Filmsite Movie Review
Atlantic City (1981)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

The Continuing Search for the Stolen Cocaine:

The two Philadelphia thugs had returned after tracing the drugs to Sally, believing that she had the drugs in her possession. They watched as Sally and Lou returned via taxi from her renovated house to their apartment complex. Before entering the building, one of the thugs confronted Sally - questioning her: "Are you Dave Matthews' wife?" Intimidated by the expected violence, Lou crumpled into a corner and watched helplessly as they beat Sally. The thugs demanded to know the location of the stolen cocaine, ripped open her purse, and destroyed her cassette tape player.

After they drove off, Lou was devastated that he had been powerless, as Sally comforted him - and worried about his elderly condition: "Are you all right? Maybe you should go lie down." He admitted the obvious - that he wasn't the big shot he fancied himself to be: "I didn't protect you."

At the top of the stairs, Grace (who was now out of bed) scolded Lou for being absent when the men tore the place apart (but she hadn't called the police), and she delivered an ultimatum to Sally: "Miss, I warn you, stay away from him." Lou was fed up with Grace's insulting, harsh, and tormenting treatment:

Lou: "You shut up, Grace, you goddamned old lady."
Grace: "If I'm an old lady, what does that make you?"
Lou: "I'm her lover."
Grace: "Oh, ho, ho. You wanna know his nickname in the old days? Numb nuts! Men had names like 'Legs' and "Bullets' and 'Cookie.' His was 'Numb nuts!' Lou, open this door. I know you're hiding in there....You didn't protect her! What's your life worth? Cookie had more manhood in his toupee than you've got in your fat frame. Open this door!"

The cowardly Lou had rushed upstairs into his apartment to hide from Grace, as Sally entered her ransacked apartment, finding Chrissie reciting the words: "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo" as she hid in the bathroom behind the toilet.

[Note: This strange but sacred phrase contained the words of Nichiren, a 13th-century Buddhist monk, to invoke the teachings of the Lotus Sutra (the last teachings put forth by the original Buddha before he died). To soothe and comfort her troubled mind with peaceful thoughts after suffering through the attack, Chrissie was attempting to connect with the karmic law of the universe.]

As Lou now listened to Grace apologizing for her extreme criticisms, he was packing an overnight suitcase (for a planned escape), and wrapping the last of the cocaine powder in aluminum foil. After pocketing the batch, he pulled out a gun hidden in one of his shoes to arm himself. Leaving the building, he heard Grace's voice in Sally's apartment describing his past cowardice when her husband was murdered:

"Honey, it's not the first time, let me tell you. When a bad element from New York had my husband killed on the boardwalk, Lou ran away. He ran away then, so he runs away now."

Chrissie divulged Dave's real reason for coming to Atlantic City - "To sell some dope. We needed money for the baby....There's nothing wrong with dope. Dope belongs to the whole world." She detailed how the dope had been acquired - Dave had learned about a "drop" in Philadelphia, stole the drugs, and became acquainted with Lou - who presumably assisted in a drug deal. Next door, Sally found remnants of cocaine powder in the tray of a measuring scale - and realized Chrissie had told the truth. Ironically, it was Lou (ending up with the drugs and payoff money) who had aided in Dave's drug-dealing (and subsequent death), and had literally implicated Sally. Unintentionally, he had caused her to be brought back face-to-face as the target of mobsters - to suffer the consequences of her husband's bad choices.

To rid himself of the remaining cocaine, Lou returned to the drug buyer's hotel room and offered to sell the last lot for $5,000. He accepted the buyer's last funds of $4,000 and gave him 4/5ths of the aluminum packet containing the powder. And then he ordered Alfie to call off the assault by the two Philadelphia thugs on the women - Sally and Chrissie, because it was him who had the drug money: "Call Fred at the Club Harlem. Tell him you're dealing with Lou Pascal - that's me. Tell him to tell those hoods to leave the women alone. What they're looking for, I got."

The two relentless, threatening gangland hoods trailed Lou as he walked the Boardwalk and entered Sally's casino where she was late to attend another croupier training session. Joseph lectured his students about their final three weeks (of a nine-week course) under his tutelage and the inevitable challenges and temptations they would face under constant scrutiny:

In three weeks, you'll become dealers - and you'll learn a painful truth: Everybody hates you. You stand in the way of a million dollars, the player hates you. You know enough to cheat the casino, the casino hates you. The TV camera over your head tapes your every move, and yet you are alone. The players, the floor manager, the eye in the sky, they all watch you. You alone.

Sally was immediately called away to speak to her boss, Mr. Shapiro (Louis Del Grande), who explained how the casino had learned that her husband had a record, even though she explained how she had lost contact with him for eight months. She was fired because "the SEC, the gambling commission, the tax people" could not allow her to be an employee with unsavory connections: "We have to be very careful of our people and who they know."

