"Elmer Gantry" Is Released

Elmer Gantry is a 1960 drama film about a con man and a female evangelist selling religion to small town America.

Adapted by director Richard Brooks, the film is based on the 1927 novel by Sinclair Lewis and stars Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons. The movie presents fewer than 100 pages of the novel, deleting many characters and fundamentally changing the character and actions of female evangelist Sharon Falconer, played by Simmons. The story's use of a female evangelist bears a resemblance to true-life Sister Aimee Semple McPherson. The film won numerous awards.

Elmer Gantry (Burt Lancaster), a drunken, dishonest street preacher allegedly patterned on Billy Sunday, wrangles a job with the travelling tent ministry conducted by Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons). Thanks to Gantry's enthusiastic hellfire-and-brimstone sermons, Sister Sharon's operation rises to fame and fortune, enough so that Sharon realizes her dream of building her own enormous tabernacle. These ambitions are put in jeopardy when a prostitute (Oscar-winning Shirley Jones), a former minister's daughter who'd been deflowered by Gantry years earlier, lures Gantry into a compromising situation and has photographs taken. It took several years for any Hollywood studio to take a chance with Sinclair Lewis' novel, and when it finally did arrive on the screen, producer/director Richard Brooks was compelled to downplay some of the more "sacrilegious" passages in the original. Also appearing in Elmer Gantry are Arthur Kennedy as an H.L. Mencken-style atheistic journalist, and Edward Andrews as George Babbitt, a character borrowed from another Sinclair Lewis novel. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide