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1981 Movie Reviews – Atlantic City

by Sean P. Aune | April 3, 2021April 3, 2021 10:06 am EDT

Welcome to an exciting year-long project here at The Nerdy. 1981 was an exciting year for films giving us a lot of films that would go on to be beloved favorites and cult classics. It was also the start to a major shift in cultural and societal norms, and some of those still reverberate to this day.


We’re going to pick and choose which movies we hit, but right now the list stands at nearly three dozen.

Yes, we’re insane, but 1981 was that great of a year for film.

The articles will come out – in most cases – on the same day the films hit theaters in 1981 so that it is their true 40th anniversary. All films are also watched again for the purposes of these reviews and are not being done from memory. In some cases, it truly will be the first time we’ve seen them.

This time around it’s April 3, 1981, and we’re off to see Atlantic City!

Quick side note: Since we launched this series this year, we’ve discovered that Vintage Video Podcast is doing the exact same project with two differences: First, it’s audio (naturally), and second, they are doing every major film. We’ve listened to a couple of episodes and it’s fun checking off their thoughts against my own. Check them out over at Vintage Video Podcast.

1981 Movie Project - Atlantic City - 01

Atlantic City

Throughout the 1980s we entered into this world where huge stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age began to age out of the choice roles. We ended up with a slew of films in various settings and scenarios. This trend continued well into the 1990s, but Atlantic City has to be one of the earliest examples of this type of project.

Set against the backdrop of a decaying Atlantic City, Lou Pascal (Burt Lancaster) finds himself embroiled in a drug scheme with his neighbor Salley Matthews (Susan Sarandon) thanks to her no-good husband. Lou has dreams that he was an important man in the mafia, but he never really was. He sees this as his chance to truly live up to the greatness he imagined.

Atlantic City aspires to be a great movie, but it suffers from a severe distrust of the intelligence of the audience. It wants to draw parallels between Lou’s delusions of grandeur and how Atlantic City fooled itself that it could be as big as Las Vegas. It hits you over the head repeatedly in its attempts to make you notice how Lou and the city are one and the same.

All of the old buildings are being cleared out of the city to make way for the new because this time it will be different. Lou lives in a part of the city that is literally crumbling, but he has this new start thanks to the cocaine that will give him a fresh start, and this time it will be different.

The parallels are heavy-handed at best, and insulting at worst. But beyond that, it’s still a decent film. It’s ultimately predictable and not one thing that occurs in this film will surprise you. Sarandon and Lancaster are engaging but underserved by the script.

If you never see this film, your life won’t change one iota, but the same can be said if you see it.

The 1981 movie reviews will return on April 10 with Nighthawks, Excalibur, and The Howling!

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Sean P. Aune

Sean Aune has been a pop culture aficionado since before there was even a term for pop culture. From the time his father brought home Amazing