Chinatown (film)

Chinatown (film)

Infobox Film
name = Chinatown

image_size = 215px
caption = poster by Richard Amsel
writer = Robert Towne
starring = Jack Nicholson
Faye Dunaway
John Huston
director = Roman Polanski
producer = Robert Evans
music = Jerry Goldsmith
cinematography = John A. Alonzo
editing = Sam O'Steen
distributor = Paramount Pictures
released = 20 June fy|1974 "(US)"
runtime = 131 minutes
country = FilmUS
language = English
budget = $6,000,000 US "(est.)"
gross =
followed_by = "The Two Jakes"
imdb_id = 0071315

"Chinatown" is a fy|1974 American neo-noir film, directed by Roman Polanski. The film features many elements of the film noir genre, particularly a multi-layered story that is part mystery and part psychological drama. It stars Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston. Also appearing in the film are John Hillerman, Diane Ladd, Perry Lopez, James Hong, Joe Mantell, Bruce Glover, Burt Young, and Noble Willingham.

The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning in the category of Best Original Screenplay for Robert Towne. In 1991, "Chinatown" was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

A sequel, called "The Two Jakes", was released in fy|1990, starring Jack Nicholson (who also directed it), with a screenplay written by Robert Towne.


A Los Angeles private investigator named Jake "J.J." Gittes (Nicholson) is hired to spy on Hollis Mulwray, the chief engineer for the city's water department. The woman hiring Gittes claims to be Evelyn Mulwray, Hollis' wife. Mulwray spends most of his time investigating dry riverbeds and drainage outlets. Mr. Mulwray also has a heated argument in public with an elderly man. Gittes finally catches Mulwray during an outing with a young blonde and photographs the pair, which becomes a scandal in the press. After the story is published, Gittes learns that the woman who hired him was not the real Evelyn Mulwray.

Clues suggest a scandal in the city government: Despite a serious drought and an expensive proposal to build a new dam (a plan Mulwray vehemently opposes), the Water and Power department is dumping fresh water into the ocean at night.

On a tip, Gittes seeks out Mulwray at a reservoir but finds the police there instead, investigating Hollis Mulwray's death from drowning. When the police speak to Mrs. Mulwray about the death, they assume she hired Gittes, which Gittes corroborates. She thanks him and hires him to investigate what happened to her husband.

Later that night, while breaking into the reservoir's secured area, Gittes is confronted by water department security, Claude Mulvihill and a short thug (a cameo by Polanski), who slashes Jake's nose for being a "very nosy fella." Gittes receives a call from Ida Sessions, the woman who was hired to pretend to be Mrs. Mulwray, who suggests that Gittes look at that day's obituary column. At the water department, Gittes notices photographs of the elderly man Mulwray quarreled with, Noah Cross (Huston), a few days before his death. Cross, who is Evelyn Mulwray's father, used to own the water department as Mulwray's business partner. Cross ended his association with the department when the partners sold it to the city.

Cross hires Gittes to find the blonde girl Hollis had been seeing, saying that she might know what happened to him. Acting on a hint from Sessions, Gittes begins to unravel an intricate water scandal. Cross and his partners have been forcing farmers out of their land so they can buy it cheap, after which a newly-built (and controversial) dam and water system would start redirecting much of L.A.'s water supply to that land, dramatically increasing its value. Since Cross wants no record of such transactions, he has partnered with a retirement home community in such a way that many of the eldest residents within (one of whom is mentioned in the obituary column) would legally, but unknowingly, own the land.

Back at Evelyn's house, Gittes and Evelyn share a romantic interlude. As they lie in bed afterward, the phone rings. Evelyn has a cryptic conversation with someone, then informs Jake that she has to leave for a little while. She gravely asks him to trust her. Gittes follows Evelyn to a middle-class house and sees Mulwray's girlfriend crying. Evelyn claims this is her sister, who was crying because she had just learned about Hollis' death. Later that night, Sessions is murdered. Police Lt. Escobar points out that the coroner's report proves that salt water was found in Mulwray's lungs even though the body was found in a freshwater reservoir.

Gittes returns to Evelyn's mansion, where he discovers a pair of eyeglasses in a garden saltwater pond. Gittes confronts Evelyn, who reveals that the blonde girl, Katherine, is both her sister "and" her daughter; Gittes asks Evelyn if her father raped her and she shakes her head no. It remains unclear whether the act was consensual or not; Evelyn's father later hints that it was indeed a consensual incestuous relationship by saying: "Most people never have to face the fact that, at the right time and the right place, they're capable of anything". It is apparent also that Evelyn resents her father for taking advantage of her in a relationship considered unnatural. Gittes then chooses to help Evelyn escape. Evelyn remembers that the eyeglasses could not have been her husband's because they are bifocals. Gittes arranges for the two women to flee to Mexico and instructs Evelyn to meet him at her butler's address in Chinatown.

