Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston
Director: Roman Polanski
Distributor: Paramount Golden Classics
Extras: Retrospective interviews with Polanski, producer Robert Evans and writer Robert Towne.
In book after book on the craft of screen writing Robert Towne’s Chinatown is cited as a near perfect example of a film script. The complex plot unfolds scene by gripping scene with details revealed before the eyes of both the viewer and the ‘nosey’ private detective simultaneously. Similarly, Jack Nicholson gives a flawless performance as the central character, Jake Gittes, the cynical Dick specialising in matrimonial deception. When a broad going by the name of Evelyn Mulwray gets him on the case of her hubby, a man who also happens to be L.A’s Chief Engineer of Water and Power, Gittes gets embroiled in a cauldron of secrets, lies and money hungry crooks. He also falls into the employ of the real Mrs Mulwray, played by the ravishing Faye Dunaway who oozes glamour from every pore, especially behind her black lace fascinator. In a fabulous bit of casting, veteran director John Houston is Eveyln’s father, Noah Cross, one of the most powerful men in the city.
It was this project that lured director Roman Polanski back to Los Angeles after the savage murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate by the notorious Manson ‘family’, and while the story is set in 1937, he poured everything he was then feeling about L.A. into the film. It was, in his eyes a place of bloodshed and brutality. He even took on a memorable cameo role as the nasty ‘midget’ gangster who famously cuts Gittes nose for sticking it in places is supposedly shouldn’t be. For most of the movie Jake sports a massive bandage over his face, which adds a ludicrous comic touch to the otherwise sinister film.
This is a complex story about the simplest substance – water – and how it was channelled to the City of Angels then diverted to turn the San Fernando Valley into a food bowl. It all comes together in Chinatown, but as the cops say, that’s a place where you can’t always tell what’s going on – a bit like the minds of these characters.