As she was on her way out of the casino, she thoughtlessly asked for a $50 loan from her equally-poor co-worker, who chided her and recommended that she locate her "sugar daddy" Lou instead. He was playing cards at one of the casino's gambling tables, while being hassled by the two Philadelphia thugs. Felix claimed: "You're selling something I believe belongs to us. I'd like return of the item and the money you received for the item....I'd like to know how the connections were made." When a casino security guard (Gennaro Consalvo) broke up the disturbance after complaints from other players, the thugs were ordered to leave. Sally also approached Lou and demanded Dave's money that was acquired from the drug deals:

"You're playing with Dave's money. I'm owed it....You're buying me roses. I'm getting fired from my job, I'm supposed to sit here like some Vegas bimbo? Look Mister, I got hoods beatin' the shit out of me. If I'm gonna get beat up for money and drugs, I wanna have that money and drugs on me."

When she grabbed his sharp white suit, he snapped:

"Don't touch the suit."

The security guard and Joseph arrived and encouraged her to calm down as she protested that she was being wrongly targeted - she urged them instead to confront Lou: "Make him give me back my money." She also refused to be pimped by Joseph to another gambler at the next table ("You're trying to whore me!"). During the chaotic confusion as Sally was being forcefully dragged out of the casino, Lou was able to slip away from the table.

Lou's Validation of Himself - Saving Sally:

Sally pursued Lou outside the casino, and saw him entering a taxi - his first instinct was to flee from the mess he had created. She followed him to the Atlantic City Bus Terminal where she saw him boarding a bus to New York. She spoke to the bus driver (Harvey Atkin) with a fabricated story:

"I need your help. Uh, my father, he's escaped. Uhm. He's on your bus. He's the old guy with the white hat and the trench coat....He's not right in the head...Well, could you please get him off the bus? He needs his medication."

The driver claimed that the bus tickets were oversold and that old man Lou, the last one on the bus, had to get off. As he reluctantly stepped out of the bus, Lou realized that he had been played when the driver said: "Your daughter will take care of ya." Lou confronted Sally and her facetious story: "This woman is not my daughter....I made love to this woman today...I held her in my arms. I made her happy." Lou was angered for being tricked and dragged back into the conflict - he fell back on his old, tired, and deluded illusions of grandeur:

"I'm dangerous! People come to me from Las Vegas. I know Bugsy Siegel. I was his cellmate."

Sally demanded 'her' rightful drug money as they walked down a sidewalk outside Buddy's Bar, although Lou argued back: "I don't have it."

The thugs' car pulled up and pointed the car's headlights at them. Felix demanded the drug deal money from Lou: ("Hey, foxy grandpa. It's over now. I want the money. Come on, you know what I'm talkin' about. Give me the money"), while Vinnie threatened Sally with a knife. Lou self-defensively and protectively aimed his gun from under his overcoat and shot and killed both of them. Hyperventilating and laughing, Lou was surprised by his own prowess in saving Sally - his first murder!

Lou stole the mobsters' car and with Sally drove away from Atlantic City, while he basked in the glow of the murders:

"I can't believe I did it. I really did it! Did you see me do it?...When I saw that knife on ya, I pulled the trigger. Bam, bam!...Did you see the look on his face?...I protected you."

At a toll booth, he told the female collector (Sis Clark) that it was his first foray outside the city in 20 years: "Lady, it's the first time I've been out of Atlantic City in 20 years." When he handed her a $1,000 dollar bill, she returned it, and she also handed back their second attempt - a $100 bill. She allowed them to drive through without paying: "I'll lend you the quarter."

They rented a room in The Golden Gate Motel outside Atlantic City, where Lou asked the desk clerk to send up "champagne, peanuts, crackers. The expensive kind. The French kind." After popping the cork on a champagne bottle, Lou gleefully watched and responded to the 11:00 o'clock report of the violent Atlantic City murders on the TV news that he had just committed. Anchorman (John J. Burns) described a second night of violence - "the brutal murders of two underworld crime figures." The enraged Police Commissioner (John Allmond) was interviewed on camera by TV reporter Connie Bishop (Connie Collins): "I'm damn angry! If the mob has come to Atlantic City, they're dead! They're gonna have to answer to me personally!" The report concluded that there were "no clues, no witnesses."

Interlude - Grace and Chrissie:

In a short interlude set in Grace's bedroom, she was becoming better acquainted with Chrissie. Grace recalled her initial arrival in Atlantic City in the 1940s:

"I came here during the war. Betty Grable look-alike contest. The boardwalk -- filled with hundreds of Betty Grable look-alikes from all over America, selling war bonds. (singing) 'On the boardwalk in Atlantic City, Life will be peaches and cream.' ...I met some boys. Lou. Cookie Pinza, who I later married. Atlantic City became my home."

