Lancaster stars as Gantry, a charismatic preacher who promises eternal salvation, but who personally pursues wealth and power.
Genre: Feature Film-Drama
Release Date: 18-DEC-2001
Media Type: DVD
Mr Peter G George | Ellon, Aberdeenshire United Kingdom | 03/21/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If Elmer Gantry were merely a satire and an exposé of revivalism it would not be as powerful and subtle as it is. Gantry, as played by a brilliant Burt Lancaster, may be a hypocrite in that he does not practice what he preaches, but there is no doubt in my mind that he genuinely believes. This makes him a complex character for we are not altogether sure what his motives are. When he joins Sister Sharon's evangelical crusade it is unclear whether he does it because he is attracted to her, because he hopes to make money, or whether along with these motives he really wishes to spread the word. The characters in this film have all the failings of human beings. Jean Simmons, acting the part of Sister Sharon, makes her seem almost like a saint. In the end she comes to resemble Joan of Arc. However, her image of purity is mixed with other factors. She has ambition and she has desire. This mixture makes her a rounded and interesting character. It would have been easy to make a film where Gantry and Sharon were mere charlatans, but then we would not care about them. Instead the film presents a complex but ultimately sympathetic view of faith. Even Arthur Kennedy's sceptical newspaperman admits that he wishes he could believe. Gantry may have many faults but he is a good man. He is kind to the prostitute, played by Shirley Jones, even after she has tried to destroy him. Thus, despite his lapses, he shows the strength and the quality of his faith. The print used for this DVD is presented in its original ratio, it is clear and has very little apparent damage. The DVD also includes the original theatrical trailer."
Lancaster's Oscar Role
William Hare | Seattle, Washington | 03/06/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This was Burt Lancaster's Oscar winner, a film in which the great performer achieved a Best Actor statuette for, according to those who knew him from his East Harlem days, largely playing himself. The fast talking Elmer Gantry, the colorful lead of the film of the same name, uses his gift of gab to get him by in what the Bible pounding revivalist recognizes is a tough world. When the film was released Lancaster reportedly heard from friends during his New York youth that he had not seen in years, who recalled the youthful Lancaster's gift of gab, which had become a neighborhood staple.Lancaster, along with the film's producer-director-writer Richard Brooks, recognized the cinematic potential of the Prohibition era novel by America's first Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Minnesotan Sinclair Lewis. Gantry alternates as a poker playing, whisky drinking, brawling brothel habitue and a stern-faced preacher extolling the masses in packed tent services to toe the mark for the Lord or face the fires of hell.Lancaster and Brooks spent six months in the director's office hashing out the story, two emotional creative forces hellbent on achieving the major success which resulted. The effort earned a Best Screenplay Oscar for Brooks. The story that was put on the screen in the 1960 classic involved non-stop action and biting irony, along with a needed touch of humor to lighten the story's heavy impact.Lancaster's transitory existence is revealed in the first scene of the film, when he barely escapes with his life after being attacked by a group of hobos in the box car of a train on which he is riding. It is not long after that when Lancaster steps into a church and hears a sermon from the beautiful Sister Sharon Falconer, played by the woman who would soon become director Brooks' wife, Jean Simmons. His sights set on the comely brunette, Lancaster demonstrates his cunning wiles by using Patty Paige, who has a crush on him, to get better acquainted with Simmons. While Paige was clearly impressed as well as smitten with the fast talking Gantry, Dean Jaggers, Simmons' partner in the traveling evangelical enterprise, believes that the itinerant preacher's methods are disgusting. This is not the kind of Christianity which Jaggers, a more cerebral type than the earthy Gantry, seeks to promote.One of the pivotal dialogue lines of the film comes after Jagger openly expresses his disgust with Gantry. "You're better than the people," Lancaster explains. "I am the people!"After Gantry becomes a hit, drawing big crowds, he is brutally sideswiped by his past in the form of Shirley Jones, a prostitute and ex-girlfriend of the fast living preacher. He is set up by unsavory associates of Jones', after which a graphic account of his association with her appears in the local newspaper. Jones secured a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role. When Gantry is physically attacked during a tent service, local reporter Arthur Kennedy, the town agnostic, comes to his defense and throws punches at the preacher's antagonists. Kennedy is impressed by Gantry's air of bravado. Lancaster also likes Kennedy and the two men share whiskey, smoke cigars, and swap racy stories. The film ends on a tragic note with a tent fire and the ensuing death of Simmons. The fire sequence is compelling, reminiscent of such great fire scenes as those in two thirties' films, "Gone With The Wind" and "In Old Chicago."Elmer Gantry is one of the most fascinating figures ever to appear on screen. While his alcohol swilling, brothel visiting, risque story telling side reeks of hypocrisy, it is also plain to see that he believes in the salvation he preaches in the most emotional terms. At bottom, he is human and a possessor of human frailties, less than what he in sober moments realizes he ought to be, but willing to do what it takes to preach the message he feels compelled to deliver. At one point he blackmails one of the city's leading landlords, George F. Babbit, the primary character of the hugely successful novel by Lewis, "Babbit," to donate money to put Sistern Sharon and her group on radio after informing him that he knows he is renting out buildings to prostitution operators to carry out their trade."
