The King of Marvin Gardens

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The King of Marvin Gardens
File:Marvin gardens moviep.jpg
Directed by Bob Rafelson
Produced by Steve Blauner,
Bob Rafelson,
Harold Schneider
Written by Jacob Brackman
Bob Rafelson
Starring Jack Nicholson
Bruce Dern
Ellen Burstyn
Cinematography László Kovács
Edited by John F. Link
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • October 12, 1972 (1972-10-12)
Running time
103 min.
Country United States
Language English

The King of Marvin Gardens is a 1972 American drama film. It stars Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn and Scatman Crothers. It is one of several collaborations between Nicholson and director Bob Rafelson. The majority of the film is set in a wintry Atlantic City, New Jersey, with cinematography by László Kovács.

The title alludes to the Marven Gardens in Margate, New Jersey as well as to one of the properties in the original Monopoly game.[1]


David (Jack Nicholson) and Jason (Bruce Dern) are estranged siblings, the former a depressive late-night radio talk show host, the latter an extrovert con man. When Jason drags his younger brother and his own bitter aging beauty-queen squeeze, Sally (Ellen Burstyn), to a dreary Atlantic City and into a real-estate scam, events spiral toward tragedy.

The skeptical David has no faith in Jason's scam, and Jason chides David for wallowing in his dark, lonely depressed life. Eventually, Sally becomes disgruntled and shoots Jason, and David escorts his brother's corpse home to Philadelphia by train.


Notable imagery

The film has several surreal scenes including conversation on horseback between David and Jason, and a simulated Miss America Pageant. The latter scene was filmed in the empty Atlantic City Convention Hall (now called Boardwalk Hall), which was at the time of its 1929 construction the largest clear-span covered space in the world. During the scene, Ellen Burstyn is shown playing the hall's historic pipe organ, which is the world's largest organ and reputedly the largest and loudest musical instrument ever built.[2]


The King of Marvin Gardens was shot almost entirely on location in Atlantic City in the winter months of 1972. It is therefore of considerable historical significance as a visual record of the very last days of the city's "classic era" resort architecture. Many of the grand hotels shown in the film's exterior scenes were demolished during the next few years to make way for the new generation of casino-hotels that were built after the legalization of gambling. Filming took place only months before the vast Traymore Hotel was explosively demolished in April 1972, and the movie's main location, the opulent Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel was demolished in 1978 to make way for Bally's Atlantic City.

The title of the film (which was originally to be called The Philosopher King) is an ironic reference to the original version of the board game Monopoly, in which the main properties were named after locations in Atlantic City. This reference was also reflected in the film's original poster art.

The film was one of several collaborations between Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, which included the Monkees film Head (1968) and Five Easy Pieces (1970), which established both men as major figures in Hollywood. Dern and Nicholson had previously worked together in Psych-Out (1968) and Rebel Rousers (1970). Nicholson and Scatman Crothers subsequently co-starred in Miloš Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980). Co-star Ellen Burstyn had previously worked in the TV series Gunsmoke, in which Dern had also appeared, would soon achieve worldwide fame with her starring role in William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973)

The film was one of the few screen appearances made by Julia Anne Robinson (Jessica), who died in an apartment fire in Eugene, Oregon in 1975, aged 24.[3][4]

See also


  1. Combs, Richard (1973) "The King of Marvin Gardens", Monthly Film Bulletin, 1973, p. 193
  2. Boardwalk Hall - Pipe Organs
  3. Le Fanu, Mark (November 27, 2010). "The King of Marvin Gardens: A Killing=work=The Criterion Collection". Retrieved March 1, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Mack, Don (April 1, 1975). "Apartment fire kills Eugene actress". Eugene Register Guard. Retrieved November 16, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links