After their successful collaboration on Five Easy Pieces, director Bob Rafelson and star Jack Nicholson reteamed for this elliptical, strangely affecting 1972 character study; a devoted cult considers it one of the lost Hollywood gems of the early 1970s. It shows on TCM tonight in the morning hours after midnight, at 4 a.m., and it's well worth taping — especially on the heels of another ’70s classic, The Last Picture Show, at 1:45 a.m.
Nicholson, in an uncommonly straight, subdued role, plays a Philadelphia deejay who's drawn into the grandiose schemes of his brother (Bruce Dern), a low-level Atlantic City hustler living among the faded glory and decaying dreams in the landscape of Monopoly. As Dern tries to interest a gangland high-roller (Scatman Crothers) in bankrolling his latest plot, Nicholson finds himself locked into the tragic downward spiral of his brother's fortunes.
As one of Dern's girlfriends, a volatile ex-beauty queen who's going mad, Ellen Burstyn gives a chilling performance that suggests the deranging effects of having Park Place and Miss America within sight but always beyond grasp, while Laszlo Kovacs' brooding cinematography turns Atlantic City's Boardwalk into a boulevard of broken dreams. When the movie's over, you know you've seen something, even if you aren't quite sure what it was. With Julie Anne Robinson, Sully Boyar, John P. Ryan, Arnold Williams, and Charles LaVine; the script was cowritten by Jacob Brackman, who went on to write the early-'80s punk artifact Times Square (and who discusses the movie in the clip above).