A chat with Chuck Workman, the Oscar-winning director of the 1976 indie-flick filmed in Atlantic City and throughout Atlantic County.
Movies can offer a window on the past, a look at the way we were. That’s the case of The Money, later renamed Atlantic City Jackpot, a 1976 independent film partially shot in the city and Atlantic County four years before the first casino opened.
Director Chuck Workman describes the movie as “sort of an art film, combined with a thriller, and very much about money and what normal nice people will do to get it sometimes, which is actually a good subject for Atlantic City.”
Laurence Luckinbill, who starred in the 1972-73 television series The Delphi Bureau and later married Lucie Arnaz, led the cast that included Graham Beckel, Regina Baff and a then-unknown Danny DeVito in a small role as a bartender. Workman also cast his two young children, Gennifer and Jeremy, in small roles.
Beckel portrays Roland, a drifter and small-time criminal whose girlfriend (Baff) works as a nurse and also as a babysitter for Richard Banks, a Jersey shore businessman, played by Luckinbill. On the surface, Banks appears to be upper class and successful. In reality, he is struggling financially to complete his latest construction project. Complications ensue when Roland kidnaps his son and daughter and demands a ransom Banks cannot pay. Not willing to go to the police, Banks tries to find a solution on his own terms.
Workman, who was born in Philadelphia and moved to Atlantic City in 1955, used the city as a backdrop for the film.
“We shot for two weeks in Atlantic City in the summer of 1974,” he recalled. “We shot on Million Dollar Pier, where we show some minor gambling before gambling was legal.”
Other scenes take place at the Shelburne Hotel, the Strand Hotel (where the cast and crew stayed) and in the Atlantic City Marina.
“There were no hotels there, just boats and docks,” said Workman.
Scenes also were filmed on the beach in Atlantic City and Margate and both inside and outside the Shore Mall, added the director, a graduate of the Class of 1958 at Atlantic City High School. Working as assistant director was Sylvan Duchovnay, who graduated from the school two years earlier.
While Workman had been away from Atlantic City for about a decade before he began the film, the director had close ties to the area.
“My parents still lived there on Atlantic Avenue in Ventnor,” he said. “My stepfather, Leon Leonard, was a prominent judge and very well-liked and respected in the community, so I’m sure that helped us in getting permissions and permits” for filming.
“When the film was finished, we arranged with Charles Tannenbaum, an old family friend to premiere it at one of his theaters, at Missouri and Atlantic avenues, called the Charles, now a parking lot, then a lovely state-of-the-art theater,” Workman said.
The Press of Atlantic City ran a feature story about the film and the premiere.
“The premiere night went well and it was exciting for me to actually see and hear strangers reacting to my film,” he remembered.
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