Every year as the Oscars approach I revisit some older films that have won the award. But there is only one film that I would like to call your attention to for reconsideration, Richard Brooks’ Elmer Gantry.
Very rarely does one film achieve a synchronicity in both its drama and its technical achievement; but Elmer Gantry succeeds. And Brooks directs this synchronicity through the bravura performance of star Burt Lancaster. Lancaster gives an over the top performance, as dramatic and dynamic as any performance ever seen on the silver screen. Normally the dramatic heights Lancaster reaches would dispel any sense of cinematic disbelief and render a film an exercise in campy excess. Yet, Brooks is able to choreograph the film around Lancaster’s toothy grin, moving the camera and arranging the shots to illuminate the subtext of Lancaster’s larger than life Elmer Gantry.
By making Lancaster’s performance the epicenter of all the mechanisms of the film, Brooks is able to strategically cut the film together so it is Lancaster’s energy that moves the narrative; but he also cuts to permit the script to allow the supporting characters their multiple dimensionalities. So the film, which only illustrates a portion of Sinclair Lewis’ novel, captures all the character that is the title role in a mere two and a half hours. Brooks only manages to accomplish this feat because of his relationship with Lancaster and his meticulous orchestration of all the determining components within his film. That said, I honestly recommend that you give Elmer Gantry another look.