‘The King of Marvin Gardens’ was one of the last movies filmed in pre-casino Atlantic City. A new box set includes two documentaries on the classic Jack Nicholson film.
Artistic inspiration can be found in the most unexpected places.
For the 1972 film The King of Marvin Gardens, screenwriter Jacob Brackman reached back to his childhood memories of living in Atlantic City between 1948 and 1953.
“Atlantic City becomes a character in the film,” said Brackman, who revisited the city in 1971 to conduct additional research.
Directed by Oscar nominee Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces), the downbeat drama starred future Oscar winners Jack Nicholson and Ellen Burstyn and future Oscar nominee Bruce Dern. Nicholson and Dern play brothers with contrasting temperaments.
Dern portrays Jason Staebler, a con man and schemer, who persuades his brother, David, an intellectually withdrawn disc jockey, to come to Atlantic City, telling him, “Get your ass down here. Our kingdom has come.”
Dern’s character dreams of building a resort on a Pacific Ocean island and enlists his brother in the effort. The decision sets the plot in motion with a twist that will forever alter all the characters.
The post-Labor Day Atlantic City — the movie was filmed there and in Ventnor, Margate and Philadelphia between October 1971 and January 1972 — provides a rich backdrop for the film as the sunny optimism of summer gives way to the bleak reality of fall.
“Atlantic City in the offseason was slightly seedy and had a certain charm,” explained Brackman, a songwriting collaborator with Carly Simon (“That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” and “Haven’t Got The Time For The Pain”).
“My aunt was a shill who used to dress up like a tourist and bid up the price at a Boardwalk auction,” he added. Brackman wove that piece of family history into one of the movie’s scenes on the Boardwalk, involving the audition of auctioneers by the Staeblers.
References to Monopoly are featured in the script. Dern’s character is introduced in the script while in the city jail and is struggling to repay his debts to Lewis, a loan shark portrayed by Scatman Crothers.
“It’s Monopoly out there,” Jason Staebler tells his sibling. Staebler seeks to build a hotel, one of the goals of the board game.
Movies can offer a window on the past, a look at the way we were. That’s the case of The Money, later renamed Atlantic City Jackpot, a 1976 independent film partially shot in the city and Atlantic County four years before the first casino opened.
Three Little Girls in Blue (1946) was partially filmed in Atlantic City and featured the song “On the Boardwalk (in Atlantic City).” The 1944 movie Atlantic City is a musical about how it became a famous resort, and in Citizen Kane (1941), there is a flashback set in Atlantic City.
Unlike most people, Dan Fogel had already found his life's calling by the time he was 10 years old. Routinely sneaking out of the second-floor bedroom window of his parent's colonial house in Margate...
To clear the decks, Parker Brothers bought Lizzie’s two patents (for the proverbial song) and the rights to Layman’s Finance. Forever after, the game would be all about gaining wealth by trampling the competition (albeit with a smile).
For the generation of Absecon Island dwellers who were born from about 1980 on, the notion that there were movie theaters on the island must seem quaint.
Atlantic City has been the main setting — or shown up at some point — in numerous movies over the years. Three Little Girls in Blue, starring June Haver and George Montgomery, was partially filmed in Atlantic City and featured the song “On the Boardwalk (in Atlantic City).” The 1944 movie Atlantic City is a musical about how it became a famous resort, and in Citizen Kane, the motion picture that has most often been called the greatest film ever made, there is a flashback set in Atlantic City. With this special issue being devoted to the 35th anniversary of Atlantic City...
Located about two miles south of Atlantic City, the small development of Marven Gardens is known throughout the world thanks to the original Monopoly game and a movie starring Jack Nicholson, Bruce D...
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