Burt Lancaster as Lou Pascal, aging numbers runner
Atlantic City, Fall 1979
Film: Atlantic City
Release Date: September 3, 1980
Director: Louis Malle
Costume Designer: François Barbeau
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Burt Lancaster kicked off his final decade on the silver screen with Louis Malle’s well-received romantic crime drama, Atlantic City. In addition to securing Lancaster’s fourth and final Academy Award nomination, Atlantic City also earned nomination across all “Big Five” categories, though the film was shut out at the Oscars with Henry Fonda taking home the trophy for his performance in On Golden Pond.
Lancaster plays Lou Pascal, a long-in-the-tooth numbers runner who proudly walks the boardwalk of the titular town, waxing poetic to anyone who’ll listen about the golden age of gangsterdom in America’s Playground, when “it used to be beautiful, whatwith the rackets, whoring, guns.”
Atlantic City had floy floy coming out of its ears in those days. Now it’s all so goddamn legal. Howard Johnson running a casino. Tutti-frutti ice cream with craps don’t mix.
Lou’s comfort among criminality results in a botched cocaine deal that results in a dead dealer and plenty of blow left over for Lou to sell for his own profit as he endeavors to seduce the dealer’s estranged—and now widowed—wife, an attractive and ambitious casino waitress named Sally (Susan Sarandon).
What’d He Wear?
Flush in ill-gotten funds, Lou embraces the opportunity to dress like the roaring ’20s gangster he pretends to have been. He spies an off-white ’30s-styled sports coat beaming at him from the window of a secondhand store and, with a friend willing to take his old brown windowpane suit off his hands, Lou easily slips into the part of a glad-handing gangster who could have once been seen walking alongside Nucky Johnson as the real-life A.C. crime boss patrolled his boardwalk empire.
The ivory herringbone “action back” sports coat is cut and detailed in the tradition of 1930s resort-wear, the sort of jacket that would have been favored by the visiting gangsters he admired in his youth.
Single-breasted jackets with peak lapels (as typically found on double-breasted jackets) have cycled in and out of fashion every four decades or so, beginning with the “floy floy” era the late ’20s through the ’30s, revived during the disco era just around the time Atlantic City was produced. Lou’s broad lapels would have been fashionable during either era, though the straight gorges suggest the earlier timeframe.
Though the jacket hanging in the store window appears to have a conventional single-button closure, several shots of Lou walking with the jacket closed reveal its unique “link-front” closure, comprised of two connected buttons that close through the buttonhole like a cufflink so that a button presents on each side.
The wide shoulders are padded—again, in the tradition of ’30s tailoring—to build up an even more imposing silhouette for the already athletic Burt Lancaster. Each sleeve is finished with three spaced-apart buttons at the cuff.
The jacket is dressed down to the level of resort wear by sporty details like the box-pleated pockets on the hips and over the left breast. The bi-swing “action back” is so named for the sets of double pleats behind each arm opening that give the wearer greater range of motion without adding too much bagginess that would detract from the jacket’s flattering silhouette. This silhouette is enhanced by the half-belted back, which pulls the waist in. A long single vent extends from the center of the self-belt down to the bottom hem.
Lou accessorizes his new duds in the manner of a well-to-do sportsman, tying a bronze paisley-printed silk day cravat around his neck, allowing the front to puff out through the open neck of his shirt.
Lou injects more flashy color into his ensemble with a fuchsia pink shirt with a sheen that suggests silk in the construction. The large point collar gently flares out at the ends, and he keeps the top—eventually top few—button of the front placket undone to show his neckerchief. The buttons are a smoke-gray flat four-hole plastic, including those that he keeps buttoned through the barrel cuffs on each wrist.
Lou pairs his off-white herringbone jacket with ivory trousers to create the effect of a mismatched suit to the degree that, the first time I saw Atlantic City, I assumed this actually was a two-piece suit! Looking more closely, there’s a subtle contrast between the creamier jacket and the cooler-shaded slacks, which are also a tight gabardine weave as opposed to the herringbone jacket.
Despite the retro direction of his style, Lou’s double forward-pleated trousers have a lower rise more contemporary to the late ’70s, placing the waistband below the aging—but still athletic—actor’s growing midsection. The trousers have gently slanted side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups (cuffs), and they’re held up with a taupe braided woven belt that has tonal leather ends and a dulled single-prong buckle.
Apropos the nature of his outfit, Lou completes the look with flashy shoes, a pair of apron-toe tassel loafers with bright white leather uppers. His dark tan socks coordinate with the outfit without matching either the trousers or shoes.
The only element of his old clothing that Lou continues to wear is his khaki gabardine trench coat, a practical outer layer with enough “old school cool” connotations (think Bogie!) that he could effectively wear it with his new, all-white kit.
