Thursday, July 17, 2014
The King of Marvin Gardens
Directed by Bob Rafelson and screenplay by Jacob Brackman from a story by Rafelson and Jack Nicholson, The King of Marvin Gardens is the story of two estranged brothers who go to Atlantic City for a real-estate scam where things go wrong. The film is an exploration into the world of brothers as one is an extroverted con man and the other is an introverted and depressed radio disc jockey as they reluctantly work together. Starring Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn, and Scatman Crothers. The King of Marvin Gardens is a chilling yet whimsical film from Bob Rafelson.
The film explores the relationship of two different brothers who hadn’t seen each other in two years as the introverted younger radio disc jockey in David Staebler (Jack Nicholson) reluctantly travels to Atlantic City to bail out his older brother Jason (Bruce Dern) who has an idea for a real-estate scam that David unwillingly becomes a part of. Yet, it’s a film that plays into an idea of two brothers who try to create something for themselves but not everything is going great as David is skeptical about what Jason is doing as they’re joined by Jason’s aging beauty queen girlfriend Sally (Ellen Burstyn) and a younger woman in Jessica (Julia Ann Robinson). While all of them have dreams about what they want to do if the scam becomes successful, David tries to remain optimistic as he copes with his own depression as it would play into the fallacies of the American Dream and reality that of what is really happening.
Jacob Brackman’s screenplay doesn’t just explore this unique relationship between brothers but also what they’re trying to do with this scheme that Jason is creating. Especially as Jason wants to break out of his own and live very richly despite years of work and loyalty towards his boss in Lewis (Scatman Crothers). Things eventually complicated as jealousy begins to arise in Jason’s attention towards Jessica making Sally more troubled than she already is as she resents David’s presence though he tries to be nice to her. Yet, David’s skepticism and Sally’s fragile behavior creates a situation that becomes very toxic as Jason seems more eager to succeed though the details of his plan becomes more scarce. David would eventually try to see reason into what is happening as it would lead to a break down in the relationships involving his brother and the women in the scheme.
Bob Rafelson’s direction is truly amazing for the way he captures much of the drama and some of the livelier moments such as Sally’s introduction to David to showcase her beauty queen persona. Yet, the film opens with this very long take of David talking about a story in his radio program where it reveals who he is as this very somber way he tells his story as he prefers to live modestly with his ailing grandfather. Upon his arrival to Atlantic City where it is this lost world where things are still happening but it has lost the sense of prestige where it’s being taken over by crime and corruption. Rafelson brings in something that is improvisational in its direction such as this big scene where Jason, David, Sally, and Jessica are doing a show of their own in an empty theater as Rafelson uses a lot of wide and medium shots for much of the presentation where he also includes a lot of long takes.
Even as the music in the film is presented on location such as Jason and David’s encounter with a marching band that showcases how warm their brotherhood could be. Yet, it wouldn’t last as things do get more dramatic as it involves Sally’s own breakdown as well as revelations about Jason’s own schemes where it would play into the fallacy that is the American Dream. Overall, Rafelson crafts a very engaging and haunting film about two brothers working together in a doomed scam.
Cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs does brilliant work with the film‘s very realistic yet colorful cinematography where he infuses a lot of low-key lights for some of the film‘s nighttime interior/exterior scenes as well as some unique lighting schemes in some of the film‘s more eerie moments. Editor John F. Link II does nice work with the editing as it‘s mostly straightforward in its approach to cutting while using a few rhythmic cuts for its dramatic moments. Art director Toby Carr Rafelson does terrific work with the look of the hotel rooms that the four characters are staying at as well as the abandoned theater where they performed their show. Sound mixer Tom Overton does superb work with the sound from the hollowness of the abandoned theater to some of the craziness that David sees at the hotel involving Jason and the two women.
The casting by Marion Dougherty and Fred Roos is fantastic as it features some notable small roles from Charles Lavine as David and Jason’s grandfather and Scatman Crothers as the elusive yet charming crime boss Lewis. Julia Ann Robinson is wonderful as Jessica as a young woman who dreams of being a beauty queen while becoming more flirtatious as she eventually causes tension with Sally. Ellen Burstyn is great as Sally as this beauty queen who deals with aging as well as Jason’s attention towards Jessica as she starts to have a break down of her own as well as the idea of not being needed anymore. Bruce Dern is excellent as Jason Staebler as this determined con man who is full of charm and exuberance as he is eager to succeed with his scam yet is oblivious into how he will execute these plans. Finally, there’s Jack Nicholson in an incredible performance as David Staebler as this nerdy and introverted radio disc jockey who reluctantly takes part in his brother’s scam while dealing with his own issues as he tries to smooth things out in terms of business as he becomes aware of the chaos that is emerging.
The King of Marvin Gardens is a phenomenal film from Bob Rafelson. Armed with the top-notch performances of Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, and Ellen Burstyn plus Laszlo Kovacs’ colorful cinematography. The film isn’t just one of Rafelson’s finest films but also one of the key gems of the New Hollywood movement in its exploration of the American Dream. In the end, The King of Marvin Gardens is an extraordinarily rich film from Bob Rafelson.
Bob Rafelson Films: Head - (Five Easy Pieces) - (Stay Hungry) - (The Postman Always Stay Twice (1981 film)) - (Black Widow) - (Mountains on the Moon) - (Man Trouble) - (Blood and Wine) - (Poodle Springs) - (No Good Deed)
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