Atlantic City (1980 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Louis Malle|
|Produced by||Denis Héroux|
|Written by||John Guare|
|Music by||Michel Legrand|
|Edited by||Suzanne Baron|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures (US)|
|Box office||$12.7 million|
Atlantic City (French: Atlantic City, USA) is a 1980 romantic crime film directed by Louis Malle and starring Burt Lancaster, Susan Sarandon, Kate Reid, Robert Joy, Hollis McLaren, Michel Piccoli, and Al Waxman. A Canadian-French co-production filmed in late 1979, it was released in France and Germany in September 1980 and in the United States later that year by Paramount Pictures. The script was written by John Guare.
The film opened to critical acclaim and was nominated for the Big Five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Lancaster), Best Actress (for Sarandon), and Best Original Screenplay, but did not win in any category. In Canada, it won Genie Awards for Best Performance by a Foreign Actress (for Sarandon), Best Supporting Actress (for Reid), and Best Art Direction, with three additional nominations. In France, it was nominated for the César Awards for Best Original Screenplay and Best Music. In 2003, Atlantic City was among the 25 motion pictures added annually to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and recommended for preservation.  
Sally Matthews is a young waitress in an Atlantic City casino who has dreams of becoming a blackjack dealer in Monte Carlo. Sally's pregnant sister and estranged husband David return to her one day with the intention of selling a large amount of cocaine that he has stolen in Philadelphia. Sally is outraged to see him, as he had impregnated her sister and run off with her. Dave meets Lou, an aging former gangster who lives in Sally's apartment building and runs a numbers game (an illegal lottery) in poor areas of the city; he also acts as a caretaker for Grace, a seemingly bedridden, aging beauty whose gangster husband he used to work under, and who constantly berates and demeans him. Dave convinces Lou to sell the cocaine for him, but as Lou sells the first batch, Dave is attacked and killed by the mobsters from whom he had stolen the drugs.
Lou is left with the remaining cocaine and continues to sell it to impress Sally, whom he has long pined for, with money. Sally and Lou make love one day, but she returns to her apartment to find it trashed; she has been tracked down by Dave's killers, who beat her to find out if she has the drugs. They leave, but Lou laments not being able to protect her. Grace also reveals that Lou was a small-time crook and nowhere near as competent as he pretends he was. Sally is fired from the casino when her late husband's criminal record is discovered. Lou sells most of the remainder of the cocaine, while both Sally and the mobsters discover Lou's affiliation with Dave. The mobsters corner them one night, but are killed when Lou produces a gun and shoots them. He and Sally then steal their car and leave the city. That night, from a motel outside Atlantic City, they watch the TV news reporting on the killing. A police sketch of the suspect is shown. It looks nothing like Lou. Lou is overjoyed with relief and pride. He confesses to Sally that this was the first time he has ever killed anyone.
At the motel the next morning, Lou takes the phone to the bathroom to call Grace and brag about the killings. Sally also wakes and takes half of the money with the intention of sneaking off; Lou witnesses this, allowing her to leave and giving her the car keys so she can escape to France, rather than go to Miami with Lou. Lou returns to Atlantic City to be with Grace. Working together, they sell the remaining portion of the cocaine, and walk off arm in arm with renewed respect for each other.
- Burt Lancaster as Lou Pascal
- Susan Sarandon as Sally Matthews
- Kate Reid as Grace Pinza
- Robert Joy as Dave Matthews
- Hollis McLaren as Chrissie
- Michel Piccoli as Joseph
- Al Waxman as Alfie
- Sean Sullivan as Buddy
- Angus MacInnes as Vinnie
- Moses Znaimer as Felix
- Wallace Shawn as Waiter
- Harvey Atkin as Art
- Norma Dell'Agnese as Jeanne
- Louis Del Grande as Shapiro
- Cec Linder as Hospital President
- Sean McCann as Detective
- Robert Goulet as himself
Atlantic City was filmed on location in and around Atlantic City and South Jersey, Philadelphia, and New York. Although filmed in the United States, the film was a co-production between companies based in France and Canada. Aside from Burt Lancaster, Susan Sarandon, and local extras, most of the cast originated from Canada or France. The film allowed Canadian actors such as Kate Reid and Al Waxman to successfully transition into American film and television roles.