Evelyn leaves, and Lt. Escobar arrives, who drives Jake to his friend Curly's house, under the pretext that Evelyn is hiding at the maid's house. Jake gives the police the slip and asks Curly to drive the women to Mexico.

Gittes confronts Cross with the accusation of murder and the glasses. Mulvihill takes away the eyeglasses that are the only physical evidence. Cross forces Gittes to take him to the girl. When Gittes arrives at Evelyn's hiding place in Chinatown, the police are already there and arrest Gittes.

When Cross approaches Katherine, demanding custody of her, Evelyn pushes him back, shoots him in the arm and starts her car. As Evelyn is driving away, the police open fire and Evelyn is shot and killed. Cross clutches Katherine, taking her out of the car, as a devastated Gittes is comforted by his associates, who urge him to walk away: "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."

The plot is based in part on real events that formed the California Water Wars, in which William Mulholland acted on behalf of Los Angeles interests to secure water rights in the Owens Valley.



In 1971, producer Robert Evans originally offered Towne $175,000 to write a screenplay for "The Great Gatsby" (1974), but Towne felt he couldn't better the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Instead, Towne asked for $25,000 from Evans to write his own story, "Chinatown", which Evans agreed to.* Thomson, David (2005). "The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood". ISBN 0375400168] cite video
people = Robert Towne, Roman Polanksi and Robert Evans
date2 = 2007-11-04
title = Retrospective interview from Chinatown (Special Collector's Edition)
medium = DVD
publisher = Paramount
id = ASIN|B000UAE7RW

"Chinatown" was set in the 1930s and portrays water department corruption. It was the first part of a planned trilogy written by Robert Towne about the character J.J. Gittes and Los Angeles government. The second part, "The Two Jakes", was about the natural gas department in Los Angeles in the 1940s. It was directed by Jack Nicholson and released in 1990, however, the second film's commercial and critical failure scuttled plans to make "Cloverleaf", a film about the development of the Los Angeles freeway system in the late 1940s.


The characters Hollis Mulwray and Noah Cross are both references to the chief engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, William Mulholland (1855-1935) — the name Hollis Mulwray is partially an anagram for Mulholland. The name Noah is a reference to a flood — to suggest the conflict between good and evil in Mulholland. Mulholland was the designer and engineer for the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which brought water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles. The dam Cross and the city want to build is opposed by Mulwray for reasons of engineering and safety. Mulwray says he will not make the same mistake as when he built a previous dam, which broke resulting in the deaths of hundreds. This is a direct reference to the St. Francis Dam disaster. The dam was personally inspected by Mulholland himself before it catastrophically failed the next morning on March 12, 1928. More than 450 people, many of them school children died that day and the town of Santa Paula was buried* Reisner, Marc (1986). "Cadillac Desert". ISBN 0670199273] . The incident effectively ended Mulholland's career and he died in 1935.


Robert Towne says he took the title, and the famous exchange, "What did you do in Chinatown?" / "As little as possible", from a Hungarian vice cop who had worked in Chinatown. The cop explained to Towne that due to the complicated array of dialects and gangs in Los Angeles's Chinatown, it was impossible for police to know whether they were helping victims or being used by criminals while intervening in Chinatown affairs, so police decided the best course of action was to do as little as possible.

Polanski found out about the script through Nicholson, with whom he had been planning to make a film once they found the right story. Producer Robert Evans wanted Polanski to direct as well, because he desired a European vision of America. Polanski, just a few years removed from the murder of his wife in Los Angeles, was initially reluctant to return to America to film in that particular city, but was persuaded to accept the project based on the strength of the script.

Towne wrote the screenplay with Nicholson in mind. He intended the screenplay to have a happy ending with Cross dying and Evelyn Mulwray surviving. Towne and Polanski argued over it, with Polanski insisting on a tragic end. The two parted ways due to the dispute and Polanski wrote the final scene just a few days before it was shot.

The original script was over 180 pages. Roman Polanski eliminated Gittes' voiceover narration, which was written in the script, and filmed the movie so the audience discovered the clues at the same time Gittes did.

