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Blu-ray Review Elmer Gantry Blu-ray Review (1 Viewer)

Richard Gallagher

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Elmer Gantry Blu-ray Review

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.

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Studio: MGM

Distributed By: Kino Lorber

Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1

Audio: English 1.0 DD (Mono)

Subtitles: English

Rating: Not Rated

Run Time: 2X Hr. 26 Min.

Package Includes: Blu-ray

Standard Blu-ray Keep Case

Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)

Region: A

Release Date: 09/23/2014

MSRP: $29.95




The Production Rating: 5/5

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.


Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA

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.



Audio Rating: 3.5/5

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.


Special Features Rating: 2/5

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.


Overall Rating: 4/5

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.


Reviewed By: Richard Gallagher


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Robert Crawford

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I gave the video presentation a grade of 4.0 on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the highest grade. As to Lancaster's performance, it's my opinion that he gave one of the best acting performances ever captured on film. I think it's up there with Mitchum/The Night of the Hunter and Scott/Patton. Whether he played himself or not, the Elmer Gantry character with Richard Brook's dialogue was an acting clinic on display. Also, Lancaster had a pretty good singing voice for somebody that never did a musical.
 

Richard Gallagher

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I waffled between a 3.5 and a 4, so I wouldn't argue with your rating.

Did you notice the same audio distortion in the latter half of the opening credits?
 

Robert Crawford

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Richard Gallagher said:
I waffled between a 3.5 and a 4, so I wouldn't argue with your rating.

Did you notice the same audio distortion in the latter half of the opening credits?
Yes, I did and thankfully it didn't carry over to the rest of the film.
 

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Thanks for the review, Richard. I'll be watching my copy this weekend.

Sadly, I can't watch this film now without remembering a night in the 80's when Richard Brooks told a group of us at a screening how he raided the film vaults for old films and hung strips of them in the folds of the tent for the big fire scene, to make it go up faster and more evenly. He said he had absolutely no idea to that day what films went up in smoke for that sequence. He had tremendous regrets about it, but of course film preservation was not thought about then.
 

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Robert Crawford said:
Also, Lancaster had a pretty good singing voice for somebody that never did a musical.
I always assumed that Lancaster was dubbed when singing in this movie, but if not I guess he did have a pretty good singing voice.
 

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jauritt said:
I always assumed that Lancaster was dubbed when singing in this movie, but if not I guess he did have a pretty good singing voice.
In 1971 I saw the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera's revival of the Kurt Weill/Maxwell Anderson musical, Knickerbocker Holiday, starring Burt Lancaster in the role of Peter Stuyvesant. He performed several songs, including the poignant "September Song". He was pretty good in the role, really delivered in the musical numbers. I remember him saying in a related interview that he called his old friend and From Here To Eternity fellow cast member, Frank Sinatra, for pointers on vocalizing. Maybe he made a similar call in 1960. :)

Burt Lancaster performs wearing peg leg

http://framework.latimes.com/2013/01/31/lancaster-performs-peg-leg/
 

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JohnMor said:
Thanks for the review, Richard. I'll be watching my copy this weekend.

Sadly, I can't watch this film now without remembering a night in the 80's when Richard Brooks told a group of us at a screening how he raided the film vaults for old films and hung strips of them in the folds of the tent for the big fire scene, to make it go up faster and more evenly. He said he had absolutely no idea to that day what films went up in smoke for that sequence. He had tremendous regrets about it, but of course film preservation was not thought about then.
You'd think that he would be able to find something else just as flammable to use.
 

Robert Crawford

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jauritt said:
I always assumed that Lancaster was dubbed when singing in this movie, but if not I guess he did have a pretty good singing voice.
I always assumed the opposite because to my limited listening skills, the sound of that singing voice matched up well in comparison to Lancaster's speaking voice. Another actor with a good singing voice was Robert Mitchum.
 

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cwilli said:
You'd think that he would be able to find something else just as flammable to use.
I'm sure he could have, but this option had 2 things going for it: plentiful and free.
 

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Robert Crawford said:
I always assumed the opposite because to my limited listening skills, the sound of that singing voice matched up well in comparison to Lancaster's speaking voice. Another actor with a good singing voice was Robert Mitchum.
Mitchum put out a fun Calypso album.
 

Richard Gallagher

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Cineman said:
In 1971 I saw the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera's revival of the Kurt Weill/Maxwell Anderson musical, Knickerbocker Holiday, starring Burt Lancaster in the role of Peter Stuyvesant. He performed several songs, including the poignant "September Song". He was pretty good in the role, really delivered in the musical numbers. I remember him saying in a related interview that he called his old friend and From Here To Eternity fellow cast member, Frank Sinatra, for pointers on vocalizing. Maybe he made a similar call in 1960. :)

He was intensely interested in opera for most of his life, and at one point he was considering directing some Metropolitan Opera productions. He also was a board member of the Los Angeles Opera.
 

Richard Gallagher

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ABaglivi said:
The audio distortion in the credits is present in the MGM DVD as well.
Interestingly, the film's soundtrack is available on CD and the theme music sounds fine. One would think that MGM could easily have fixed it on the film transfer, but apparently they don't care.
 

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Richard Gallagher said:
Interestingly, the film's soundtrack is available on CD and the theme music sounds fine. One would think that MGM could easily have fixed it on the film transfer, but apparently they don't care.
MGM not care? You must be new here! ;) :P :D
 

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I reissued the Elmer Gantry CD - I did it from scratch from the four-track session masters (unlike Ryko - they used the album master and it sounded shrill and terrible) and it sounds amazing. So, yes, they certainly could have fixed the problem. Also, we have the Burt vocals on it and it's Burt all the way.
 

Richard Gallagher

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haineshisway said:
I reissued the Elmer Gantry CD - I did it from scratch from the four-track session masters (unlike Ryko - they used the album master and it sounded shrill and terrible) and it sounds amazing. So, yes, they certainly could have fixed the problem. Also, we have the Burt vocals on it and it's Burt all the way.
There is even an old United Artists compilation LP called Great Motion Picture Themes which was reissued on CD in 2012, and the Elmer Gantry theme sound fine there.

http://www.amazon.com/Great-Motion-Picture-Themes/dp/B006WFSWHK/ref=sr_1_2?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1412871384&sr=1-2&keywords=great+movie+themes
 

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