The King of Marvin Gardens

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The King of Marvin Gardens
Marvin gardens moviep.jpg
Directed byBob Rafelson
Screenplay byJacob Brackman
Story byJacob Brackman
Bob Rafelson
Produced bySteve Blauner
Bob Rafelson
Harold Schneider
StarringJack Nicholson
Bruce Dern
Ellen Burstyn
CinematographyLászló Kovács
Edited byJohn F. Link
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • October 12, 1972 (1972-10-12)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited States

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.

The title alludes to the Marven Gardens in Margate, New Jersey as well as to one of the properties in the original Monopoly game, which was based on the streets of Atlantic City.[1]


David and Jason are brothers, the former a depressive living with his grandfather in Philadelphia where he runs a late-night radio talk show and the latter an extrovert con man working for gang boss Lewis in Atlantic City, where he lives with the manic-depressive Sally, former beauty queen and prostitute, and her stepdaughter Jessica, who entertained men alongside her mother. After no contact for 18 months, Jason asks David to come to Atlantic City for an opportunity to "make our fortune". David arrives and, after he is bailed out of jail, Jason persuades him to stay on in his hotel suite with the two women. He explains his scheme for a casino in Hawaii and tells him that they will share the girls when they go there.

Tensions grow among the four as Jason seeks unsuccessfully to involve a Japanese syndicate of investors in his plans. The skeptical David has no faith in Jason's plan, while Jason chides David for wallowing in his dark, lonely depressed life. Jessica is being groomed for a beauty queen career by Sally in another improbable scheme but develops a mutual attraction with Jason. Sally, increasingly neurotic over losing her looks, burns her glamorous clothes, cuts off her hair and throws away her cosmetics. Jason starts packing to leave for Hawaii and tells Sally that he is going with Jessica and that she cannot come. Sally threatens to shoot David or Jason and, when Jason mocks her, shoots him dead in rage and despair. David escorts his brother's corpse home to Philadelphia by train.


Notable imagery[edit]

The film has several surreal scenes, including a 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 called 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 hall's historic pipe organ, which is the world's largest organ and reputedly the largest and loudest musical instrument ever built.[2]


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 during the next few years to make way for the new generation of casino-hotels that were built 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 portion of the film depicting Philadelphia was shot in Toronto. The apartment the Scatman Crothers character, Lewis, occupied is located at Jarvis and Isabella Streets in Toronto. It was in an old mansion that had been converted to apartments.

The title of the film (which originally was to be called The Philosopher King) is an ironic reference to the original 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 Monkees film Head (1968) 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 The Rebel Rousers (1970). Scatman Crothers co-starred, with Nicholson in the lead role, in Miloš Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980). Co-star Ellen Burstyn had worked in the TV series Gunsmoke, in which Dern had also appeared, and soon achieved fame with her starring role in William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973).

The film was one of the few screen appearances made by Julia Anne Robinson (Jessica), who died in an apartment fire in Eugene, Oregon in 1975, aged 24.[3][4]


Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three stars out of four, calling it "an original, individual, and often frustrating movie that takes a lot of chances and wins on about sixty percent of them."[5] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune also awarded three stars out of four, writing that "much of the film doesn't work" but it "contains three of the best performances of the year."[6]

Roger Greenspun of The New York Times panned the film, writing that "Rafelson's kind of poetic realism, an accuracy in the treatment of unexpected settings, looked like quality to some in Five Easy Pieces two years back. Now it looks like the most pretentious of clichés, a low-keyed but very empty bombast exploiting rather than exploring its themes of failed dreams and tawdry realities."[7] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called it "a curious, stunningly cinematic, intricately structured, intensely atmospheric new film," adding, "There seems no end to the season's really extraordinary acting jobs and Marvin Gardens gives us five—count 'em five."[8] Richard Combs of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote "Brilliantly constructed by Rafelson and screenwriter Jacob Brackman as a fable of imperfect lives in which nothing ever comes to fruition, The King of Marvin Gardens creates a fragmented, incomplete puzzle (with visual and verbal puns slyly hinting that there might be a key), a game in which no one finally sweeps the board."[1]

The King of Marvin Gardens holds a rating of 70% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 30 reviews.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Combs, Richard (September 1973). "The King of Marvin Gardens", The Monthly Film Bulletin, p. 193
  2. ^ Boardwalk Hall - Pipe Organs Archived 2013-02-15 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Le Fanu, Mark (November 27, 2010). "The King of Marvin Gardens: A Killing=work=The Criterion Collection". Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  4. ^ Mack, Don (April 1, 1975). "Apartment fire kills Eugene actress". Eugene Register Guard. Retrieved November 16, 2013.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger. "The King of Marvin Gardens". Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  6. ^ Siskel, Gene (December 27, 1972). "...Marvin Gardens". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 5.
  7. ^ Greenspun, Roger (October 13, 1972). "Film Fete". The New York Times. 31.
  8. ^ Champlin, Charles (December 19, 1972). "5 Actors Monopolize 'Marvin Gardens'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  9. ^ "The King of Marvin Gardens". Rotten Tomatoes.

External links[edit]