Cast & Crew
In the 1920s, Elmer Gantry entertains a group of fellow salesmen in a speakeasy with his ribald jokes and easy charm. When a Salvation Army worker enters, Gantry shocks and moves the crowd with an impromptu, impassioned sermon equating God with love. After collecting money from the patrons, Gantry takes a drunken barfly back to his hotel room. Despite his magnetism, Gantry remains penniless, and soon hops a train to avoid paying his hotel bill. There, a group of tramps steal his shoes and, to escape, he jumps off. Barefoot and filthy, Gantry enters an all-black church and soon wins over the crowd with his ardent singing. The minister, impressed with Gantry's knowledge of scripture, offers him dinner and work, and within days Gantry is back to his traveling sales job. Although he fails to sell any more of his defective household appliances, in one town Gantry is captivated by a poster advertising Sister Sharon Falconer, a visiting evangelist. After attending her prayer meeting, Gantry attempts to speak to the wildly popular preacher, and upon being politely turned away, manages to seduce one of her troupe, naïve Sister Rachel, into divulging information about Sharon's past appearances. Armed with this insider knowledge, Gantry follows the troupe onto a train for Lincoln, Nebraska and, after diverting Sharon's protective manager, William L. Morgan, Gantry sits next to Sharon and claims to know her. Although the exhausted Sharon is wary of Gantry, she appreciates his earthiness and charisma, and agrees to meet him the next day at her tent. Also following Sharon's troupe is cynical reporter Jim Lefferts, who respects Sharon's talent but remains unconvinced of her authenticity or effectiveness in converting people for longer than the few hours during which they remain in her thrall. Jim and Gantry are both present the next day to witness Sharon convince the Lincoln police that not only is the tent not a fire hazard, but that the city leaders need to oppose the attempts by local "whiskey slingers" to discredit her. Gantry, thoroughly impressed, tries to seduce Sharon into hiring him, but when he realizes that he cannot dupe her, informs her with only partially false sincerity that he wants to inspire sinners with the tale of his own moral redemption. Sharon allows him to speak, and she, Bill and Jim watch with awe as Gantry galvanizes the audience with his theatrical preaching about love, hellfire and deliverance. That night, Gantry attempts to kiss Sharon, prompting her to warn him that she is a true believer who will allow to him to remain only if he gives up drinking, smoking and carousing. Jim, who has overheard them, laughingly tells Gantry he could be "the most successful clown in the circus." To Bill's dismay, Jim's words prove true, as Gantry brings his sensationalist style to Sharon's ministry. As she preaches kindness and faith, he causes audience members to speak in tongues and beg forgiveness. Bill urges Sharon to fire Gantry, but she believes them a good pair, and is further convinced when they are invited to perform in Zenith, the biggest city in the Midwest. They meet with the Zenith church leaders, brought together by realtor George Babbitt. When many of the reverends express dismay at turning religion into a spectacle, Babbitt and Gantry counter that the churches must earn money to stay open, and Sharon's visits convert hundreds. Although the committee eventually agrees, many of the reverends remain concerned. The revival enters town with huge fanfare, orchestrated by Gantry, and soon the rapidly growing ministry is running like a factory. Sharon is exhausted by the press attention and frightened of the cynicism and sophistication of the urbanites who picket her tent, but Gantry convinces her that the picketing mobs are the most in need of her salvation. Sharon's solemn, quiet prayer wins over the crowd, and after the service, Gantry protects her from the now adoring fans. Jim, however, remains doubtful and embarks on a series of articles censuring the revival as a sham and revealing that neither Sharon nor Gantry has any credentials or must account for their earnings. Among the millions who read about the ministry is prostitute Lulu Bains, who as a teenager was thrown out of her house after Gantry seduced her by "ramming the fear of God into her." Although the public turns with