Brothers and sisters, can we get a witness for Elmer Gantry
, a woeful tale of saints and sinners? Burt Lancaster earned his only Oscar as the wide-smiling, glad-handing, soul-saving charlatan Gantry, a salesman who turns his gift for preaching into a career at the pulpit. Climbing on board the barnstorming evangelical tour of revivalist Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons), Gantry declaims, invokes, and sermonises his way to the top, until a former flame-turned-prostitute (Shirley Jones in an Oscar-winning performance) threatens to reveal his dark past as a womaniser and con man. Lancaster harnesses all his physical vigour and natural charisma for this role, literally throwing himself into his preaching with the suppleness of an acrobat and the sing-song delivery of a gospel singer--he even brays like a hound to show the Holy Spirit within him. Gantry is a showman, pure and simple, and while he doesn't fool true-believer Sister Sharon, he gives her a few object lessons in playing the crowd. Director Richard Brooks, who also took home an Oscar for his screenplay (adapted from the Sinclair Lewis novel
), creates a rousing drama both on and off the pulpit, and provides fine roles for an excellent supporting cast, including Arthur Kennedy, Dean Jagger, John McIntire, and singer Patti Page. --Sean Axmaker
Elmer Gantry (Burt Lancaster) gives up his job as a salesman when he realises that he can make more money whipping up the hellfire and salvation as a preacher with a touring bible show. Everything starts out well, but when prostitute Lulu Bains (Shirley Jones) turns up with tales of the preacher's past, it's clear that Gantry is going to be in for a bumpy ride. Lancaster and Jones both won Oscars for their performances, as did Richard Brooks for Best Adapted Screenplay.