Saturday, December 8, 2012

Elmer Gantry

Elmer Gantry, a hard-drinking, boisterous, silver tongued travelling salesman (Burt Lancaster), discovers his true calling in preaching when he hears the sermon of Sister Sarah (Jean Simmons), another nomadic peddler cut from a much more pure cloth. After ingratiating himself into her circle, their revivals are greeted with massive turnouts and it appears that her ambition of building a church will be realized. However, the  acts of a vengeful prostitute (Shirley Jones) from Gantry's past threaten to tear town their dreams. Richard Brooks' "Elmer Gantry" is an adaptation of Upton Sinclair's 1927 scathing satirical novel, which must have been trimmed of much of its salaciousness, but is nonetheless a powerful indictment of cheap evangelicalism and the selling of religion to the people. It features a trio of indelible performances: Lancaster, one of the most deeply felt of all actors, in his powerful, uncompromising, Oscar winning tour-de-force; Simmons, almost angelic, who brings depth to what could have been a patronizing role, which went surprisingly unrecognized; Lastly, Shirley Jones who also walks a fine line in playing another conflicted character and also winning an Oscar for her services.