John Hagee and the rest of that crowd would really be something. Elmer Gantry is alive and well. Some might even call it a resurrection.

And Elmer's a part that comes once in a lifetime to a player. Liar, conman, womanizer and likable on top. You've got to be a real extrovert to play that part. So Richard Brooks got perhaps one of the biggest extroverts ever to hit Hollywood.

Burt Lancaster was born to play Gantry, in fact he'd had something of a dress rehearsal in the part in The Rainmaker. During those sermon scenes, some of which are taken from Billy Sunday's actual sermons, you know he's giving out with nonsense and you still get taken in by his charm. Note the relationship between Lancaster and agnostic reporter Arthur Kennedy. Kennedy knows he's a conman, but still they get along just great.

It was a shame that Jean Simmons was neglected by the Academy for her portrayal of Sharon Falconer. Sharon is a true believer, but she's also a romantic as the real Aimee Semple McPherson was. And the woman had needs which Elmer is only too glad to fulfill.

The real Aimee was also an outrageous character herself, but I believe a decent soul at heart. During the Depression, her tabernacle set up a soup kitchen that fed thousands. In fact Anthony Quinn, growing up in Los Angeles at the time, recalled in his memoirs working for his and his family's supper as a volunteer there. Quinn had nothing but praise for Aimee, she was the difference in whether his family ate or not on many a day.

Shirley Jones got a career salvation with her Oscar winning role as Lulu Baines, prostitute who's out for vengeance. A fine singer, she came along unfortunately when musicals were winding down. That Oscar for Best Supporting Actress insured a continuing career for her.

Arthur Kennedy as the investigative reporter is whose perspective we view the film from. He'd had five trips to the Oscar World Series without a victory, might have been nice if this one had been a sixth. His is the voice of reason, of true compassion, of truth in fact the voice of Sinclair Lewis himself.

Another of Sinclair Lewis's great characters, George F. Babbitt, makes an appearance. Edward Andrews got probably his career part as Babbitt, hypocritical businessman to the max. He was as born to play Babbitt as Lancaster was to play Gantry. He could also have been given an Oscar nomination.

Elmer Gantry is a great film, a prophetic film, proving it sure can happen here.

Reviewed by ClassicAndCampFilmReviews 8 / 10

"You're all sinners! You'll all burn in hell!"

"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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