- Dec 9, 2001
- Fishkill, NY
- Real Name
- Rich Gallagher
One might be tempted to surmise that when Sinclair Lewis wrote his novel "Elmer Gantry" in 1926, he had it in his mind that Burt Lancaster would one day portray the title character on stage. That is impossible, of course - Lancaster was only 14 years old when the book was published - but it is equally unthinkable that any other actor could fill the role. The film version of Elmer Gantry is now available on Blu-ray, and while it is not a perfect transfer it is a very good one, and it is a highly satisfying way to enjoy what is perhaps the finest performance of Lancaster's illustrious career.
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English 1.0 DD (Mono)
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2X Hr. 26 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-rayStandard Blu-ray Keep Case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 09/23/2014
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 BainesOne might be tempted to surmise that when Sinclair Lewis wrote his novel "Elmer Gantry" in 1926, he had it in his mind that Burt Lancaster would one day portray the title character on stage. That is impossible, of course - Lancaster was only 14 years old when the book was published - but it is equally unthinkable that any other actor could fill the role. The film version of Elmer Gantry is now available on Blu-ray, and while it is not a perfect transfer it is a very good one, and it is a highly satisfying way to enjoy what is perhaps the finest performance of Lancaster's illustrious career.Elmer Gantry (Burt Lancaster) is a traveling salesman of small appliances somewhere in the Midwest in the 1920s. He is loud, boisterous and profane, and other salesmen love to drink and carouse with him. The film opens in a bar on Christmas Eve, where Gantry is regaling his drinking buddies with off-color jokes. Their merriment is interrupted by a Salvation Army worker who is soliciting donations to provide Christmas dinners for the poor. The men mostly ignore her, but her plea strikes a chord with Gantry, who then exhorts the customers of the bar to make contributions, and he leads by example when he donates all of his cash. That gesture leaves him broke, but he picks up a woman in the bar and takes her back to his hotel room. In the morning he beats it out of town on a freight train, first stopping to lift cash from her purse while she sleeps off her intoxication.On the train Gantry is accosted by some tramps, who try to steal his belongings. He manages to fight them off and jumps from the moving train with all of his possessions except his shoes. As he walks down the tracks barefoot he hears music from a building that he is passing. It turns out to be a black church, and when he walks in he is the only white person present. The churchgoers eye him carefully and suspiciously, but whatever reservations they have disappear when he bursts into a hymn with a deep and commanding baritone. The pastor invites him home for a meal and a new pair of shoes, and then Gantry is on his way again.At the next town he is back at work, hawking his wares to retailers. Everywhere he turns he sees signs about a religious revival being led by Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons). He mostly ignores the signs until he hears singing outside of his hotel room. He looks out the window and observes Sister Sharon's music director, Sister Rachel (Patti Page), inviting the gathered crowd to attend that evening's revival meeting. His interest piqued, Gantry decides to pay a visit to the big tent where the revival is being held. He may have gone there as a lark, but his interest heightens considerably when he lays eyes upon the beautiful Sister Sharon. He also is intrigued when he observes how the people willingly empty their wallets when the collection plates are passed around. He approaches Sister Sharon but she shows no particular interest in him, so he seeks out Sister Rachel and feigns interest in her in order to learn about the real object of his desire. He eventually ingratiates himself to Sister Sharon and she gives him an opportunity to speak at her next revival. There Gantry puts on the performance of his life, dazzling the overflow crowd with his passionate, stirring oratory. Sister Sharon decides of offer him a position with her ministry, to the chagrin of her manager, Bill Morgan (Dean Jagger).The phenomenon of Sister Sharon has come to the attention of an investigative reporter, Jim Lefferts (Arthur Kennedy). He is a non-believer and is trying to make sense of the revivals. Although he is skeptical about Sister Sharon, he and Gantry hit it off and become friendly with one another. Lefferts has Gantry pegged as a con artist, but he cannot help but be impressed by Elmer's brilliance, cunning, and forceful personality. Gantry then persuades Sister Sharon that it is time for her to bring her revival to the big city of Zenith. Morgan is skeptical, but Sister Sharon agrees to give it a try. The initial appearances in the city are extremely well received, and things are going swimmingly until Gantry has a chance and fateful encounter with Lulu Baines (Shirley Jones), a prostitute with whom he has a history.Burt Lancaster deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Actor, and Shirley Jones, who was cast against type, likewise won the award for Best Supporting Actress. Writer/Director Richard Brooks won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Elmer Gantry also received nominations for Best Picture and Best Music Score (Andre Previn). Jean Simmons is charming as Sister Sharon (she began an affair with director Brooks during the film, and they later married), and Arthur Kennedy is fine as reporter Lefferts. My only criticism is that the character of Sister Rachel is not well developed, leaving Patti Page with little to do. The film was sufficiently controversial when it was released in 1960 that it was banned in Boston and reviled in the Bible Belt, but now everyone who has a Blu-ray player can see it in high definition in the comfort of their homes.
The Production Rating: 5/5
While not perfect, this is one of the better Blu-ray transfers in the line of Kino Lorber Studio Classics films. The 1080p, AVC-encoded image is properly framed at 1.66:1. The image, filmed by cinematographer John Alton, is mostly sharp, with just a few soft moments and some brief dissolves which look a bit rough. Otherwise, the picture is mostly free of damage, film grain is intact, and the colors are vivid and accurate (the latter is a significant achievement considering that Elmer Gantry was filmed in the frequently problematic Eastmancolor). By any measure, it is unlikely that Elmer Gantry will look better in the foreseeable future.
Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA
I was concerned about the quality of the audio when I listened to Andre Previn's theme music over the opening credits, as there is some noticeable distortion during the latter half of the credits. Happily, it turned out that it was the only audio problem I was to hear. The mono soundtrack is otherwise free of issues. Every word of dialogue is clear and understandable, and the rest of the music sounds fine.
Audio Rating: 3.5/5
The minimal extras include the original theatrical trailer, which is intact but a bit worn. The only other extra is an interesting ten-minute interview with Shirley Jones. Her film career was in a slump (due to the fact that musicals had fallen out of favor) when Burt Lancaster called her and asked her to do a screen test for the part of Lulu. She read the novel and saw it as an opportunity to change her image and give her career a boost. She did the screen test knowing that director Richard Brooks did not want her for the part, and he gave her no reason to believe that she was getting the role. However, when Brooks saw her on film he realized that he had made a huge mistake and that she was perfect as Lulu.
Special Features Rating: 2/5
Burt Lancaster once said that he did not have to act when he played Elmer Gantry, that he just had to be himself. There may be some truth to that, but contemporary critics immediately recognized that it was the performance of his career. When he won the Academy Award, presenter Greer Garson remarked "This is really rightly deserved." This Blu-ray release of Elmer Gantry is highly recommended. It is a film which viewers will not soon forget.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Richard Gallagher
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