Elmer Gantry (1960)

I finally got around to watching the 1960 film Elmer Gantry starring Burt Lancaster. The movie is based on the 1926 novel by Sinclair Lewis. Lancaster plays the title role as a traveling con-man that connects with a female traveling evangelist, Sister Sharon Falconer. Lancaster won an Academy Award for his performance. The movie took home 2 other Oscars and was nominated for 2 more.
Gantry struggled as a salesman. His con games could no longer pad his wallet, and he discovered that revivalism might solve his problem. Gantry was a former football player that majored in women, booze (during prohibition) and general vice.
The movie has as its background the pentecostal revivalism of Lewis’ day. Emotionalism with a thin dose of Bible covered the saw dust grounds of the large tent set up across the heartland is the theme. One character even noted that Gantry and Sister Falconer were like what we now call the “good cop – bad cop” routine. Gantry scared them with hell and the devil while Falconer raised them with heaven and hope.
The movie also presents the struggles of an educated ministry versus a common ministry, a rural religion versus an urban religion, fundamentalism versus modernism. It is a good movie to see the setting of much of pentacostal evangelism that continues on late night religious television.