Elmer Gantry

There's nothing more American than the huckster, the showy salesman whose pitch is his product. Elmer Gantry is just that, but beneath the pitch, beneath the glad hand and guffaw, there's a void filled with compulsive come-ons and connivance. As a jest, Gantry (played with a surplus of sincerity by Burt Lancaster) delivers a mock sermon to some inebriated pals and realizes he can sell God, along with vacuum cleaners. This hollow pitchman finds himself under the tent of a Christian evangelical troupe led by the frail Sister Sharon (Jean Simmons) whose devoutness puzzles and allures him. Driven by Gantry's hell-fire harangues and the Sister's heavenly promises, the church coffers fill to overflowing. Adapted from Sinclair Lewis's 1927 novel recounting the popularity of Aimee Semple McPherson, this rustic portrait of Deep South Revivalism is a fiery castigation of cash for converts. Though Lancaster's bible-spouting charlatan can beguile the fallen and faithful, he can't save himself. And that's the god's truth.

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