(If you’re curious, my review process. It’s also pasted at the end of this post. I don’t believe in Rotten Tomatoes. I just believe in me.)
(***all-purpose SPOILER ALERT*** there may be some in this review)
SW SCORE: 38
3.8 out of 5 🐙
I usually don’t use two photos in my little reviews. But Shirley Jones, who plays the witty call girl Lulu Bains is absolutely screen fire. She is the avatar of sultriness. She just blew my brain up. Her charisma, appearance, and delivery are just explosive. She is a study in attraction. She is sex.
(Goes to you take a cold shower.)
Elmer Gantry, a traveling salesman come-cum-artist, sees that the 1920s revival religious movement is a prime opportunity to get over. There are money and fame and a commanding and attractive woman to be had. I found the first half painful, predictable, and pathetic. I just don’t see how people were stupid enough to fall for religion, in general, let alone the revival movement. Yes I get the fear of death is powerful and religion provides an anesthetic. But it was just painful to watch for me. I just recoiled from the ridiculous sermons.
But things do take a permanent turn towards interesting when Elmer’s old life, in the form of Lulu Bains, crashes into his new wholesome preacher scam.
Some of the digs at the circus quality of some revivalists were spot on and gut-busting funny. In particular, Elmer is leading reporters on a city mission to bust up speakeasies and whore houses. When he get s to a speakeasy, he asks for an ax and says “Smash that speakeasy door!” and a police officer standing nearby asks “What for? Just knock. They’ll open up.” But of course, he insists on using the ax because it isn’t about fighting sin or being authentic. It’s about bullshit optics.
But the movie doesn’t just bash religion. It does a good job of casting some religious characters as frauds and some of the opposing secular characters as frauds. And conversely, it does the same by doling out moral characters on both sides of the same divide. But even more impressively, the movie showcases many characters who are neither wholly shit or shinola, in particular:
Lulu Bains, the call lady who ostensibly prizes money, forgoes money to show how much Elmer broke her heart.
Elmer Gantry, who starts as a shameless huckster playing poor people for their hard-earned money, comes to Bains’ rescue and admits his real feelings for Sister Falconer.
Sister Falconer, who seems to really care about the people and wants to pass on religion and hope, ends in a fit of megalomania that costs her life and her blessed permanent church.
And finally, Jeffords, the atheist reporter who publishes fair but cutting exposes on the abuses of the revival movement is the only one to defend Gantry when he is a victim of tabloid journalism.
The ending is heartbreaking. And insane. But it also feels like it had to happen that way. It feels real. And that’s really, really insane.
(1) Shark Wrighter (SW) Score: Based on a sum of 5 sub-scores (acting, directing, writing/story, effects: cinematography &/or animation &/or effects, editing) with 1 being terrible and 10 being terrific.
(2) Octopuses (0-5 🐙, with 5 being fantastic and 0 being feces)
(3) Octopuses are my unquantifiable feeling…not that SW score is scientific…but this one is even less so
(4) ++ This optional section includes any incredibly *brilliant observations that don’t fit into simple quantitative slices like the scores and octopuses *(they are likely NOT brilliant)