vicious fervor against Sharon and Babbitt withdraws his financial support, Gantry, armed with proof that Babbitt's properties house illegal businesses, brings the businessman before Jim's editor, Eddington. Sharon is already there, arguing with Jim, who is criticizing her for claiming to know with certainty what God wants. Gantry steps in, and after forcing Jim to admit that he is an atheist, convinces Eddington that this revelation could harm the newspaper. In response, Eddington allows Gantry broadcast time on his radio station, paid for by Babbitt. Although Sharon is thrilled by Gantry's outrageous persuasiveness, when Gantry tries again to kiss her, she retorts that her only love is for God. Conciliating her gently, Gantry draws her into his arms. Within days, the city has embraced Gantry and Sharon as their spiritual leaders and Sharon, who is erecting a tabernacle nearby, is deeply in love with Gantry. One night, as a publicity stunt, he leads a group of reformers to raid a brothel, but when he recognizes Lulu among the arrested, Gantry convinces the police captain to release the girls. Soon after, Lulu asks Gantry to meet her at her hotel room. There, she and her pimp have arranged for a photographer to capture photos of her and Gantry embracing. When Gantry arrives, Lulu seduces him, but when he responds gently, she turns out the light so that no photograph can be taken. Gantry's love for Sharon prompts him to rebuff Lulu, who turns the light back on. The resulting photographs of them kissing goodbye are sent to Sharon, who agrees, with a broken heart, to pay Lulu for the negative. At the brothel, however, Lulu, consumed with spite, refuses the money and gives the pictures to the press. Public opinion immediately turns against Gantry, and at the next service, a riot erupts. Jim, who turned down the opportunity to publish the photos, is there, as well as Lulu, who is horrified to see what she has wrought. She runs from the church, followed by Gantry, who later finds her being beaten by her pimp for refusing Sharon's payment. Gantry rescues Lulu and holds her as she sobs. Later, Jim, who is surprised to realize that Gantry is truly religious, reveals that Lulu has announced in the press that she falsified the photographs. Although Gantry's reputation is restored, he disappears, to Sharon's dismay. Days later, as she prepares for her largest service ever, Gantry appears outside the tabernacle to ask her to run away with him. When she responds that she has been called by God, he realizes that she is consumed by her mission, and retreats sadly to the back of the church. Sharon's sermon inspires a deaf man to beg for her to heal him, and to the horror of both Gantry and Jim, Sharon, now believing herself a living conduit of God, lays her hands on the man and "cures" him. Just then, a man with a lit cigarette starts a fire. As the flames consume the church, a mesmerized Sharon entreats the hysterical crowd to stay and trust God. Gantry tries to rescue her but she breaks away and runs into the flames, her church collapsing around her. By the morning, Jim and Gantry sit among the wreckage. The reverential crowd asks Gantry to forgive them, but he explains that Sharon still loves them, and leads them in a psalm. Although Bill offers Gantry control of the ministry, promising to rebuild, Gantry responds by quoting the Bible: "When I became a man, I put away childish things."
Dale Van Sickle
Larry J. Blake
Robert P. Lieb
William H. O'brien
Julia Ward Howe
Mrs. C. H. Morris
Thomas P. Shaw
Al St. Hilaire
Joan St. Oegger
Sir Arthur Sullivan
Frank [a.] Tuttle
Edward S. Ufford
George J. Webb
Best Supporting Actress
Best Writing, Screenplay
Best Music, Original or Comedy Series
Brooks had been eager to bring Elmer Gantry to the screen since 1947. However, it was not until after he bought the rights to the novel, spent several years writing a script, worked ten years as an MGM contract director, and secured the cooperation of Burt Lancaster that Brooks was able to do it. Lancaster, who starred in Brooks' 1947 screenplay of Brute Force, had the necessary star power to get the project approved and agreed to come aboard as long as he was guaranteed the title role and could serve as a co-producer. The actor was later quoted as saying, "Some parts you fall into like a glove," he said. "Elmer really wasn't acting. It was me."
