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The King of Marvin Gardens

With a wondrously subtle performance by Jack Nicholson, Bob Rafelson’s third feature remains a highpoint of Hollywood’s golden ’70s.

USA 1972
Directed by Bob Rafelson
With Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Julia Anne Robinson
Running time 104 min
Digital
15
Courtesy of Park Circus Films

Like his earlier Five Easy Pieces, Bob Rafelson’s third feature remains a highpoint of Hollywood’s golden ’70s. And it too centres on a wondrously subtle performance by Jack Nicholson.

Nicholson plays David Staebler, a retiring type getting by in Philly by relating wry confessional stories over the radio, until he’s suddenly summoned to Atlantic City by his younger brother Jason (Bruce Dern, all gloriously ratty panache). It’s not just that Jason needs to get out of jail; he wants a partner for his get-rich-quick scheme in Hawaii. So David lingers on, with Jason, his ragdoll lover (Ellen Burstyn) and her spaced-out stepdaughter, in the fading, maybe dangerous grandeur of a resort whose streets once inspired the Monopoly board...

Rafelson’s witty, compassionate study of a sibling relationship awkwardly rooted in childhood dreams and adult rivalries is as rich, resonant and unpredictable as a good novel; from its superb opening soliloquy to a quietly affecting coda, the film grips like a vice. Lent terrific support by Julia Anne Robinson, Scatman Crothers and John Ryan, the three leads are magnificent, while László Kovács’ camerawork is marvellously evocative of life on, above and under the boardwalk. A killer movie.

Geoff Andrew


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