By People Staff
Updated May 04, 1981 12:00 PM

“Rackets, whoring, guns—it used to be beautiful,” sighs retired hood Burt Lancaster, recalling the good old days of this New Jersey resort town. Then came legalized gambling in 1976. Out of the rebirth of rundown Atlantic City, French director Louis (Pretty Baby) Malle and playwright-turned-screenwriter John (The House of Blue Leaves) Guare have fashioned a compassionate, mournfully funny saga of dreamers taking one last jump for the jackpot. Lancaster has been reduced to running numbers, caring for a shrewish invalid widow and peeping at neighbor Susan Sarandon, who stands naked at a window washing her body with lemon juice to get out the stink of the oyster bar where she works. When Sarandon’s sleazy ex-husband (Robert Joy) gets rubbed out by the Mafia while trying to sell his cocaine stash, the fishwife and hood seize the drugs and their chance. Their love scenes are remarkably poignant, thanks to Sarandon’s sizzle and Lancaster’s lovely etching of an old man rejuvenated by a young woman’s passion. The bubble soon bursts, but Malle touches the exhilaration that comes when, however fleetingly, new life rises from the ruins. (R)