Elmer Gantry earned nominations for five Academy Awards®: Best Picture, Best Actor (Lancaster), Best Supporting Actress (Shirley Jones), Best Writing (Brooks), and Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Andre Previn). The film eventually won three out of five: Best Actor, Supporting Actress, and Writing. One person's worthy contribution to Elmer Gantry that failed to be nominated was cinematographer John Alton. As he did so strikingly in the films noir he shot for Anthony Mann, such as T-Men (1947) and He Walked By Night (1949), Alton brought a unique atmosphere to Elmer Gantry, one bathed in shadow that complimented the darkness of Elmer's true motives. Ironically, Alton did receive an Academy Award® for his expressive use of color in An American in Paris (1951), but in Elmer Gantry he used color in a much more muted and subtle way that accented the shadows and lighting in such scenes as when Sister Sharon's temple goes up in flames. Elmer Gantry would be Alton's last completed film. He and director Charles Crichton were fired after only two weeks work on Birdman of Alcatraz, another Lancaster film, in 1962.
Producer: Bernard Smith
Director: Richard Brooks
Screenplay: Richard Brooks
Set Design: Bill Calvet
Cinematography: John Alton
Costume Design: Dorothy Jeakins
Film Editing: Marjorie Fowler
Original Music: Andre Previn
Cast: Burt Lancaster (Elmer Gentry), Jean Simmons (Sister Sharon Falconer), Dean Jagger (William L. Morgan), Arthur Kennedy (Jim Lefferts), Shirley Jones (Lulu Bains), Patti Page (Sister Rachel), Edward Andrew (George F. Babbitt), John McIntire (Rev. John Pengilly), Hugh Marlowe (Rev. Philip Garrison).
by Scott McGee
Burt Lancaster won his only Academy Award for his irrepressible portrayal of the title character, a traveling salesman trying to eke out a living wage in the Depression-ravaged 1920s. He's something of a fast-talking con man, but he has a good heart and a leaning toward religion, as we learn in an early scene when he joins the worshippers in an African-American church and stays to help the pastor after everyone else goes home. Arriving in a new town one ordinary day, he finds an old-fashioned revival service going on in a big tent, presided over by Sister Sharon Falconer, an evangelist with an untainted soul, a silver tongue, and a very pretty face. Elmer immediately cozies up to her, but she's too busy to give him the time of day until she hears him deliver an off-the-cuff sermon. She can tell he's a scamp, but he definitely has talent, so she takes him into her entourage, and eventually they become more than just professional partners.
Along the way we discover that Elmer was once a seminary student, kicked out before graduation for seducing the deacon's daughter in the chapel. And there's also more to Sister Sharon than meets the eye her real name is Katie Jones, and while she truly believes she's doing the Lord's work, her evangelical success owes more than a little to the kind of slick showmanship that Elmer has so brilliantly mastered. Other major characters include Jim Lefferts, an atheistic journalist who's traveling with Sister Sharon to gather facts for a newspaper story; Bill Morgan, the Sister's aging right-hand man; and Lulu Bains, the deacon's daughter, now a prostitute who starts dreaming of revenge when her old seducer comes to town. Also present in a few scenes is George F. Babbitt, the chronically discontented antihero of Lewis's novel Babbitt, a ferocious satire of middle-class life published five years before the equally scathing Elmer Gantry.
Brooks began his directorial career under contract to MGM, and he had worked there for a full decade before embarking on Elmer Gantry, his first independent production. He made all the right choices from the outset, starting with the decision to adapt just a portion of Lewis's novel; the finished film runs almost two-and-a-half hours as it is, so more ingredients would have made it overstuffed. Brooks measures out the material with perfect dramatic timing, and while he makes assorted changes in the novel's storyline and character list beyond simply shortening them, there's no feeling that he toned things down to make the film a safer prospect at the box office. If there's any doubt about his stand on the hazards of unchained religious fervor, notice a small detail in the last seconds of the movie, when a title card reading "The End" comes in from the left and right to close off the picture, but freezes for one tiny moment so the camera can linger on a revivalist who's been badly injured, in body and perhaps in soul, during the riot that climaxed the story. And the scenes showing Lulu doing business in her brothel and setting Elmer up for a humiliating sex scandal are notably bold by industry standards in 1960, when censorship was on the wane but hadn't entirely lost its bite. Hedging its bets, however, United Artists appended a printed prologue that looks quaint today, declaring that "the conduct of some revivalists makes a mockery of the traditional beliefs and practices of organized Christianity!" and adding that "due to the highly controversial nature of this film, we strongly urge you to prevent impressionable children from seeing it!"
