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Elmer Gantry Reviews

Lancaster pulls out all the stops in one of his most memorable roles as the lustful, ambitious charlatan of Sinclair Lewis's powerful novel. Elmer Gantry (Lancaster) first appears on the screen, roaring drunk, trying to mooch drinks while selling his own distinctive take on scripture with his remarkable gift of gab. He encounters evangelist Sister Sharon Falconer (Simmons)--a role no doubt intended by Lewis to suggest Aimee Semple McPherson. Gantry appeals to her vanity and joins her entourage. Together they become rich and famous enough for Sister Falconer to build her own huge seaside temple. She falls in love with Gantry who loves life and every woman he meets; he had once been with a preacher's daughter, Lulu Baines (Shirley Jones, in a standout, Oscar-winning performance), now a prostitute hungry for revenge. Writer-director Brooks made a few revisions in the novel's story. Gantry is no longer the ordained minister fallen from grace as depicted in the novel but now a traveling salesman for the Lord. Kennedy as Jim Lefferts, his empathic friend, is transformed from another seminary dropout in the novel into a cynical, savvy newsman in the H.L. Mencken tradition. Nonetheless the integrity of the characterizations is maintained in a script that is both literate and ironic. Brooks later sarcastically commented that "ELMER GANTRY is the story of a man who wants what everyone is supposed to want--money, sex, and religion. He's the All-American boy."