Grace offered the pregnant Chrissie money to fly home to Canada:

Grace: "You oughta fly home. I'll treat you to the ticket....If you can get a seat belt around that."
Chrissie: "Oh, I never use seat belts. I don't believe in gravity."

Then, Grace mentioned a similar connection between them: "We both lost our men through a shooting." Chrissie was calmly accepting of Dave's murder, because of her belief in reincarnation: "I don't mind that Dave's dead. It just means he'll be reincarnated sooner, that's all." Grace proposed helping to look after Chrissie - something she hadn't ever done before ("I never had to look after anybody. I was a princess!"). She had determinedly found a purpose in life - to care for the pregnant Chrissie instead of always tending to her own illnesses.

Concluding Epilogue - Parting Ways::

Therapeutically energized, Lou was giddy with pride for finally being recognized as a 'tough guy': "I like that - making the news." Sally asked innocently about Lou's braggadocio about Bugsy Siegel as his cellmate at one time: "Who was Bugsy Siegel?" Lou answered: "Oh! The meanest, the coldest...Well, I gotta be honest. I was in the slammer on a D & D....Drunk and Disorderly. They brought Bugsy in for about ten minutes on the way to Leavenworth. Man, was he pissed off. Heh. He didn't even know me." And then Lou came clean about all of the lies he had told about his past:

"I never killed anybody in my life...But I did tonight. You saw it."

Lou subsequently offered a bold 'proposal' to Sally to run off to Florida with him, while he was still alive, although he realized he was in his waning years as an old man:

"Anyone ever take care of you like I did? You feel safe?...They got nice weather in Florida....But I got a lot of friends down there. I'll tell ya, I'll buy ya new clothes, I'll show you off...Just let the boys see how well I turned out. Please. Come."

She hesitantly agreed: "Well, I've never been to Florida." A news update from WNBP, Channel 7 in Philadelphia, interrupted - with more information on the Atlantic City double murder. An alleged witness provided a description of the killer - seen in a composite sketch. Lou was thrilled: "Hey, that's me!" He excitedly turned to a non-plussed Sally:

"We'll stop on the way down and buy all the newspapers. This story is going to be big all over the country: 'Gangland slaying rips apart Atlantic City!'"

However, she was still nursing internal hopes and dreams of being in Monte Carlo ("France is very nice"). Early the next morning, Lou surreptitiously talked to Grace on the phone (in the bathroom) and bragged about the shooting of the two mobsters: ("Did you see the news? The two hoods that got killed? Guess who did it....The murderer they're looking for, that was me!"). Grace was disbelieving after so many years of lies: "Don't kid me. You must be kidding. You going soft in the head? That was you? Those are dangerous men." And then she ordered him to return home: "You get back here within five minutes or you are fired!" During the end of the conversation when Lou cracked open the door, he observed Sally taking a thick wad of the drug money from his wallet.

To make amends for his past as a long-time loser, he accepted her excuse (to go for pizza). He knew that she was leaving and parting from him for good. He sensed she wouldn't ultimately accompany him to Florida, but was dreaming of a new life elsewhere. When he handed her the stolen car keys, he advised: "Don't forget to ditch the car, soon!" She turned and thanked him: "You saved my life" before she departed. He watched her for the last time from the upstairs hotel window as she drove away - a grin came to his face. As she drove, the radio station that she was listening to, Sunrise Semester - New Jersey's University of the Airwaves, coincidentally began a discussion about the great wines of France - a good omen.

A Revitalized Boardwalk Stroll in the Transformed Atlantic City:

In the final sequence, Southern New Jersey's newspaper, The Press, featured a headline story: "DRUG MURDERS RIP ATLANTIC CITY." [Note: It was almost identical to Lou's wished-for headline: GANGLAND SLAYING RIPS APART ATLANTIC CITY.] As the hotel desk clerk called a taxi for Lou to take him back to Atlantic City, the still-exhilarated Lou pointed to the lead story in the paper on the desk and boasted about the slaying: "I did that."

In the concluding optimistic moments, a dressed-up Grace knocked on the door to Room 307 and offered Alfie the last remaining bit of cocaine for $1,000. He shrugged with the film's final line: "Why not?" As she turned in the hallway, Lou quietly applauded from around a corner. Grace took Lou's arm, and they happily and proudly made a final promenade down the Boardwalk - with a panning shot up to a view of a crane and wrecker's ball smashing into an apartment. The old Boardwalk (and the revitalized Lou and Grace), although bruised and decayed, were making way for a rebirth.

The closing credits were accompanied by short excerpts from earlier songs (a variety of pop, rock 'n' roll, country western, jazzy piano, eastern, the opera aria, etc.) - each of the selections was timed to switch or change with every smash of the steel ball, accentuated by cymbal clashes.

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