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USA 1972
Directed by
Bob Rafelson
103 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

King Of Marvin Gardens, The

Bob Rafelson started out as a producer of The Monkees TV show and his first two feature films, Head (1968) and Five Easy Pieces (1970) were both collaborations with business partner Jack Nicholson as co-founders of the BBS production house (the third member was Bert Schneider) which gave us the indie classic Easy Rider (1969) which had provided Nicholson with his break-out film.There’s a fair amount of eccentricity and experimentalism in their work and The King of Marvin Gardens co-authored by Rafelson with Jacob Brackman is its mature fruit.

Nicholson plays a late-night radio “personality”, a kind of morose Garrison Keillor (see Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion if you don’t know what I mean) who relates stories from his imaginary family history, presumably to lonely insomniacs, over the airwaves. One day he gets a call from his hustler brother Jason (Bruce Dern) and gets half-heartedly involved in a scheme to buy an island near Hawaii and develop it into a tourist resort. The ever-optimistic bur chronically-deluded Jason is holed up in run-down Atlantic City with a floozy (Ellen Burstyn) and her stepdaughter (Julia Anne Robinson) from whence he tries to broker the big deal that will show everyone that he's not just a snake-oil merchant (which, of course he is).

The King Of Marvin Gardens ("Marvin Gardens" is one of the addresses on the American Monopoly board) is a sometimes surreal affair (e.g. a fake talent quest show in an abandoned theatre, a meeting between the brothers on horseback etc.) that serves as an iconically literal metaphor for the beleaguered American economy of the times.With the backdrop of a crumbling Atlantic City, once the East Coast's Las Vegas (Donald Trump was instrumental in rehabilitating it in the 1980s) and the chilly windy foreshore with iTs billboards for sun-tan lotion was brilliant choice for the principal location.

NIcholson gives an unusual but convincingly subdued performance. Both Dern and Burstyn, regulars of this peak period of American indie film, are also effective.

FYI: TKOMG was the only movie Robinson ever made as she died in a motel fire not long after the film's release. It was also the first of three movies in which Nicholson appears with "Scatman" Crothers, the others being One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and The Shining (1980).




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