A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
I might have thought "Atlantic City" was more of a fantasy had I not lived for several weeks circa 1970 in a hotel near Sunset Strip named the Sunset Marquis. It is now a luxury hotel of the same name, but at that time a room was $19 a night, and the residents included Tiny Tim, Van Heflin and Elaine May. You dialed room service, you got Greenblatt's Deli. A scrap-iron dealer named Jack Sachs presided as the "mayor" from his poolside efficiency. He ran the cocktail hour as his personal salon, supplying whiskey to the circulating population of show-biz folks -- Jackie Gayle, Roy Scheider, Harold Ramis -- on their way up, down or sideways.
A similar establishment provides the location for Louis Malle's "Atlantic City" (1980), which takes place in an apartment house near the Boardwalk. It's slated for demolition, and all around are vacant lots filled with rubble and the sky-cranes of new construction. Every exterior shot seems to have a background of debris being shoved out of upper windows, or bulldozers clearing vacant lots.
In this doomed building live three people: An oyster-bar waitress named Sally (Susan Sarandon), an aging numbers runner named Lou (Burt Lancaster) and a widow named Grace (Kate Reid), who came to the city 40 years ago for a Betty Grable look-alike contest and depends on Lou to run her errands, some of a sexual nature. She lives in an apartment so filled with photographs, stuffed animals, feather boas, geegaws, silk festoons and glitz that you might think it is a fantasy, but not me, because I saw Tiny Tim's apartment one morning when the maid left the door standing open.
Lou claims to have been big-time in Vegas in the old days, "a cellmate of Bugsy Siegel," no less. Now he walks a daily route through Atlantic City's urban decay, taking 25-cent bets on the numbers. It's implied that a stipend from Grace keeps him afloat. At night he stands behind the blinds of his darkened apartment and watches as Sally engages in an after-work ritual. She cuts fresh lemons and caresses her skin to take away the shellfish smell.