Polanski originally offered the cinematographer position to William A. Fraker, Paramount agreed and Fraker accepted. Paramount had previously hired Fraker to shoot for Polanksi on "Rosemary's Baby". When Robert Evans became aware of the hire he insisted the offer be rescinded. Evans, who had also produced "Rosemary's Baby," felt pairing Polanski and Fraker yielded a team with too much power on one side, and would thus complicate the production.


Polanski appears in a cameo as the gangster who cuts Gittes' nose. The effect was accomplished with a special knife, which could have actually cut Nicholson's nose if Polanski had not held it correctly. In keeping with the tradition Polanski credits to Raymond Chandler, all of the events of the film are seen subjectively through Gittes' eyes, for example, when Gittes is knocked unconscious, the film fades to black and then fades back in when he awakens. Gittes appears in every scene of the film.


Polanski was outraged when producer Robert Evans ordered the film lab to give "Chinatown" a reddish look.Fact|date=April 2008 Polanski demanded that the film be corrected.


Phillip Lambro was originally hired to write the film's music score, but it was rejected at the last minute by producer Robert Evans, leaving Jerry Goldsmith only 10 days to write and record a new one. Parts of the original Lambro score can be heared in the original trailer for the movie. The haunting trumpet solos are by the Hollywood studio musician Uan Rasey. Goldsmith received an Academy Award nomination for his efforts.


Evans says that the film cemented Nicholson, then a rising star, as one of Hollywood's top leading men.

This was the last movie Roman Polanski filmed in the U.S., after he was arrested and convicted of statutory rape.

Because "Chinatown" was planned as the first film in a trilogy, Nicholson turned down all detective roles he was offered so that the only detective he played would be Jake Gittes.Fact|date=February 2007.


J.J. Gittes was named after Nicholson's friend, producer Harry Gittes.

Evelyn Mulwray is, according to the screenwriter Towne, intended to initially seem to be the classic "black widow" character typical of lead female characters in film noir, yet is eventually revealed to be the only selfless character in the film. Jane Fonda was strongly considered for the role, but Polanski pushed for Dunaway.

Noah Cross. Towne says that Huston was, after Nicholson, the second best cast actor in the film, and that he made the Cross character evil through his charming and courtly performance.


Academy Awards - 1974

*Best Original Screenplay - Robert TowneNominations:
*Best Picture - Robert Evans
*Best Director - Roman Polanski
*Best Actor - Jack Nicholson
*Best Actress - Faye Dunaway
*Best Film Editing - Sam O'Steen
*Best Art Direction - Richard Sylbert, W. Stewart Campbell, Ruby Levitt
*Best Costume Design - Anthea Sylbert
*Best Cinematography - John A. Alonzo
*Best Sound Mixing - Bud Grenzbach, Larry Jost
*Best Music Score - Jerry Goldsmith

Golden Globes - 1974

*Best Motion Picture - Drama - Robert Evans
*Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama - Jack Nicholson
*Best Director - Roman Polanski
*Best Screenplay - Robert TowneNominations
*Actor In A Supporting Role - John Huston
*Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama - Faye Dunaway
*Best Original Score - Jerry Goldsmith

Other awards

*1975 BAFTA, Best Actor (Nicholson), Best Direction, Best Screenplay (male)
*1975 Edgar Award, Best Motion Picture Screenplay - Robert Towne
*1991 National Film Registry

American Film Institute recognition

*1998 - AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies - #19
*2001 - AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills - #16
*2003 - AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains:
** Noah Cross - Villain #16
*2005 - AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes:
** "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown." - #74
*2005 - AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores - #9
*2007 - AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) - #21
*2008 - AFI's 10 Top 10 - #2 mystery film




* Easton, Michael (1998) "Chinatown" ("B.F.I. Film Classics" series). Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0-85170-532-4.
* Borgnine, Ernest(1997). "Chinatown and the Last Detail: 2 Screenplays". New York: Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-3401-7.
* Tuska, Jon (1978). "The Detective in Hollywood". Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company. ISBN 0-385-12093-1.
* Thomson, David (2004). "The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood". New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-40016-8.

External links

* [ Tim Dirks' analysis of "Chinatown", one of "The Greatest Films"]
* [ Roger Ebert's complete review of "Chinatown"]
* [ - conversation with sceenwriter Robert Towne]
* [ Film Noir of the Week commentary]
* [ Literature]

###@@@KEY@@@###succession box
before = "The Exorcist"
after = "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"
title = Golden Globe for Best Picture - Drama
years = 1975|

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