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Elmer Gantry

Elmer Gantry

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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.

STARS: Burt Lancaster, Jean Simmons, Arthur Kennedy

146 min | Drama | 1960 | Color


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A remarkable movie
I give this movie a 10 only because there is nothing above that.
I first saw this movie as a kid on TV not that long after it came out. It hasn't aged one bit. That it came out the same year as Inherit the Wind, another masterpiece, is interesting but not surprising. Hollywood was turning the spotlight on the dangers of religious fundamentalism that have since become far more powerful in this country.
Everything about this movie is first rate. Lancaster's acting isn't acting; it is better than that. He simply becomes Gantry, and you believe in him - as he believes in himself, from time to time - completely. The script is powerful, the directing first rate.
This is one of those movies that I sit down and watch when it shows up on TV, no matter how many times I have seen it before. It really is one remarkable movie.

Burt Lancaster in all his "scene chewing" glory
I have long felt that Burt Lancaster often made movies great because his acting was much bigger-than-life, and he also helped degrade a few movies for this very same reason. The trouble is, he needed a good reason for his broad and over-the-top acting. He just didn't do subtle very well, as his acting tends to magnify the focus on himself--which, once again can be either good or bad.
Well in this case, Lancaster's larger-than-life acting is right on the mark, as it perfectly suits the huckster showman that he played. Elmer Gantry is a combination of Jimmy Swaggert, Professor Hill (The Music Man) and P. T. Barnum--after becoming all juiced up on speed! While he is totally insincere and wicked, his performance is mesmerizing and believable. Although Jean Simmons does a fine job in the movie and Shirley Jones received an Oscar for her supporting role as a whore (wow--that is acting against type), this is Lancaster's movie through and through. He deservedly won the Oscar for Best Actor.

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