Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Elmer Gantry (1960)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Elmer Gantry (1960)

In director Richard Brooks' religious drama - an adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' 1927 novel about a charismatic and corrupt evangelist, who was secondarily a religious con-man:

  • the striking title credits (by Saul Bass) with a Christian cross-theme, preceded by a scrolling prologue: "We believe that certain aspects of Revivalism can bear examination - that the conduct of some revivalists makes a mockery of the traditional beliefs and practices of organized Christianity! We believe that everyone has a right to worship according to his conscience, but - Freedom of Religion is not license to abuse the faith of the people. However, due to the highly controversial nature of this film, we strongly urge you to prevent impressionable children from seeing it!"
  • the opening sequence (preceded by text from page 1 of Lewis' novel -- "Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk...") of down-and-out huckster and door-to-door salesman Elmer Gantry's (Oscar-winning Burt Lancaster) ribald jokes and solicitations in a speak-easy bar in the 1920s (on Christmas Eve) to a bunch of sales-people, before he passed a plate for donations amongst the customers for some Salvation Army ladies: ("The Bible says 'Never let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.' What's your beef, mister? You ashamed of bein' a Christian? Oh, I see. You think, uh, religion is for suckers and easy marks and molly-coddlers, huh? You think Jesus was some kind of a sissy, eh? Well, let me tell you, Jesus wouldn't be afraid to walk into this joint or any other speakeasy to preach the gospel. Jesus had guts. He wasn't afraid of the whole Roman army. (Pointing to a picture) Think that quarterback's hot stuff? Well, let me tell you, Jesus would have made the best little All-American quarterback in the history of football. Jesus was a real fighter - the best little scrapper, pound for pound, you ever saw. And why, gentlemen? Love, gentlemen. Jesus had love in both fists! And what is love? Love is the mornin' and the evenin' star. It shines on the cradle of the Babe. Hear ye, sinners. Love is the inspiration of poets and philosophers. Love is the voice of music. I'm talkin' about divine love - not carnal love"); at the end of the scene, a lady at the bar in a red-dress (Marjorie Stapp) intoned: "That's the trouble with this stinking world. Nobody loves nobody" - and Gantry bought her a drink
  • the next sequence of Gantry, after disembarking from a train (shoeless), joining a black congregation lustily singing in the pews: "Get behind me Satan, I'm on my way, Glory Hallelujah, I'm on my way!"
  • the sequence of Gantry attending a revival meeting led by Sister Falconer (Jean Simmons), where he was first mesmerized and immediately attracted to her - she was dressed as a fresh-faced milk maid, who encouraged the audience to contribute into milk pails that were passed around
  • Sister Falconer's naive but admirable faith, and the scenes of Gantry's growing love and attraction for Sister Falconer, and her slow-mesmerized response to his rousing sermons
  • the scenes of Gantry's theatrical, charismatic hell-fire and brimstone performances in Bible-Belt revivalist scenes: ("Listen to me, sinners. You can't pray to kingdom come and play bridge or poker. And, Mother, you can't say your psalms and look at God through the bottom of a beer mug, now can you? And you, brother, you can't go to church on Sunday and cheat at business on Monday. We're comin' back to you, God. We're comin' back to the old-time religion! And what is religion? What is religion? Religion is love. And love is the morning and the evening star. Love, the eternal glorious musi-cmaker. Love! Not the carnal love, but the divine love. And where does this great love come from? It comes direct from God!")
  • in one dramatic sequence, Gantry performed a running slide as he exhorted the crowds to convert to Jesus: "With Christ, you're saved, and without him, you're lost. And how do I know there's a merciful God? Because I've seen the Devil plenty of times! (Running slide) Any punk ball player can make a slide like that. But how many folks have got the guts to play ball on God's team? And listen to this. The captain of that team is Jesus Christ himself. So, come on, man, woman, child. Who'll be the first to shake hands for Jesus? Come on, now! Everyone! Are you gonna make me beg and beg when I'm offerin' you my Jesus? Did the Saviour die in vain? Did he suffer on the cross for nothin'?"
Gantry's Inspired Revival Performances
"Listen to me, sinners!"
A Running Slide
Threatening to Fight The Devil With His Fists
Sermon About Evolution: "Just a monkey, folks. Just a monkey"
"Sin, Sin, Sin. You're all sinners!"
Encouragement of Speaking in Tongues
