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Remind Me
,Elmer Gantry

Elmer Gantry

As racy and controversial as they come, the 1960 production of Richard Brooks' Elmer Gantry drew criticism from morality groups and praise from just about everyone else. Accompanied in some city newspaper advertisements with an "adults only" label, Elmer Gantry drew very respectable critical notices and was a winner at the 1960 Academy Awards®. Based on the 1927 novel by Sinclair Lewis, Brooks himself wrote the screenplay about a charlatan preacher whom, as Brooks himself said, "wants what everyone else is supposed to want - money, sex, and religion. He's the all-American boy." Interestingly, the film got through only the first half of the book, and that half took up nearly two and a half hours of screen time.

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).
C-147m. Letterboxed.

by Scott McGee



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