The King of Marvin Gardens

(Bob Rafelson, USA, 1972)


The King of Marvin Gardens was director Bob Rafelson's follow-up to the hugely successful Five Easy Pieces (1970) – also starring Jack Nicholson – and its uncompromising aura of dread and strangeness set the tone for the rest of his underrated career.

It is a largely plotless film, centring on the encounter between Nicholson (acting completely beyond type as a repressed, intellectual, late-night-radio monologist) and his brother, a small-time entrepreneur played with neurotic charm by Bruce Dern.

Around them gathers a queer assortment of losers, criminals and desperados, all clinging to an impossible, all-American dream of success and escape.

Rafelson's chiselled directorial style is slow and minimal, concentrating on odd details and the minutiae of enigmatic personal interactions. He coaxes uniformly marvellous performances from the cast. Nicholson has never been better – and his opening monologue, with its chilling and hilarious pay-off, is one of the great scenes of '70s cinema.

MORE Rafelson: Blood and Wine, Black Widow

© Adrian Martin December 1993

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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