The knee-length coat has a broad ulster collar that can be buttoned to close over the chest, in addition to the six buttons arranged in a slightly tapered 6×3 double-breasted front and the full belt with a tall rectangular brass slide-through buckle. The coat also has fused shoulder straps (epaulettes), a straight-hemmed storm flap on the right side, a long single vent, and slanted pass-through hand pockets just below the belt with wide-welted openings. The set-in sleeves are finished with a short rectangular single-button semi-tab at each cuff.
True to his desired image as an early 20th century gangster, Lou crowns himself with a wide-brimmed fedora… though not just any fedora, as it’s constructed from an eye-catching creamy white felt to match his jacket, trousers, and shoes. The grosgrain silk band and edges are also off-white, the only contrasting color coming from the feather tucked into the left side of the band.
During the final scene, as Lou walks the boardwalk with Grace (Kate Reid), he’s still embracing his newfound image as a successful gangster in white hat, jacket, and shoes under his trench coat, but he’s swapped out the sporty cravat for a more conventional scarlet red tie.
On the third finger of his right hand, Lou wears a chunky gold ring with a large green stone.
Lou’s gold tonneau watch is likely decades old as well, similar to men’s wristwatch styles that were popular during the ’40s and ’50s. The shape appears rectangular but with subtle convex curvature on the sides that suggests tonneau. The champagne gold dial has non-numeric hour markers, plus a sub-register at 6:00, and Lou wears the piece on a brown ridged leather strap.
What to Imbibe
Lou interrupts a poker game and pours himself a glass of Early Times, a budget-priced Kentucky whiskey with the sort of storied history and tough associations that would attract a nostalgic old wannabe gangster like Lou.
Early Times dates back to 1860 when it was first produced by Jim Beam’s uncle Jack in Kentucky. Ironically, it wasn’t until the onset of Prohibition in the United States that Early Times grew popular, as it was one of the few established distilleries with a license to legally continue production for, uh, “medicinal purposes”. Under the ownership of the Brown-Forman Company, Early Times prospered to become the best-selling whiskey in the United States by the early 1950s.
Its price point and taste established Easy Times in pop culture as a favorite of harder types, mentioned by name in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail as well as other works of fiction from John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces and the occasional Elmore Leonard story to the raw 1970 crime thriller The Honeymoon Killers.
Unfortunately, a struggling industry meant some changes to the venerated Early Times formula. In 1983, three years after Atlantic City was released, Early Times shifted from straight bourbon to a blend of primarily bourbon and about one-fifth “light whiskey”, which was enough of a difference that the brand was no longer qualified to market its product as bourbon, thus requiring the label of “Kentucky whisky” for its signature product… until recently.
After nearly 35 years without a pure bourbon among its output, the recent bourbon boom revitalized demand to the point that Early Times was able to reintroduce its bottled-in-bond straight Kentucky bourbon to the market, making its welcome return in 2017.
Source: “How Early Times Traversed Bourbon’s Ups and Downs for 160 Years” by Caroline Paulus for The Bourbon Review
After a confrontation with the gangsters who killed Sally’s husband, a despondent Lou returns to his apartment and digs a blued steel Smith & Wesson Model 36 from one of his old loafers.
This five-shot “snubnose” revolver was christened the “Chiefs Special” upon its introduction in 1950, before Smith & Wesson began numbering its models later in the decade. The reliable revolver was a favorite on both sides of the law for its mix of power and concealment, carrying five rounds of the standard police .38 Special cartridge in a 2″-barreled “belly gun” package.
How to Get the Look
The old adage says to dress for the job you want and, after decades admiring the slick gangsters who frequented Atlantic City, Lou Pascal finally has the means to make this his reality as he pairs his new vintage-inspired ivory “action-back” sports coat with a colorful shirt, affected neckerchief, and a flashy white fedora and matching loafers for an ensemble guaranteed to turn heads as he strolls up the boardwalk packing a concealed gat.
- Ivory herringbone single-breasted sport jacket with wide straight-gorge peak lapels, single link-button closure, box-pleated breast pocket, box-pleated hip pockets, spaced 3-button cuffs, and bi-swing “action back” pleats with half-belted back and single vent
- Fuchsia pink silky shirt with point collar, front placket, and button cuffs
- Bronze paisley silk day cravat
- Ivory gabardine double forward-pleated slacks with belt loops, gently slanted side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Taupe braided woven belt with leather ends and single-prong buckle
- White leather apron-toe tassel loafers
- Tan socks
- Chunky gold filigreed ring with large green oval stone
- Vintage gold tonneau watch with champagne gold dial and brown ridged leather strap
- Ivory felt fedora with white grosgrain ribbon and edges
- Khaki gabardine double-breasted 6×3-button trench coat with fixed epaulettes, storm flap, ulster collar, belt, single vent, and set-in sleeves with single-button semi-tab cuffs
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie. Criterion Channel subscribers can also catch it before it leaves at the end of June!
If you’re not already convinced, read Chris McKittrick’s fine review at MovieBuzzers.