Of all Brooks's smart decisions, his casting choices were the best of all. Lancaster modeled Elmer partly on Billy Sunday, a hugely popular real-life evangelist and former baseball player whose athletic "slide for God," slightly modified, becomes part of Elmer's energetic revival-tent routine. In addition to his adroit body language and physical moves, Lancaster croons, intones, and belts out Elmer's sermons as if he believed them to his bones. When he starts his trademark oration with the silkiest of words, "Love is like the morning and the evening star," you can understand why everyone from Sister Sharon to the most naïve worshipper comes so easily under his spell. Lancaster himself was no revivalist, but he certainly saw the links between Elmer's preaching and his own profession. "Some parts you fall into like an old glove," he said of this role. "Elmer wasn't acting. It was me."
Elmer Gantry isn't a one-person show by any means. Jean Simmons brings a sense of inborn class and subtle passion to Sister Sharon she and Brooks got married after completing the picture and Shirley Jones is downright smoldering as the fallen Lulu, a part that earned her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. It's hard to imagine how Arthur Kennedy and Dean Jagger could be topped as Lefferts the newsman and Bill the evangelical second banana; ditto for Edward Andrews as Babbitt, and while the pop singer Patti Page doesn't make much impression as Rachel, a member of the flock who quietly pines for Elmer throughout the picture, her recessive acting is oddly in tune with the character. The cast is rounded out by a crowd of old folks from California who play the believers in Sister Sharon's tent, another good idea on Brooks's part.
Elmer Gantry was a labor of love for Brooks, who had dreamed of filming Lewis's novel for more than a decade and spent two years writing the script, which won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. (The film also scored Oscar nominations for Best Picture and for André Previn's score.) His most important collaborator behind the camera was John Alton, who photographed the action with his usual flair for dark-toned expressionism, although his daytime exteriors are striking as well. Various critics have commented on Brooks's decision to shoot the picture in the traditional 1:33 aspect ratio since MGM and other studios were now committed to widescreen ratios, some feel the director was just asserting his newfound independence but Alton makes the choice seem entirely natural, bringing claustrophobic intensity to interiors and dramatic focus to exteriors. Only some shots during the chaotic climax have a disappointingly stagy look.
In a 1960 photo feature on the film, Life magazine said that Brooks had "written into Lewis's rogue a quality of compassion that makes him almost human and, ultimately, pathetic." That's true, but it doesn't go deep enough. The key to Elmer's appeal as a character is that although he's a deeply flawed person a drinker, womanizer, and hell-raiser with a badly checkered past he isn't a hypocrite because he truly believes in God and Jesus, sincerely loves the old-time religion that Sister Sharon preaches, and has the courage to take his comeuppance when it finally arrives. Brooks may have been speaking sarcastically when he remarked that the picture "is the story of a man who wants what everyone is supposed to want money, sex, and religion. He's the all-American boy." But an all-American boy is exactly what Elmer thinks he is, and while he's not above bamboozling the people he wants to persuade, he's also not afraid to shout the convictions he does have to the rooftops. He's one of the great characters in American fiction and American film, and Brooks's fine movie does him proud.
