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Elmer Gantry

If you are ready for a fire and brimstone drama with plenty to say in manner that was hugely controversial in 1960 and merely fascinating today, ELMER GANTRY delivers.

Burt Lancaster stars as our title traveling salesman, drifting from town to town selling vacuums and trinkets, as passionate with local hookers as he is with bartenders.

Gantry's personality is BIG, charming, loud and polished.

At a time when he begins to grow weary of his travels, he meets a traveling religious revival, lead by Sister Sharon Falconer, who is no more of a nun that Elmer is a priest.

Sharon shares Gantry's gift of sincere gab, and amazing stage presence and beauty, thanks to Jean Simmons (Spartacus, The Big Country).

Elmer worms his way into the traveling revival, much to the chagrin of Sharon's manager William (Dean Jagger).

William sees Gantry for exactly what he is. The film's strength is discovering just how clued in Sister Sharon is to Elmer as well.

A good show is a hard thing to come by and the Sharon/Elmer show is a pulpit pounding, standing ovation, speaking in tongues, healing-the-wounded level event.

Based on Sinclair Lewis' controversial best seller from 1925 and challenging organized religion, fleecing of the masses and the belief system, it took 35 years to get to the screen.

Writer/Director Richard Brooks (In Cold Blood, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof) adapts it well, casts it perfectly and doesn't shy away from human weakness.

Arthur Kennedy is excellent as a reporter who knows Gantry better than he knows himself and Shirley Jones on an Oscar as a young prostitute named Lulu who has knows Gantry long before he found old time religion.

Brooks won an Oscar for his screenplay and Lancaster won Best Actor for his performance. It's BIG and overpowering and it took me half the film to realize that every Gantry emotion is fully calculated and measured. It's only as the film continues do you feel the pain of these people who have been someone else so long, they've forgotten their true selves.

For a film over a half century old, its like Gantry himself. Powerful, bombastic and beneath the surface, a deep measure of despair and sadness.

Grab a pew and let Elmer take the pulpit. He's got a lot to say, and gets an A.

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