Release Date(s)1960 (September 23, 2014)
Studio(s)United Artists/20th Century Fox/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: D
Evangelism has always been an interesting phenomenon to me. On the one hand, it helps large groups of people to feel good about themselves and, hopefully, to be better Christians. On the other hand, it’s often a giant ponzi scheme designed to siphon money from people without any true beliefs or good intentions behind them. Based upon the novel of the same name by Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry brings this controversial subject matter to the forefront in a very powerful and career-defining way.
Although the final film differs greatly from the original novel, Elmer Gantry is a film that carries one of the greatest performances in all of cinema, by way of Burt Lancaster’s portrayal of Elmer Gantry. He’s so magnificent in the film that it’s often difficult to look away from the screen. He’s seedy and somewhat diabolic, but he’s so incredibly charming and captivating that you’re left with a conflicted feeling inside while watching him do what he does. Jean Simmons and Shirley Jones also act their asses off, and Richard Brooks directs the film incredibly well. It’s no surprise that the film was nominated for five Oscars, winning three for Best Actor (Lancaster), Best Supporting Actress (Jones), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Brooks).
It’s also difficult to believe that Elmer Gantry even made it to the screen in 1960. It tends to pull back the curtain on evangelism in a way that no one had really done before, especially after the controversy surrounding true-life evangelist Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, who Jean Simmons’ character may or may have not been loosely based upon. In addition to the fantastic acting and terrific script is the great cinematography by John Alton and some nice use of real locations to boot. It’s a nearly perfect film from beginning to end, to say the least, and little else needs to be said about it that hasn’t already been said.
Like the other Kino Lorber Studio Classics titles I’ve reviewed recently, the Blu-ray presentation for Elmer Gantry is of the same caliber, but perhaps a little better overall. Image detail is abundant at times and soft at others, but some of it has to do with the cinematography which does have some soft, hazy spots in it, usually for effect. Still, the grain structure is quite pleasing and filmic in appearance. Colors aren’t exactly even, but there are some robust ones to be had, while skin tones appear uneven from shot to shot. Blacks are good, and contrast and brightness are at acceptable levels for the most part. There’s also some leftover print damage, but relatively speaking, it’s minor compared to the presentation’s good points. I think the film is very much worthy of a full restoration job sometime soon, but this is a good place to start for a high definition presentation. The audio, which comes in a single English 2.0 DTS-HD track (stemmed for the original mono), is also very acceptable. Dialogue is always clean and clear, while sound effects and score shine through quite well. There isn’t much in terms of dynamic range, but for a mono mix, it’s very good. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
The only extras available for this release are an interview with actress Shirley Jones and the original theatrical trailer. If there was ever a role that an actor was born to play, Burt Lancaster’s Elmer Gantry would have to be it. You can’t imagine another actor in that role, at least I can’t. He owns it through and through and is that character. If you haven’t happened to catch this film regularly on Turner Classic Movies, I highly recommend that you check it out.
- Tim Salmons