A fast-talking con-man convinces a sincere evangelist that he's a
man of God and joins her organization as a fiery, effective preacher.
Elmer Gantry (1960)
Written and Directed by Richard Brooks
Starring Burt Lancaster, Jean Simmons, Arthur Kennedy,
Dean Jagger, Shirley Jones, Patti Page, Edward Andrews
Based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis
Oscar Wins - Best Actor (Burt Lancaster), Best Supporting
Actress (Shirley Jones), Best Adapted Screenplay
Oscar Nominations - Best Picture, Best Original Score
Elmer Gantry is a scathing critique on religious corruption, focusing on the evangelist revival movement that plagued the Midwest during Prohibition. Burt Lancaster delivers a career-defining performance as Gantry, a charming con-man who weasels his way into the organization of a devout evangelist and becomes a "fire and brimstone" preacher of the Lord. But of course, his dark past catches up with him and threatens to shatter the entire movement. It's a fantastic film that represents a significant turning point for free speech in Hollywood.
Elmer Gantry is a charmer. A grifter. A confidence man. He sways from one opportunity to the next, looking for anything that can make him a quick buck. When he meets Sister Sharon Falconer (Simmons), he falls in love, not just with her but with her way of life. She's an evangelist who travels from town to town preaching the word of God in a large tent. Gantry convinces her that he's a righteous man and joins her, preaching loud and fast to anyone who will hear him. Gantry becomes the talk of the country, and Sharon falls for him too. Their chemistry is perfect, and the script is incredibly ahead of its time.
Elmer Gantry was one of the first films to openly attack religious corruption. No studio wanted to finance it, but the final product is a remarkable film that makes a number of great points. I've never been one for organized religion, and I care even less for people who manipulate God to fit their own desires and hatreds. This film rips apart both of them, and in 1960 no less. That took tremendous guts, and the film's legacy speaks for itself now.