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Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson's creative relationship began because of The Monkees. Rafelson directing and Nicholson writing their weird and wonderful psychedelic cult classic 'Head'. After that the two teamed up for one of the early Seventies best loved movies 'Five Easy Pieces'. A couple of years later they did it again with 'The King Of Marvin Gardens', though inexplicably it doesn't have the reputation or the high profile of their previous collaboration. I really fail to see why. File it under "great lost 1970s movies" alongside 'Scarecrow', 'Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia', 'Tracks', 'Fingers' (and add your own personal favourite to the list). Marvin Gardens features a really strong and controlled performance from Nicholson in the lead role, an introverted DJ with a show in which he spins "true" tales. But even better than Nicholson is Bruce Dern, a wonderful actor who never became a superstar like Nicholson, Pacino or De Niro, despite a long career of consistently good character roles in movies by Hitchcock, Roger Corman, Walter Hill, Hal Ashby, John Frankenheimer, Elia Kazan, Sydney Pollack and many others. Dern is absolutely wonderful as Nicholson's brother, a dreamer and Mob hanger on. He comes back into his brother's life with a nutty get rich quick scheme which ends up going horribly wrong. This is one of the very best performances by Dern I've ever seen, and his scenes with Nicholson make this essential viewing for any 1970s buff. Added to that are excellent performances from Ellen Burstyn ('The Exorcist', 'Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore') and newcomer Julia Anne Robinson (her only movie role - too bad!) as the women in Dern's life, and nice bits from legendary musician/actor Scatman Crothers ('Black Belt Jones' and appearances in no less than four 1970s Nicholson movies) and the underrated John P. Ryan ('Runaway Train', 'It's Alive', 'Class Of 1999'). 'The King Of Marvin Gardens' is a slow and thoughtful movie, but once you get into the rhythm of it, an extremely rewarding one. One of Nicholson's best, and Dern is just dynamite. Highly recommended.
A truly great film and sadly overlooked and under rated, following up Five Easy Pieces and showing Nicholson at his most awesome. A far better take on Atlantic City than the Louis Malle's film of that name. Incredible acting from Nicholson, Dern, Burstyn... great direction and cinamatography. The movie is set in a pre-casino Atlantic City, sort of Coney Island perfected. A real actors film that we rarely see anymore. Perhaps difficult to watch because of that yet immensely rewarding. A film that perfectly captures the time and place. Dern plays an over the top hustler while Nicholson, of all things, plays an intellectual radio dweeb. Go on... see it... "no one reads anymore..."
This is a brilliant little character study from the fabulous team that brought us the classic "Five Easy Pieces". If this last reviewer didn't get it (and obvious he didn't), than that's his problem. The detail, the beautiful photography, and the incredible use of Atlantic City locations make this film all the more worth while. Shot when Atlantic City was a dying resort town, it is used as a metaphor for this strange symbiotic relationship between two very different brothers. Nicholson as the intelligent David, and Bruce Dern (never better) as the scam artist Jason, out to make a quick buck. Do yourselves a favor, and check out this little gem.
A classic from of the New American Cinema The King of Marvin Gardens is one of the most underrated films of the 70. The film stars Bruce Dern and Jack Nicholson (cast against type as an introverted depressive) as a pair of estranged brothers reunited in Atlantic City to try to get scam artist Dern's ill-conceived property development dreams off the ground. Ellen Bursten rounds out the cast as an ageing beauty queen struggling with the realisation that her young protégé, played by the previously and subsequently unknown Julia Ann Robinson, has surpassed her. Shot in a bleak, wintry Atlantic City that contrasts sharply with Dern's vision of a happy ending for the quartet in Hawai'i, the film is a compelling and meditative character study that doesn't shy away from or glamorise the problems of the people who inhabit it. The three leads give superb performances as characters who are all in their disparate ways seeking redemption. Made in the brief period of the 1970s when the big American studios were hoodwinked into financing films that were singular, intelligent, and challenging, The King of Marvin Gardens is a must see for any fan of the cinema.