The production companies allotted Louis Malle the money to make a film with the stipulation that it be made before the year 1979 ended. Malle had a difficult time finding the right script to direct and with time running out his then girlfriend Susan Sarandon suggested using a story written by her friend John Guare, a playwright most notable for his plays House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation. Guare suggested that the story take place in Atlantic City, which was still for the most part suffering from the urban deterioration that prompted the legalization of gambling as a solution to save the city. The three met over dinner in early 1979 to work out quirks in the script and began shooting within a few months.
Principal photography commenced on October 31, 1979 and moved swiftly along finishing by December 30, 1979 just in time for the end of the year (a few exterior and location shots were filmed until January 5, 1980). Malle filmed at an opportune time in that he was able to capture old Atlantic City: gambling was still in its early stages there, with only two casino hotels open (Resorts and Caesars; Bally's Park Place would open on December 30, toward the end of the principal photography). Most of the city's old resorts and entertainment piers were still standing, albeit in a severe state of disrepair. Within a couple of years of the filming, most of these old hotels would fall victim to the wrecking ball as they were replaced with new casinos. To frame the picture, Malle foreshadows the great transition of the famous resort town in the opening credits by featuring footage of the implosion of the once-grand and historic Traymore Hotel on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
Louis Malle hired composer Michel Legrand to write a score for the film, which he did. In the end, however, Malle decided against using a score for the film, and opted for all the music in the film to be diegetic: the only music used is that which exists in the world of the characters (i.e. radios, musical instruments, etc.). The music that Susan Sarandon's character plays from her tape player is the aria "Casta Diva" from Vincenzo Bellini's opera Norma.
The opening shot of the old Traymore Hotel being demolished is shown to convey the notion that the city's old hotels were being demolished to make way for the new casinos. However, the Traymore was in fact demolished in 1972, years before the gambling referendum passed in New Jersey. The referendum passed in 1976 and the first hotel to open up was Resorts, formerly the Chafonte-Haddon Hall, in 1978.
When Dave and Chrissie are seen hitchhiking into Atlantic City from Philadelphia, they pass a large model elephant on their way into town. The elephant, named Lucy, was a tourist attraction built in 1881 to lure potential land buyers to South Atlantic City (now called Margate), a small town south of Atlantic City. The model elephant had been left to deteriorate over the years; on the brink of its demolition in 1971, the residents of Margate had raised the money to have it restored. Today, Lucy still stands in Margate and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The club where Dave and Lou meet was Club Harlem, which opened in 1935 on Kentucky Avenue, and became the premier nightclub for black tourists visiting Atlantic City. The club opened and closed frequently from 1968 on, and eventually closed forever at the end of the eighties. It was torn down in 1992. Scenes were also shot in the Knife and Fork Restaurant and White House Subs, both Atlantic City landmarks.
Atlantic City was also nominated for the following:
- Academy Awards- Best Actor in a Leading Role (Burt Lancaster), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Susan Sarandon), Best Director, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.
- Genie Awards – Foreign Actress (Sarandon), Supporting Actress (Reid), Art Direction; BAFTA – Director, Actor (Lancaster)
- Los Angeles Film Critics Association – Picture, Screenplay, Actor (Lancaster)
- National Society of Film Critics – Film, Director, Screenplay, Actor (Lancaster); New York Film Critics Circle – Screenplay, Actor (Lancaster).
- "Atlantic City, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- Roger Ebert
- Chariots of Fire Wins Best Picture: 1982-Oscars on YouTube
- Warren Beatty Wins Best Directing: 1982 Oscars
- Henry Fonda winning Best Actor-Oscars on YouTube
- Katharine Hepburn Winning Best Actress-Oscars on YouTube
- Chariots of Fire Wins Original Screenplay: 1982 Oscars
- "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-09-16.
- "Librarian of Congress Adds 25 Films to National Film Registry". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-09-16.
- Kent, Bill (July 22, 1995). "ATLANTIC CITY; The Town That Smiled". The New York Times.
- Louis Malle teams a young Susan Sarandon with an aging Burt Lancaster-AV Club
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Atlantic City (1980 film)|
- Atlantic City on IMDb
- Atlantic City at the TCM Movie Database
- Atlantic City at Rotten Tomatoes
- Atlantic City at Box Office Mojo
- "Atlantic City", essay by Daniel Eagan in America's Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in the National Film Registry, A&C Black, 2010 ISBN 0826429777, pages 765–767