A broad walk along the boardwalk THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS
Club, IFI, Dublin, 103 min been made between 1969 and 1974. The loose-limbed plotting and taste for showy decadence summon up the era as accurately as do bellbottoms and the Banana Splits. None of which is to suggest that it’s not worth disinterring. The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) is less shapely and more obscure in its moral purpose than Five Easy Pieces, but its funky energies still catch the eye.
The film begins with a famous sequence in which Jack Nicholson, playing a radio host, speaks sombrely about his grandfather to his patient listeners. Later, he is lured to Atlantic City, where his brother (Bruce Dern) is attempting to set up some sort of real estate deal. The brothers rub up against Scatman Crothers’s hoodlum and engage with a characteristically crackers Ellen Burstyn.
The film doesn’t really have anything you could call a plot, but its determination to improvise around every available theme creates a very engaging class of cinematic jazz. Play attention and you will note the nods towards Atlantic City’s reputation as the place where Monopoly was invented. Jason goes to jail. There are attempts to buy a hotel.
You could argue that Atlantic City is the most significant character in the film. At this stage the town has a shabby grace before it embraced the Disney understanding of a gaming resort. Just a glance brings one back to the fag-end of the Nixon era. It’s film as time machine, and very charming it is too.
Counter-cultural: Jack Nicholson reunited with Five Easy Pieces director Bob Rafelson for The King of Marvin Gardens Directed by Bob Rafelson. Starring Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Scatman Crothers