"Well, 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!"
Description: Burt Lancaster as bible-thumping preacher Elmer Gantry poetically puts-down the scourges of alcoholism to a congregation of believers in the motion picture Elmer Gantry (1960).
Elmer Gantry is a fast-talking, booze-drinking salesman, who has a smile on his face, a slap on the back and a randy tale for all the people he meets. That is, until the day he comes upon a Christian evangelist named Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons), who used to be called Katie Jones.
Elmer is taken with her piety, her strength and her humility. Three things that Elmer sorely lacks. Gantry sees, in a way, she too is a salesman of sorts, and so he cons his way into her life, so he can help bring the Bible to the lonely masses and reap the rewards of the money flowing to the collection plates at Falconer's meetings, money Sharon wants to use to build a permanent church.
Not everyone appreciates Elmer. While Sharon tells Gantry, "You're so outrageous! I think I like you. You're amusing, and you smell like a real man," her manager Bill (Dean Jagger) sees another side of Elmer's character: "Everything about you is offensive. You're a crude vulgar show off. And your vocabulary belongs in an outhouse."
At prayer meetings, Elmer is a formidable speaker as he delivers fire-and-brimstone presentations that condemn the wicked and praise the believers. He plays to the congregation's prejudice and fears to ram his message home. Such as:
"Sin, sin, sin! You're all sinners! You're all doomed to perdition!"
"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."
"I was accosted by three painted women. Your streets are made unsafe by shameless, diseased hussies, rapacious pick-pockets, and insidious opium-smokers."
"I admit I'm not smart like some of them -- some of them smartalecky professors, wiseguy writers and agitators. I don't know the first thing about philosophy, psychology, ideology or any other ology. But I know this. 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."
While Elmer screams and shouts messages of damnation and perdition, Sharon sells the softer side of salvation. As a team, they clean up and attract more and more sinners (and women) who want to hear the word of God. Or is it to see the dynamic and handsome Gantry?
Ultimately, Gantry's checkered past catches up with him, namely Lucy Bains (Shirley Jones), a girl he once knew who turned to prostitution for a living. Oh, the tales she could tell about Elmer when wine, drink and women were a part of his not-so-reputable past. Her father was a minster and he disowned her after her love affair with Gantry.
"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 know he rammed the fear of God into me so fast I never heard my old man's footsteps!" - Lucy Bains [telling a tale]
To bring Gantry to his knees, some seedy characters pay Lucy to seduce Elmer so they can get candid shots of him in a sordid love nest of an affair. At first, Lucy is reluctant, but in the end, the pictures are taken and the results shock Falconer's flock. Lulu later apologizes and confesses that she framed Gantry.
As Gantry and Falconer weather the controversy, Sharon is killed during the mass confusion that occurs when the prayer meeting tent catches fire. With his partner and lover gone, Elmer decides to call it quits, even though some plead for him to continue Falconer's ministry.
Elmer quotes the Bible as his reason for moving on: "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." (1 Corinthians 13:11)
Note: The following message appeared on the theater screen before the opening credits:
"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!"