Director: Richard Brooks
Producer: Bernard Smith
Screenplay: Richard Brooks, from the novel by Sinclair Lewis
Cinematographer: John Alton
Film Editing: Marjorie Fowler
Art Direction: Ed Carrere
Music: Andre Previn
With: Burt Lancaster (Elmer Gantry), Jean Simmons (Sister Sharon Falconer), Arthur Kennedy (Jim Lefferts), Dean Jagger (William L. Morgan), Shirley Jones (Lulu Bains), Patti Page (Sister Rachel), Ed Andrews (George F. Babbitt), John McIntire (Rev. John Pengilly), Hugh Marlowe (Rev. Philip Garrison), Joe Maross (Pete), Philip Ober (Rev. Planck), Barry Kelley (Police Captain Holt), Wendell Holmes (Rev. Ulrich), Dayton Lummis (Mr. Eddington).
by David Sterritt
Oh, he gave me special instructions back of the pulpit Christmas Eve. He got to howlin' "Repent! Repent!" and I got to moanin' "Save me! Save me!" and the first thing I know he rammed the fear of God into me so fast I never heard my old man's footsteps!- Lulu Bains
But tonight is a thousand years away.- Sister Sharon Falconer
Love is the morning and the evening star.- Elmer Gantry
Besides, I'm for a free press, for free enterprise..and for whatever the hell the other freedoms are!- George Babbitt
When this film first ran on network TV, the entire subplot featuring Shirley Jones in her Academy Award-winning performance as a prostitute was chopped out of the movie because it clashed so violently with her role as the wholesome mom on "Partridge Family, The" (1970).
After this film was released, Burt Lancaster got a letter from a boyhood friend he had not heard from in years. The friend wrote him that Lancaster's part in this film was the closest to the way Lancaster acted in real life when they were kids.
The film begins with the following written statement: "We believe that certain aspects of Revivalism can bear examination-that the conduct of some revivalists makes a mockery of the traditional beliefs and practices of organized Christianity! We believe that everyone has a right to worship according to his conscience, but-Freedom of Religion is not license to abuse the faith of the people! However, due to the highly controversial nature of this film, we strongly urge you to prevent impressionable children from seeing it!" The credits then run, followed by a close-up of the first page of the novel Elmer Gantry.
Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) wrote the novel in 1927 as a satire of evangelist religion. His "Elmer Gantry" is a drunken carouser who falls into religion as a way of gaining riches and fame. An ordained Baptist minister, Gantry is expelled from the seminary when he seduces a young girl, but soon becomes the manager of evangelist "Sharon Falconer." After Falconer dies in a fire, Gantry becomes a highly successful Methodist minister, and although he is set up to be caught in a scandal, he evades conviction and goes on to increase his influence, power and corruption. One of the book's characters, "George Babbitt," had earlier been the lead character in Lewis' popular novel Babbitt.
Lewis was inspired to create Gantry by the flamboyant evangelist ministers prominent in 1920s society, including Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944) and Billy Sunday (1862-1935). The book engendered extensive controversy, both in the literary community, much of which felt that the characters were mere caricatures, and in the religious community, which resented the portrayal of a degenerate minister. As noted in publicity materials for the film, "Lewis was personally invited to attend his own lynching." Despite being banned in various cities, Elmer Gantry was one of the novels that led Lewis to being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930.
The book was adapted into a play by Patrick Kearney and opened on Broadway on August 7, 1928. According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, as early as 1928 producers sought PCA analysis of a film version of the novel or play, but were informed that its content made it unsuitable for a motion picture.
In a July 1960 New York Times article, director Richard Brooks wrote that he first entertained the idea of writing a film adaptation of Elmer Gantry in 1945, when Lewis favorably reviewed Brooks's first novel, The Brick Foxhole, in Esquire magazine. When Brooks, at the time a marine, was then threatened with a court-martial for failing to submit the novel to the Marine Corps for approval, Lewis agreed to testify on his behalf. After the suit was dropped, Lewis met Brooks at a bar, where he gave him permission to attempt to film his book, cautioning the young writer to consult the many critiques of the novel, written by such journalists as H. L. Mencken and Elmer Davis, in order to improve on it. "I cannot overstate how much these reviews helped me in formatting the film," Brooks wrote.
