Atlantic City is a sweet and flaky movie about an assortment of down-and-outs.
Lou (Burt Lancaster) is an ageing numbers runner living on the fringe of the underworld and scratching out a living while the big casinos move in and take even that little money away.
Sally (Susan Sarandon) is an oyster bar waitress who works in the corner of a casino, has the smell of fish on her hands but goes to croupier school and listens to French language cassettes, all the while dreaming of leaving for Monte Carlo, of finally getting away.
She looks longingly to the future, he to the past.
Both Sally and Lou have problems: she, her husband, Dave (Robert Joy) carrying stolen cocaine, who arrives with her hugely pregnant younger sister, Chrissie (Hollis McLaren) and demands help; he, the ageing widowed gun moll, Grace (Kate Reid), a faded beauty who gives him handouts, lolls in bed and taunts him about a mob shoot-out 40 years ago and the time he ran away.
But they have their comforts. In the evening, in the quiet of her apartment, Sally puts on a recording of Bellini’s Norma, washes herself and, to remove the smell of oysters from her body, stands in front of the kitchen sink with a lemon and rubs it into her naked breasts and skin. Across the air shaft, Lou watches her from his own apartment.
Lou fulfils his wildest dream by becoming Sally’s white knight in a vanilla suit. Sally asks him to educate her, to “teach her stuff”. He obliges with such rudiments of class as “never let them bad-mouth you at a funeral”.
When Lou feels close enough, he admits his voyeurism with such sensuousness that his confession seduces her.
Their affair lasts just long enough for Sally to pick up some of his class and for Lou to pick up some of her youthfulness. In the end, he returns to Grace – in both senses of the word.
Atlantic City went on to be nominated for five Oscars, giving Susan Sarandon the first Oscar nomination of her career.