Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The King of Marvin Gardens


This is the movie that Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson made right after Five Easy Pieces, while they were both hot. Rafelson was never this hot again. It’s a quirky little film, shot almost entirely in Atlantic City in the winter, before the town was infected with casinos. The boardwalk is almost deserted in every shot, unlike it was the one time I visited, in about 1964, when it was swarming with people and a lot of fun, in spite of looking about as rundown as it does here. It’s one of the chief pleasures of seeing the film, seeing the city like that, because I wasn’t all that taken with the story. Jack is uncharacteristically subdued as the quieter brother of Bruce Dern, who is as flamboyantly loud as always. His face is always registering either manic glee or deep suspicion. How does he manage that? Is he like that in real life, I wonder? Is it just a matter of being typecast? Whatever. He’s a con man whose schemes Jack is pretty tired of, but seems unable to completely resist. From the first words out of his mouth you know he’s a loser, a man who can talk big and never delivers. The guys are accompanied by Ellen Burstyn as a faded beauty queen (all three of these people looking so, so young!), and Julia Ann Robinson, her stepdaughter, an actress who is damn good and either gave up acting or Hollywood gave up on her, because she made only this one picture. [She died in Eugene, Oregon in 1975]. The ending surprised me considerably, there was really no warning at all, so I can’t say anything about it. It was a stunner, but not really enough reason to watch this.