Elmer Gantry (1960)

Elmer Gantry
Directed by Richard Brooks
Written by Richard Brooks from the novel by Sinclair Lewis
1960/USA
Elmer Gantry Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Elmer Gantry: I have here in my pocket – and thank heaven you can’t see them – lewd, dirty, obscene, and I’m ashamed to say this: French postcards. They were sold to me in front of your own innocent high school by a man with a black beard… a foreigner.

 

This film’s failure to decide what it wants to be drags it out to an interminable 2 1/2 hours.

The story is set in the Prohibition-era Midwest.  As it begins, Elmer Gantry (Burt Lancaster) is a hard-drinking extroverted traveling salesmen.  We learn early on that he was expelled from theology school.  While continuing to entertain fellow barflies with dirty jokes, he has not lost his fascination with religion.  He spots the beautiful evangelist Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons) at a camp meeting and proceeds to follow her.  She repels his advances but the secretly down-to-earth believer comes to like him.

One night, Gantry takes the pulpit at a revival and mesmerizes the crowd.  He becomes a popular mainstay of Sister Sharon’s meetings.  These, so far, have taken place in the hinterlands.  The ambitious Gantry sets his sights on urban Zenith (Lewis’s stand-in for Chicago).  The traveling evangelists may have bitten off more than they can chew.  With Dean Jagger as Sister Sharon’s manager; Arthur Kennedy as an H.L. Menken-style journalist; and Shirley Jones as a former lover and current prostitute.

Clearly I am in the minority but I can’t get behind this movie.  What starts out as a critique of evangelism in general and Elmer Gantry’s type of evangelist in particular, devolves into something much more sympathetic to the character.  All this is evident in the many sudden shifts in the point of view of the journalist.  Then we get the whole love story aspect and end with a special effects conflagration.  I have not read the source novel but cannot imagine that it was so uneven in tone or contained so many climaxes.  I was dizzy from the amount of times I expected “The End” to appear on screen.

I love Burt Lancanster much of the time but when he does this kind of bigger-than-life showman, I just get exhausted.  Jones is excellent playing against type.

Elmer Gantry won Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actor; Best Supporting Actress (Jones); and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from another Medium.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

Trailer

Black Sunday (1960)

Black Sunday (La maschera del demonio)
Directed by Mario Bava
Written by Ennio De Concini and Mario Serandrei from a story by Nikolai Gogol
1960/Italy/USA
Galatea Film/Jolly Film/Alta Vista Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Princess Asa Vajda: You, too, can feel the joy and happiness of hating.

Director Bava shows off his skills as a cinematographer in this graphic witchcraft/vampire film.

The setting is Moldavia.  As the film opens, Princess Aja (Barbara Steele) is being burned at the stake as a witch along with her faithful servant Ivan.  The last punishment before the fire is lit is to place a spiked mask of Satan on her face.  Aja’s brother brought the charges against her and as the flames rise higher she curses her entire family and its descendants in Satan’s name.

Segue to two hundred years later, in what looks like the 19th Century.  Two doctors are traveling to a conference and come upon a ruined crypt when their carriage breaks down. There Dr. Krujevan discovesr the coffin of Aja.  He accidentally cuts his finger and the few drops of blood are all Aja needs to begin to come to life.

Outside the crypt, the travelers meet Princess Katia (Steele again), Aja’s descendent.  They proceed to an inn but Krujevan is called to the home of Katia’s father Prince Vajda.  Little does he know that the coachman sent for him is actually Ivan.  So begins Princess Aja’s revenge.

Barbara Steele is very good in her dual role.  Her Princess Aja is truly evil and scary.  There are a lot of moments that will make your skin crawl.  The film looked beautiful on Blu-Ray. I watched the Americanized version.  Recommended to horror fans.

American Trailer