Love is the evening and the morning star!
J. Botha | Melbourne, Australia. | 04/13/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Elmer Gantry, (Burt Lancaster), is a travelling evangelist with one eye on the Lord and one eye on the ladies! Elmer put's his amazing gift of the gab to use by preaching in tent meetings. Along the way he meets Sister Falconer, (Jean Simmons), who takes him under her wing, there working relationship soon turns personal.Elmer Gantry is one of the greatest, (in my opinion), movies ever made. Burt Lancaster won his only oscar for his dynamic manic performance as the charlatan with a heart of gold. His preaching style is bombastic, his personal life morally bankrupt. It's really eerie how he resembles a number of "Evangelists", that I have come across in person or on the television. Elmer Gantry truly represents a lot of the tele-evangelists that have come and gone over the last 50 years or so as does Sister Falconer.Watching Burt Lancaster in full flight as he belts out his sermons and slides across the platform is a true joy to behold. It's a really great actor in his prime, and wonderfully entertaining.All in all it's a great romp with fantastic dialogue, wonderful performances and it's controversial theme packs a punch even today when Tele-evangelist, whilst know less popular, are still racking in the big bucks and filling stadiums with willing followers. To the Christian, let this film be a lesson for all of us, there are wolves in sheeps clothing around. Thanks for reading and enjoy and maybe be educated by this wonderful film."
A dramatic portrait of evangelical faith and its aberation
firstname.lastname@example.org | Washington, D.C. | 12/09/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I highly recommend Elmer Gantry, especially for those who take their religion seriously. If one values an attempt to see the darker side of his religion, and some ways that faith can be tranformed into hyprocrisy, this movie is for you. If you are a Christian who takes your religion seriously, and perhaps lack a sense of humor and perspective, this film could enflame you. But if your faith in God can stand some critical examination, then I very highly recommend Elmer Gantry. Those who think that the film is merely a cynical portrayal of evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity would do well to reflect on the story's end, when Gantry undergoes a spiritual conversion and gives up his sham preaching. For Christian and unbeliever alike, the film is very powerful and provocative. There is an effective contrast in the story between Gantry, the self-seeker who uses religion for personal gain and fame, and Sister Sharon, the true believer who is charmed by Gantry's magnetic personality. These two characters are so well portrayed and acted that each becomes a powerful symbol of forces in the soul: ultimately, self-love and the love of God, or on a less inclusive level, religious hypocrisy and true belief (if not mature faith). Sister Sharon believes and loves; Gantry disbelieves and loves only himself. That portrait holds true until the end, when Gantry undergoes a dramatic and, I believe, convincing conversion. The cost of his conversion was the life of Sister Sharon."
As relevant today as when Sinclair Lewis wrote the story...
Charles W. Adams | Adel, Iowa USA | 05/29/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A superb film. Simply profound. The sermons are as stirring today as when the screenplay was written.Words can't express how great Burt Lancaster is in this film. But like most truly significant movie classics, the supporting cast adds substance and strength to the overall impact of "Elmer Gantry." Shirley Jones is as sexy as any female that has appeared on the screen. Jean Simmons is spellbinding as Sister Sharon. The film's highlight for me was the meeting involving Sister Sharon, Gantry, and William Morgan with a group of ministers negotiating the terms of a planned extended tent ministry in the fictious city of Zenith. Distrubing and embarassing -- always thought provoking.A memorable film, worthy of repeated viewings and serious contemplation."