I thought this superior to CARNAL KNOWLEDGE and am a bit surprised by
the reaction to it at time of release. After FIVE EASY PIECES and
before STAY HUNGRY this '72 film was thrown aside and dismissed. I
guess Nicholson wasn't using his eyebrows enough for public taste.
Bruce Dern gives a superb performance as his shyster-dreamer brother
with big plans. Ellen Burstyn is paranoid justifiably and gives a
lovely performance. The young girl Julie Ann Robinson is terrible.
A 7 out of 10. Best performance = Bruce Dern. Throw in Scatman and John Ryan and you have a fascinating mood piece. What happened to Bob Rafelson?
It's ironically indicative of this movie's theme and the relationship
between American culture AND this film that the vast majority of IMDb
raters have given this a 6 or 7 (out of 10). Most Americans that
actually watch this film will be confused by it. Very strange, maybe,
in that it is a truly American movie: American cast, American
production, American themes, American sets, American problems, American
answers. But, tell me--how do you rate yourself when you look back at
that nude in the full length mirror right after you get out of the
shower? If you're feeling generous (and you're only rating for
yourself), you might get a 6 or a 7, right? Rafelson's early
(funnier...haha, couldn't resist that), more critically successful
Nicholson vehicle, FIVE EASY PIECES, has some really GREAT moments
(like the toast-ordering scene), but ultimately, the pacing is off.
There's just not enough there, there. Not so with King of MV. WOW, this
is one helluva emotional roller coaster. The much, much underrated and
underutilized Bruce Dern gives one of his best two or three
performances as Nicholson's manic (American through and through)
salesman brother. This riffs on Arthur Miller and all the best dramatic
pitchmen roles from the 1st half of the 20th Century. Ellen Burstyn is
spot on, as is the other female interest. But the real focus is on the
guys. (And just a word about the late, great Scatman Crothers--so so
excellent and iconic in this.) And now we get to Jack... ...I think
this is arguably his best performance. It is one of the very very few
where his eyebrows were nailed down, anyway. His character is so weary,
so defeated, so human, you're tempted to think he's a Russian or a Jew
or maybe even a Russian Jew. But no, he is a through and through Willie
Loman American. And one we so rarely see on the stage or screen--though
we all know/have known them. They are that vast minority of reasonable,
intelligent, sensitive, fairly strong and honest and wise individuals
who just can't take it or who just don't think it's worth the trouble
having seen too many people taken advantage of or getting their teeth
knocked out. They are sick of what they've seen; they are sick of not
being able to toe the mark--even though they know that those
expectations are unreasonable. Rare stuff, indeed.
BTW, this is NOT a happy movie--fair warning.
Bless you, Bob Rafelson--a brilliant, brilliant film that should rest on the shelf next to Renoir and the very best of the 50's British Angry Young Men cinema.
The King of Marvin Gardens was Bob Rafelson's experiment at doing a
film where the leads are switched around- the actors playing them,
anyway. You rarely get to see Jack Nicholson in the role of the quiet,
observant, and really more intuitive characters in any film, and to see
it in his prime in-between doing films like Carnal Knowledge and The
Last Detail is a revelation. Every once in a while he pulls out a
performance that is attuned to a sensibility that is surprising, even
if the film is not. One of those that worked best was About Schmidt.
But this time in Rafelson's vision, he plays second fiddle to the more
personable, idealistic, talkative, pushy, and far more conflicted
brother played by Bruce Dern. For Dern this is also a somewhat
different role, as he often could play roles with a good deal of dialog
well, though with also a lowered guard. Here he plays a guy with lots
of ideas, and those of which he really wants to impress upon his more
detached but not too unresponsive brother. It's a mix that works,
though it's very understandable why I've only seen it once, and not
only do I not really desire to see it again, it's not too much of a
wonder why its still one of the real underrated films of the 70s.
