Elmer Gantry


Elmer Gantry

Critics Consensus

No consensus yet.



Total Count: 30


Audience Score

User Ratings: 3,386
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Elmer Gantry Photos

Movie Info

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, Rovi


Burt Lancaster
as Elmer Gantry
Shirley Jones
as Lulu Bains
Jean Simmons
as Sister Sharon Falconer/Katy Jones
Dean Jagger
as William L. Morgan
Arthur Kennedy
as Jim Lefferts
Patti Page
as Sister Rachel
Edward Andrews
as George Babbit
John McIntire
as Rev. Pengilly
Everett Glass
as Rev. Brown
Michael Whalen
as Rev. Phillips
Hugh Marlowe
as Rev. Bill Garrison
Philip Ober
as Rev. Planck
Wendell Holmes
as Rev. Ulrich
Rex Ingram
as Preacher
Barry Kelley
as Capt. Holt
Jean Willes
as Prostitute
Sally Fraser
as Prostitute
Dayton Lummis
as Eddington, Publisher
Larry J. Blake
as Bartender
John Qualen
as Sam, Storekeeper
Guy Wilkerson
as Clean-Up Man
Milton Parsons
as Revivalist
Dan Riss
as Speaker
Peter Brocco
as Benny, Photographer
Max Showalter
as Deaf Man
Ray Walker
as Friend
View All

Critic Reviews for Elmer Gantry

All Critics (30) | Top Critics (4) | Fresh (28) | Rotten (2)

  • Brooks honors the spirit of Lewis' cynical commentary on circus-type primitive exhortation with pictorial imagery that is always pungent. He also has written dialog that is frank and biting.

    Apr 8, 2008 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • Brooks was the ultimate vulgarizer of serious literature.

    Apr 8, 2008 | Full Review…
  • With a host of fine performances, and a strong sense of period and place conveyed by John Alton's lush camerawork, there's still plenty to enjoy.

    Jan 26, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • The briskly paced drama of a religious opportunist, his colleagues and his times utilizes the tools of the motion picture in expert fashion.

    May 20, 2003 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • Alas! I found it crude and cumbersome, vulgar and overblown (a mistake in taste was to do it in color), and a perfect example of that having-it-both-ways irreality.

    Jul 30, 2019 | Full Review…
  • The whole thing bristles with rather superficial symbolism and even Jean Simmons's radiant, and in this case hearty, charm as an Aimee Macpherson figure.

    Jul 18, 2018 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Elmer Gantry

  • Jan 05, 2017
    A great film with fine work from Lancaster and Simmons. The awards were deserved.
    Marcus W Super Reviewer
  • May 21, 2014
    A snake-oil preacher woos a revivalist, and together they build a following, but will his dishonesty hurt their partnership more than his charisma helps their cause? Burt Lancaster's finest performance showcases his over-the-top antics and his remarkably seductive charm and his ability to convey a soulful depth of character. He rises to the challenge of the perfect part for his talents. Jean Simmons, always demure, also gives a strong, subtle performance as Sister Sharon Falconer, a well-meaning but manipulated revivalist. The film's satire pillories ignorance and theft more than it levels its glass at religious fervor. It doesn't suggest that religion is bullshit because we see a proper refutation in the person of well-meaning religious people, but it does say that people are no more easily manipulated than when they are are pushed by either faith or their genitals. Seems like apt criticism to me. Overall, your patience with this film will depend on your reaction to Lancaster's antics and the film's thesis.
    Jim H Super Reviewer
  • Aug 26, 2013
    Elmer Gantry opens with a short shot of chapter 1 of the novel, I'm not sure if this implies a loyal reproduction, but since one of the criticisms I heard of this film is that it vulgarizes the novel, than it's probably not. And this film vulgar, especially for the time. There was a lengthy warning at the beginning that the content may offend. The film, while perverted, is usually colorful and light filled. An early is where Elmer goes into a black church, even as the farthest thing from a spiritual man, or a singer, I wanted to stand up and sing with them. That was a well done scene. Everywhere the salesman Elmer Gantry goes people think he's a preacher, and really he always was. It's clear to see how much this film inspired. During Gantry's ramblings, I always saw the resemblance to Network. Elmer also reminds me of John Candy's character in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. The preaching is Wise Blood is highly similar, and the cult like setting in The Master. The script is filled with wit and the dialogue keeps moving. The church at the end is highly remarkable and realistic. A 150 minute delight.
    Daniel D Super Reviewer
  • Aug 13, 2013
    Lancaster's Gantry is top notch and keeps the overall picture together. No doubt this was used for the prototype of flawed preachers ranging from The Apostle to Father Damian in The Exorcist.
    John B Super Reviewer

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