Although he had not yet officially acquired the rights to the novel, in 1953 Brooks appealed to the PCA for approval of a script. Correspondence in the PCA file indicates that at that time, PCA head Geoffrey Shurlock suggested that Brooks use the assistance of an evangelist minister to prepare an outline. In April 1955, New York Times reported that Brooks had purchased an option on the novel and was considering Montgomery Clift to play the lead role. At the time, Brooks assumed he might produce the feature in 1956. As noted in an October 1959 New York Times article, several studios refused to support the controversial film and Brooks had to re-purchase the option each successive year. Finally, he attained the participation of Burt Lancaster, whom he had met while writing for Lancaster's first film, The Killers (1946), and the 1947 picture Brute Force (for both, see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). After Lancaster signed on in 1958, United Artists agreed to finance and distribute the adaptation. Brooks noted in the July 1960 New York Times feature that he then spent over one year writing eight drafts of the screenplay.
A November 21, 1958 memo in the PCA file specifies that Shurlock considered the film's first draft to be in violation of the Code. In response (and in accordance with Lancaster's age), according to a modern interview with Brooks, the writer-director adapted the story to focus on Gantry's middle years, changed Falconer into a sincerely religious figure, converted "Jim Lefferts" from a seminary student to an atheist reporter and, most importantly, portrayed Gantry as not an ordained minister. This change sidestepped Code restrictions disallowing ministers to be portrayed in a negative light. In a November 24, 1958 memo, Brooks noted that he retained the story's 1920s setting in order to avoid any identification with contemporary religious leaders.
As a result, Shurlock stated in August 1959 that the basic story met with Code requirements, requiring only minor changes in language before the film could be awarded a seal. According to modern sources, in meetings with the National Catholic Legion of Decency, Brooks agreed to add the written disclaimer that precedes the film, warning parents not to bring children to screenings. The Legion then granted Elmer Gantry a B rating, stating that it created a negative atmosphere that failed to distinguish clearly between true "religionists" and commercial exploiters of faith.
Despite the changes to the book and the Code's lenience, by spring of 1959 many church leaders were expressing concern that any adaptation of the novel would be offensive. In June 1959, as noted in the PCA files, George A. Heimrich, the West Coast Director of the National Council of Churches of Christ, issued a press statement attacking the film industry as a whole and Elmer Gantry in particular for its overemphasis on violence and sex. In response, however, Robert W. Spike, General Secretary of the Board for Home Missions of the Congregational and Christian Churches, wrote the following to the PCA: "The film industry has recently begun to show increased maturity and artistic sensitivity....There is no need for Protestants to be defensive about Elmer Gantry. I'm sure our ministry has enough validity and integrity to withstand this classic caricature."
In response to what a October 28, 1959 Variety article described as the "severe attack" from Protestant pressure groups, Brooks countered that the "new generation of filmmakers...now have the courage to tackle subjects that were once taboo." In the Variety article, Brooks attributed this to both the emergence of independent production companies and a "lessening of the old fears." In a October 30, 1959 Los Angeles Mirror-News editorial, Brooks called the church groups' response "a matter of veiled force, censorship and boycott." The debate continued until the film's release, when Rev. Dr. Dan R. Potter, director of the Protestant Council of the City of New York, called the film "a slap at religion." As noted in a July 20, 1960 Variety article, Brooks once again responded that the picture attempted to portray a search for truth in religion.
Partially as a result of the controversy, Brooks kept the script and the production strictly confidential. The final draft was approved in August 1959 with only minor modifications by the PCA, but the filmmakers refused to make a synopsis of it available to the press, as was the customary practice. Producer Bernard Smith was quoted in a October 29, 1959 Los Angeles Times article as stating that "the script `is so technical that a layman might misunderstand it.'" Despite Brooks's caution, as reported in an August 1961 New York Times article, the script "fell into the hands of another producer," who then petitioned the PCA to be allowed the same liberties as had Brooks. As a result, Brooks was forced to make new changes to the already-approved script, fostering an even more intense desire for secrecy on the sets of his future productions.
