Friday, January 28, 2011


(June 1974, U.S.)

In the Summer of 1990, I made one of the worst movie mistakes I am ever likely to make in my entire life - I went to see THE TWO JAKES (the sequel) without ever having seen CHINATOWN first (shame on me!)! Thing of it was, though, I had seen BATMAN three times during the previous year, so I was ready, willing and eager to see anything that Jack Nicholson would do next. A noble gesture, to be sure, but the outcome was more than predictable in that I had no idea what the fuck was going on with the film. You simply can't appreciate "B" if you haven't experienced "A" yet.

Thankfully, I learned my lesson. Not only have I not made that mistake again, but I have experienced CHINATOWN as not only a great American neo-noir film, but one of my top ten favorite films of the 1970s. Jack Nicholson as 1937 Los Angeles private investigator J.J. "Jake" Gittes plays the part with great homage that would do the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum very proud. But this is also a 1970's release, so his character (as well as the entire structure of the film) has that harder edge and energy that would seem appropriate of the time. The case he's hired to investigate starts out presumably as a simple matter of mere maritial infidelity, but eventually turns more complex as he uncovers murder, governmental corruption in the Department of Power & Water and even a case of incest. Of course, a film noir story such as this would not be completely justified if the detective did not inevitably fall for the femme fatale (played by Faye Dunaway). He does, but like many cases as this, the love they share is ultimately doomed, probably right from the start. We not only learn that Mrs. Mulwray was molested by her father, the most powerful man in Los Angeles, but also conceived a child as a result. The child in question actually turns out to be the heaviest secret revealed on top of all else that we learn along the way. As with many other noir detective stories before it, the femme fatale pays the price in the end. In this case, Mrs. Mulwray is shot in the back of the head while trying to escape with her daughter/sister. Look quickly for the large bullet hole that has blown her entire eye away. Chilling!

CHINATOWN was the last film that director Roman Polanski made before fleeing the United States in 1977 so as not to face the legal consequences of being accused of unlawful sex with a minor. Whether he deserves to suffer now, more than 30 years later, is a matter of public opinion. But one cannot deny the legacy of some great films he's given us (so far).

Favorite line or dialogue:

Jake Gittes: "Okay, go home. But in case you're interested, your husband was murdered. Somebody's been dumping thousands of tons of water from the city's reservoirs and we're supposed to be in the middle of a drought. He found out about it and he was killed. There's a water-logged drunk in the morgue. Involuntary manslaughter, if anybody wants to take the trouble, which they don't. It seems like half the city is trying to cover it all up, which is fine by me. But Mrs. Mulwray, I goddamn near lost my nose, and I like it! I like breathing through it! And I still think that you're hiding something."

1 comment:

  1. The Best Screenplay ever written. The Two Jakes is beautiful to look at, and there is a story there but you are right to say you need Chinatown first. It is not half as good as Chinatown, but it is twice as good as a lot of films that came out that year.