The King of Marvin Gardens
|The King of Marvin Gardens|
|Directed by||Bob Rafelson|
|Produced by||Steve Blauner
|Written by||Jacob Brackman
Julia Anne Robinson
John P. Ryan
|Edited by||John F. Link|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
The King of Marvin Gardens is a 1972 American drama film. It stars Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn and Scatman Crothers. It is one of several collaborations between Nicholson and director Bob Rafelson. The majority of the film is set in a wintry Atlantic City, New Jersey, with cinematography by László Kovács.
David (Jack Nicholson) and Jason (Bruce Dern) are estranged siblings, the former a depressive late-night radio talk show host, the latter an extrovert con man. When Jason drags his younger brother and his own bitter aging beauty-queen squeeze, Sally (Ellen Burstyn), to a dreary Atlantic City and into a real-estate scam, events spiral toward tragedy.
The skeptical David has no faith in Jason's scam, and Jason chides David for wallowing in his dark, lonely depressed life. Eventually, Sally becomes disgruntled and shoots Jason, and David escorts his brother's corpse home to Philadelphia by train.
Other notable imagery
The film has several surreal scenes including conversation on horseback between David and Jason, and a simulated Miss America Pageant. The latter scene was filmed in the empty Atlantic City Convention Hall (now the Boardwalk Hall), which was at the time of its 1929 construction the largest clear-span covered space in the world. During the scene, Ellen Burstyn is shown playing the console of the hall's historic pipe organ, which is the world's largest organ and reputedly the largest and loudest musical instrument ever built.
We learn later that the character of Jessica is a stepdaughter of Sally's from a prior marriage. In one scene, we see the two women topless in a hotel bedroom, squirting water guns at each other, when Jason enters the bedroom and closes the door, leaving David by himself in an adjoining room.
The King of Marvin Gardens was shot almost entirely on location in Atlantic City in the winter months of 1972. It is therefore of considerable historical significance as a visual record of the very last days of the city's "classic era" resort architecture. Many of the grand hotels shown in the film's exterior scenes were demolished within the next few years to make way for the new generation of casino-hotels that went up after the legalization of gambling. Filming took place only months before the vast Traymore Hotel was explosively demolished in April 1972, and the movie's main location, the opulent Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel was demolished in 1978 to make way for Bally's Atlantic City.
The title of the film (which was originally called "The Philosopher King") is an ironic reference to the American version of the board game Monopoly, in which the main properties were named after locations in Atlantic City. This reference was also reflected in the film's original poster art.
The film was one of several collaborations between Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, which included the cult 1968 Monkees film Head and Five Easy Pieces (1970), which established both men as major figures in Hollywood. Dern and Nicholson had previously worked together in Psych-Out (1968) and Rebel Rousers (1970) and Nicholson and Scatman Crothers subsequently co-starred in Miloš Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980). Co-star Ellen Burstyn had previously worked in the TV series Gunsmoke, in which Dern had also appeared and would achieved worldwide fame the following year with her starring role in William Friedkin's The Exorcist.
- Jack Nicholson - David Staebler
- Bruce Dern - Jason Staebler
- Ellen Burstyn - Sally
- Julia Anne Robinson - Jessica
- Scatman Crothers - Lewis
- Charles LaVine - Grandfather
- Arnold Williams - Rosko
- John P. Ryan - Surlees
- Sully Boyar - Lebowitz
- Josh Mostel - Frank
- William Pabst - Bidlack
- Imogene Bliss - Magda
- Ann Thomas - Bambi
- Combs, Richard (1973) "The King of Marvin Gardens", Monthly Film Bulletin, 1973, p. 193
- Boardwalk Hall - Pipe Organs
- Le Fanu, Mark (November 27, 2010). "The King of Marvin Gardens: A Killing=work=The Criterion Collection". Retrieved March 1, 2013.
- Mack, Don (April 1, 1975). "Apartment fire kills Eugene actress". Eugene Register Guard. Retrieved November 16, 2013.
- The King of Marvin Gardens at the Internet Movie Database
- Review by Andrew Sarris for the Village Voice, November 9, 1972