Canada/France, 1980, 105 minutes, Colour.
Burt Lancaster, Susan Sarandon, Kate Reid, Michel Piccoli, Hollis Mc Laren, Robert Joy, Al Waxman, Robert Goulet.
Directed by Louis Malle.
Atlantic City is the second American film of French new wave director Louis Malle. Malle established himself as one of the most prolific and creative of the French directors of the '60s and into the '70s. With his Phantom India he also established himself as an expert documentary film-maker. In the late '70s he filmed Pretty Baby, creating the atmosphere of the brothels of New Orleans in the early part of the 20th. century. With his second American film (Canadian backed) he looks at contemporary America and chooses the decaying Atlantic City as a symbol of the United States in the '70s and '80s. Atlantic City has faded glory, it is being demolished, it is going to be turned in part into a Las Vegas of the east coast people live near the Boardwalk and have dreams - of peaches and cream. This film is a gentle essay in people's; dreams - disillusion as well as fulfilment. The characters seem more than they are. In his amoral way, Malle allows most of the dreamers to have their dreams fulfilled.
Beautifully photographed, with the blend of classical and contemporary music, the film has expert performances from its entire cast. The film is beguiling - it seems simple but offers much for reflection. It can be seen as an allegory of the United States during the 20th. century.
1. The portrait of Atlantic City? A portrait of the United States in the 20th century? Its impact for Americans, international audiences? The work of a French director? His perception of the United States - admiring, critical?
2. The reasons for the choice of Atlantic City? The east coast, its age, old buildings from old days, demolition of buildings, the developers and the casino managers? The hospital - with the Frank Sinatra Wing? The old Boardwalk? The changes from 19th. century to 20th. century summed up in Atlantic City?
3. The quality of the colour photography - of the city, of the people? The importance of visual compositions? Atmosphere and decor? The range of the musical score: background, classical music especially the use of the opera Norma for Sally? The popular songs? Robert Goulet's guest appearance? The well known song of Atlantic City and its dream lyrics? The end with the medley of music used?
4. The introduction to Sally and Lou? The tone with the operatic music, the emergence of the gap between Sally and Lou, Lou prying on Sally, Sally and her beauty? A bridge yet separation? The artiness of the opening style and the irony of the later reality: of the inept Lou prying on Sally, Sally using the lemons to remove the fishy smell from the cafeteria? This symbolic irony as highlighting the meaning of the film?
5. The initial counterpoint with the story of Dave and Chris? The contemporary drug story: the phone booths, pick-ups, petty thieves, drug smuggling, financial implications, implications of violence and death, Dave and Chris hitchhiking to Atlantic City?
6. The ordinariness of the Dave and Chris sub-plot contrasting with the dreams of Sally, Lou, Grace? The sub-plot binding and connecting these characters? Dave emerging as Sally's husband, Chris' pregnancy, their coming to the cafeteria, imposing themselves, Sally fighting them even physically, the drug story? The background of the characters coming from Canada to the United States and the irony of these hopes? Opportunism? Dave and his visit to the bar, the contact for drug-selling, following through the leads, the encounter with Lou and using him as a contact, fawning on Lou and feeding him a line? Dave's hopes being very pragmatic - dreams? His being within reach of success and his murder (and the elaborate visual presentation on the lifts?) The contrast with Chris and her psychic and trendy talk, reincarnation? Massage? Her talking with her sister? Louis leaving her with Grace? The irony of the friendly relationship with Grace, their becoming linked in a mother-daughter relationship? An ordinary drug story of the '70s and '80s? The young opportunists of the United States - indication of the future or not?
7. The portrait of Lou and the details of his contacts as he collected the numbers? Burt Lancaster's physical presence in this role? Accepting his age? His experience and the irony of his phoney front? His memories and talk? The squalor of his life - prying on Sally, ironing his tie? His being used by Grace? Walking the dog, taking it for its shampoo? The encounter with Dave and his vanity in believing the story? The irony of his getting the money from the drug contacts? His buying clothes and preening himself? His being left with the money, his being nothing more than a petty thief? The encounter with Sally, helping her in so many ways? The relationship, her gratitude towards him and the sexual liaison? Lou's friendship with the old man in the toilets and helping him - the coat? The attack on Sally and Louis fear and cowardly standing back? This prodding him to make decisions, get the money, take the gun? His shooting the thugs in the street - its unexpectedness, its comic touches? The hilarity of his escape? Sally in the car, the motel? His avid looking at the television news, reading the papers, phoning Grace? His sitting in the chair, shaking with glee as he became a celebrity? His letting Sally leave with the money? The irony of the finale with Grace getting the rest of the money? A portrait of a petty gangster with memories of glimpsing gangsters in the past? Old America living on memories of a false past, needing sow kind of crime and violence for self-assertion and meaning?
8. Grace and her hypochondria, the Betty Grable competition, her husband, her manner of speaking, relying on the dog, the relationship with Lou, sexuality, the glossy tawdriness of the relationship? Friendship with Chris and concern for the unborn child? Her gaining a daughter and grandchild? The final getting of the money and a life with Lou in the future?
9. The film's focus on Sally as heroine? The beauty treatment with the lemon and her listening to opera and the irony of the truth? The Canadian background? Her dreams of going to France? Her work behind the counter, the encounter with Dave and the truth about her marriage, the clash with him and punching him? Her tolerance towards Chris? The sequences of her training and concentration for working in a casino? Her ambitions to learn and eager for any way of learning? Wanting help from Lou? Her getting the sack because of Dave? Her reaction to his death? Lou's help with all the details, talk, meal, relationship, sexuality? Her learning the truth about the drug,-? Her clash with Lou and wanting the money? The thugs beating her up? Her reaction to Louis killing them - admiration? The escape, the motel, her taking half the money and Lou's letting her? Driving off into the future in France and the fulfilment of her dreams?
10. The background of Atlantic City itself? The buildings falling? Shops, hotels and style, casinos? Joseph and the French influence and his training of the girls? Relationship with Sally?
11. The drug background - the thugs and their violence, the killing of Dave, the bashing of Sally, their deaths?
12. The presentation of the media - the coverage of the murders, the press, television and interviews? Lou's response to the television presentation?
13. The memories of the gangster days of the past? Lou as the link? The comparison with contemporary thugs?
14. The attractiveness of the film, characters, situations? The arty style in colour, music, style?
15. The Boardwalk, Atlantic City, peaches and cream? The future of the United States? As seen by the French and the Canadians?