Keep in mind it's not just the men to see here, but Ellen Burstyn too, in one of her other great parts of her real prime, as she plays Dern's depressed, loopy, over-the-top girlfriend. She has her counterpart too in Julie Anne Robinson. Her character is maybe a little more like Nicholson's, though not really as withdrawn. These are all characters who are estranged, if not from themselves then from each other, and amid the big plans in the (correctly chosen) sights of dreary Atlantic City they're cast against a glow that just poses a kind of nothingness for them. And in the end, when tragedy strikes, it finally comes when the emotional cork gets pulled completely off. And bookending the film are Nicholson's monologues on the airwaves to his listeners, whomever they may be, and they're some of my favorite scenes I still remember from the film. If it's less than really memorable and affecting like the best of 70s subversive cinema, it's because its content in its low-key ways. It's a smart movie that isn't really at the heights of Five Easy Pieces- Rafelson's masterpiece that's also low-key in its way but reaches higher in psychological hang-ups- but it does come as close as anything the director's done since. Most noteworthy is the challenge of reversing the roles for Nicholson and Dern pays off in that independent-film way. Look for Shining co-star Scatman Crothers in some scenes late in the picture.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As many others stated here, this a criminally overlooked artistic
triumph that deserves a larger reputation.
I want to make an observation that I think has passed by almost every reviewer and critic of this film: There is one moment, and one moment only, in the film when there is soundtrack music. This occurs as they ride out of the stadium following their mock "Miss America" pageant. Why do you think this occurs?
My theory: This is the thematic high-point of the film. The highest level of achievement they've managed to make of their dreams. From then on, a harsher reality intrudes on the fantasy. If you follow this, then you begin to see how remarkably constructed the film is as a whole.
It's a masterpiece of form.
Alienation and disconnection -- the uncomfortable mood gripping the
nation would soon degrade into deep malaise and acute paranoia as
America was stunned and traumatized by revelations of the government's
deceptions and lies about the failing war in Viet Nam and then soon
enough the vaudevillian scandal of Watergate. This film strives to
capture the infinitely subtle drama of when innocence isn't so much
lost as it's cynically packaged and sold. Dreams may die hard, but
delusions usually expire with barely an audible whimper, and there was
no more epic delusion expiring at that moment in our history than the
vainglorious belief in the USA's infallibility. God, himself, had
ordained this vast land exceptional and anointed its multitudinous
inhabitants, or so we'd been told.
Like the crumbling, decrepit, musty seaside resort town which plays host to this tragicomic farce, America was not living up to its slogan as the Shining City on the Hill. Atlantic City in the early 70's not only manifested the startling decay of so much of this nation's urban spaces, but also poignantly symbolized the inner decay of our national psyche. And while it's certainly sad and scary to witness the gruesome, slow, writhing death of the Great American Delusion, it's also somehow comforting and reassuring to know that just beneath the still warm corpse germinates tender seedlings incubating the merest wisps of hope for our nation's future. Amidst the emphatically strained and tortured metaphors which comprise this modest cinematic tragedy lurks genuineness and sincerity and psychological resonance. It's an awkward, peculiar little picture story that will haunt your psyche, if you're not already dead, or too delusional.
You can watch this movie without sound, you can watch it in the English
original without understanding a word it is still a great experience.
The actors and their surroundings merge into a whole, which has one
aim: To show the beauty of decay. Atlantic City (in its state in the
early seventies) is shown as a dead end, a city to die in. In The King
of Marvin Garden Rafelson used Atlantic City like Italian director
Luchino Visconti used Venice in some of his movies.
This is one of the very few genuine, serious colour movies I know. It is a delight to see just how much care was taken with the actor's wardrobes, the set design and with the appearance of the sky in each scene. Ellen Burstyn (really one of the great American screen beauties) shines. Of course the should symbolize the beauty of decay. Well, there is more beauty than decay in this case, Burstyn looks gorgeous however hard she tries not to.
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