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Kristen Recasts the Classics: Elmer Gantry

One of two features you fans wanted to see was the return of Kristen Recasts the Classics. Ask and ye shall receive!

Before you get into a lather, Hollywood doesn’t have any plans to remake Elmer Gantry….currently. So then why did I single this out for a recast? Well, because I’d actually be interested in seeing a remake. The original 1960 film from Richard Brooks is one I’ve never gotten out of my mind. The trio of Burt Lancaster, Jean Simmons and Shirley Jones are phenomenal, for starters. And it’s hard not to see the story that brings up questions about the legitimacy of faith and religion as being applicable to today. I doubt anyone can top the performers in the original, but this is an actor’s showcase that’s both engaging, compelling, and very saucy at times. (If anything, I’m blaming Ben Affleck for this post because Live By Night turns into a makeshift remake of this film for a hot minute.) Feel free to give me your own casting suggestions in the comments.

The Plot: A traveling salesman with a flair for words, Elmer Gantry believes he’s just the right preacher/huckster to “aid” a fledgling evangelist named Sister Sharon Falconer in her crusade to save souls. Unfortunately, Gantry’s soul is less than clean and temptation hides around every corner.

Elmer Gantry

Originally Played By: Burt Lancaster

My Suggestion: Armie Hammer

I have to thank fellow film critic Wesley Lovell for this suggestion, as I was thinking of a few other people before this perfect bit of casting fell into my lap. Elmer Gantry is a character who embodies charm itself. Verbose, brash, arrogant, you need an actor who can seduce with words and still look like a conman. Like Harold Hill for the religious set. Gantry is looking for a legit means of redemption, but still has a dirty past filled with poor decisions. You’re never sure if he truly means anything he says….enter Armie Hammer. He’s certainly tried his hand at playing dashing leading men, but there’s always a hint of arrogance to his performances. Tall, intimidating, and with a politician’s flair, Hammer could definitely pull off the wordy proselytizing Gantry does and get the audience to love and hate him in equal measure.

Other Possibilities: Oscar Isaac would be great and has some great hammy speeches in his filmography.

Sister Sharon Falconer

Originally Played By: Jean Simmons

My Suggestion: Elle Fanning

Remember how I said I blamed Live By Night for this post? It was seeing Fanning play a similar evangelist character that inspired me to think of a grander recast of Elmer Gantry. Fanning’s ethereal visage would do a lot to convince people of a Heaven on Earth. Fanning’s proven her mettle in serious dramatic roles, and if you saw her in Live By Night she’s more than capable of playing a character who draws people into religion. Simmons was, and played, an older character, but Fanning’s youth would only make Falconer’s doubt about her skills more acute.

Other Possibilities: Saroise Ronan almost made the cut. Shailene Woodley, as well.

Lulu Baines

Originally Played By: Shirley Jones

My Suggestion: Brie Larson

Lulu Baines is Elmer Gantry’s fallen angel; a former preacher’s daughter turned prostitute seduced by Gantry when he “rammed the fear of God into her.” Yep, I adore Lulu Baines as a character and the way Shirley Jones played her. The character is tragic, a cautionary tale, but she ultimately shows what a hypocrite Gantry is. She’s there to remind him that he’s a fraud, acting as both his conscience and his devil. Academy Award-winner Brie Larson has the preacher’s daughter looks, but films like Scott Pilgrim show her as more than capable of being a sexpot. She could have easily played Sister Sharon, too.

Other Possibilities: Blake Lively and Margot Robbie are beautiful, so I couldn’t envision them as being “saved,” but they were considered.

Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

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