Although a January 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Brooks's independent company, Richlaw Productions, would produce the film, that company was not listed in any other source. An August 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Irving Lazar was originally to have co-produced the film with Smith. Don Ameche was originally cast as "William L. Morgan," but when the film's start was delayed, he left the production and was replaced by Dean Jagger. Other 1959 Hollywood Reporter news items mention Susan Hayward and Christopher Plummer as possible stars, and add Mark Allen, Frank Killmond, Jason Johnson, Mike Mason, Charles Alvin Bell, Mushy Callahan, Milton Parsons, Jim Richardson, Adrienne Marden, Robert Hoy, Saul Gorss and Tenton T. Knight to the cast, although their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Although Hollywood Reporter reported that Kevin McCarthy had been cast, he was not in the picture. In addition, a modern source adds to the cast Budd Buster, Mary Adams Hayes, Colin Kenny, Mike Lally, John McKee, David McMahon, Gloria Pall, Charles Perry, Dan Riss, Bert Stevens, Jack Stoney and Ken Terrell. Although Hollywood Reporter production charts from early November-early December 1959 list Joseph Pevney as a director of the film, his actual title has not been determined and it is likely that he worked as a second unit director. A modern source adds the following crew members: Robert Webb (2d asst dir), Bob Herron and Charles Horvath (Stunts), Leonard Doss (Color Consultant) and Kenyon Hopkins (Mus cond).
The novel's writer is mentioned by name in the film, during the scene in which Gantry convinces editor "Eddington" that he deserves radio time to rebut Lefferts' accusations, and compares the journalist to such other brilliant, atheist writers as Lewis and Mencken. Hollywood Reporter production charts and news items state that much of the film was shot at the Columbia Ranch and the Columbia and M-G-M studio lots, and as noted in studio press materials, the scenes of the tabernacle were shot on location in Santa Monica, CA. Brooks stated in a modern interview that the scene in which the tabernacle burns down included 200 stunt people and 1,200 extras, many of whom were recruited from nearby airplane factories. Press materials relate that the filmmakers had trouble starting the fire and so brought old nitrate films from the Columbia studio and used the highly flammable substance to start the fire.
Press notes add that two of Lancaster's children, Joanna and Sighle, appeared in the film. Lancaster sings several hymns in the film, and a September 1959 Daily Variety news item noted that United Artists Records was planning to distribute commercial recordings of the tunes. During filming, Jean Simmons, who at the time was married to Stewart Granger, began an affair with Brooks that culminated in their marriage on November 1, 1960. Their first daughter was born the following year and they remained married until 1977.
Shirley Jones stated in a modern source that Brooks wanted Piper Laurie to play the role of "Lulu Bains" and a result was initially cold to her. After her success in the role, for which she won her only Academy Award, she turned down many dramatic parts, fearful of being typecast as a prostitute. As a result, Elmer Gantry marked the only purely dramatic role in her feature film career.
Brooks shot the film in the then rarely used, classic aspect ratio of 1.33:1, stating in a July 20, 1960 Variety article that the story required the intimacy of the smaller proportions. As noted in that article, he then had to ensure that the picture would be exhibited in that ratio, rather than the more standard wide screens, and worked with certain theaters to provide the correct lenses.
At the June 29, 1960 premiere in Hollywood, children under the age of sixteen were not allowed in unless accompanied by a parent. The film ran with minor deletions in Canada, England and Australia. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, in conjunction with the film's release, the novel was serialized in the NY Daily Mirror in August 1960.
Elmer Gantry won Academy Awards for Best Actor (Lancaster), Best Supporting Actress (Jones) and Best Adapted Screenplay. In addition, it earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Music (Andre Previn). Among the film's many other honors, Brooks was nominated for the DGA Award for Best Director and won the WGA Award for Best Written American Drama, and Lancaster won a Best Actor Golden Globe award. When the 1992 film Leap of Faith (directed by Richard Pearce and starring Steve Martin and Debra Winger) was released, many reviewers commented on its story's similarity to Elmer Gantry.
Voted Best Actor (Lancaster) by the 1960 New York Film Critics Association.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1960 New York Times Film Critics.
Winner of the Writer's Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay--Drama of 1960.
Released in United States Summer July 1960
Released in United States Summer July 1960