Tirade Against Evils of Booze
  • the continued sweaty preachings of Gantry including his encouragement of speaking in tongues from one of the howling parishioners after his threatening sermon: ("Sin. Sin, Sin. You're all sinners. You're all doomed to perdition. You're all goin' to the painful, stinkin', scaldin', everlastin' tortures of a fiery hell, created by God for sinners, unless, unless, unless you repent")
  • the sequence of Sister Falconer during one revival meeting condemning those who hypocritically criticized her credentials as a saint and considered her a scoundrel: ("Some of you are troubled. Skeptical of my motives. You want to know my credentials. Who am I? Who sent me? Some of you have come to sit in judgment of me. But who among you is wise enough to be a judge in the house of God? For even though you speak with the tongue of an angel and have not charity, you are as sounding brass. If I have sinned, then God will punish me. If I am lost in the wilderness, then God will show me the way back. Will you pray with me for guidance?") - and everyone in the congregation kneeled and joined her in prayer
  • the scene of Gantry's old girlfriend - minister's daughter-turned-prostitute Lulu Bains (Shirley Jones), who told her brothel colleagues about her sordid past with the seductive charmer Gantry: "(Can he save anybody?) Can he? Anywhere, any time. In a tent, standin' up, layin' down, or any other way. And he's got plenty of ways!...Sister, I was saved by him way back in Schoenheim, Kansas. 'Love. Love is the mornin' and the evenin' star. And what is love? Not the carnal, but the divine love!' 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 knew, he rammed the fear of God into me so fast I never heard my old man's footsteps. The next thing I knew, I was out in the cold, hard snow in my bare little soul"
  • the scene of Gantry's memorable sermon and tirade against booze: ("Booze! Booze put a bullet through Lincoln and McKinley! Booze is the way white slavers rob the virtue of 60,000 American girls every year! The bootleggers, the white slavers, and that newspaper are tryin' to scare me and Sister outta town! (crowd boos) But as long as I got a foot, I'll kick booze! And, as long as I got a fist, I'll punch it. And, as long as I got a tooth, I'll bite it. And, when I'm old and gray and toothless and bootless, I'll gum it till I go to heaven and booze goes to hell")
  • the vengeful scene in which Lulu Bains set up Gantry and framed him with photographs taken in a compromising situation to ruin his reputation; when he offered a charitable handout of cash to "sort of tide you over," she instead asked for a kiss goodbye before she left for Paris: "Just kiss me goodbye, just once"; the longer they kissed, the more passionate it became, and she rekindled her feelings for him, although ultimately rebuffed her; when he went to the door to leave, she apologized and admitted: "I could use some of that cash after all" - and placed his contribution in her garter; subsequently, she used the photos for blackmail purposes and they were printed in the newspaper
  • the scenes of Gantry's smearing and humiliation by crowds for his scandalous, sexual behavior, by egg- and lettuce-throwing
  • the scene of Sister Falconer's laying on of hands to heal a deaf man in her final appearance, but then a climactic blazing tent fire tragically took her life when she refused to vacate the tabernacle
The Morning After Sister Falconer's Death:
Gantry's Concluding Words
  • the final scene was the next morning next to the ruins of the tabernacle-tent, when Gantry was asked to communicate with Sister Falconer - and he told the crowd: "Can you hear me up there, Sister? Do you hate these folks? She don't hate you. She loves you....And what is love? Love is the mornin' and the evenin' star. Love is the voice of music. So sing. Sing out the Lord's love"; he led everyone in the singing of "I'm On My Way" - and then when Gantry was requested to take up Sister Falconer's crusade by her manager Bill Morgan (Dean Jagger) ("You know, Shara would want you to go on with her work. We'll get a tent - a bigger one this time"), Gantry responded by quoting a passage from the Bible: "When I was a child, I understood as a child and spake as a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things. St. Paul, First Corinthians, 13:11"); his final words were: "So long, Bill"

In a Speakeasy: "Jesus had love in both fists!"

Gantry: "I'm on my way!"

First Sighting of Sister Falconer During Revival Meeting

Gantry's Slow Seduction of Sister Falconer

Sister Falconer's Chastisement of Doubters for Their Hypocrisy, Before Leading a Prayer

Lulu (Shirley Jones) Remembering Her Sordid Past with Gantry

Gantry Set-Up by Lulu Bains

Gantry's Humiliation

Sister Falconer's Healing of a Deaf Man

Death in the Tabernacle-Tent Fire


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