The film's title refers to an area of Los Angeles where private investigator J.J. Gittes (Nicholson) once served as a police officer. It also suggests the difficulties of finding one's way in unfamiliar territory. Directed by Roman Polanski who received (in absentia) an Academy Award in 2003 for his direction of The Pianist, this film seems to have multiple layers of meaning and apparent meaning. Yes, it is well within the noir tradition but it also seems to reflect so much of the social discord during the decade prior to when it was released (1974) even as it examines Los Angeles during the 1930s, amidst the Great Depression but also a time when so many accumulated vast wealth through sometimes questionable business practices. (If I recall correctly, the number of millionaires in the United States quintupled during the decade following the collapse of the stock market in 1929.) By all accounts, Noah Cross (Huston) is an immensely wealthy and power force within the city's business community. For reasons which are revealed in the film, Gittes finds himself in an adversarial relationship with Cross and has little chance of prevailing against him. Now a private investigator, Gittes is retained by Evelyn Mulwray to follow her husband Hollis whose behavior has raised questions and caused her to be concerned. Gittes' involvement with her leads to his conflicts with Cross, for reasons which neither Gittes nor we understand until much later in the film. Polanksi briefly appears in the film (an Hitchcockian touch) as the Man with a Knife...and he uses it. Throughout much of the movie, neither Gittes nor we know what's happening. Individuals as well as circumstances are not what they appear to be. It's as if Gittes and we are being toyed with...a brilliant strategy on Polanski's part to sustain interest with precise pacing while creating tensions and even conflicts whose nature evades understanding. At one point Cross tells Gittes "You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you don't." He didn't and, at that point, neither did I.
Obviously, this film intrigues me, in part because it frustrates me as I must struggle (as does Gittes) to understand various relationships which may be real or imagined...both by me and by most of those involved. What's with Evelyn Mulwray? What information is she concealing? To what extent (if any) is her husband Hollis involved with Cross? What is her own relationship with Cross? Whom and what does Gittes threaten? Why? (For most of the film, he doesn't know.) I could go on and on about ambiguities. It is paradoxical that so many of its important scenes are bathed by dazzling Southern California sunshine in this prime example of a film noir.
Experiencing older Hollywood films, films made in the era when script, direction, cinematography, lighting, musical scoring and acting became melded together in an intricate but cohesive escapist adventure, is like visiting a fine art museum - masters at work creating a living work of art that time only enhances in respect. Such is the case for Roman Polanski's 1974 film noir CHINATOWN. Robert Towne's brilliant script is the baseline for this fascinatnig story of the Los Angeles … more
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Roman Polanski's brooding film noir exposes the darkest side of the land of sunshine, the Los Angeles of the 1930s, where power is the only currency--and the only real thing worth buying. Jack Nicholson is J.J. Gittes, a private eye in the Chandler mold, who during a routine straying-spouse investigation finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into a jigsaw puzzle of clues and corruption. The glamorous Evelyn Mulwray (a dazzling Faye Dunaway) and her titanic father, Noah Cross (John Huston), are at the black-hole center of this tale of treachery, incest, and political bribery. The crackling, hard-bitten script by Robert Towne won a well-deserved Oscar, and the muted color cinematography makes the goings-on seem both bleak and impossibly vibrant. Polanski himself has a brief, memorable cameo as the thug who tangles with Nicholson's nose. One of the greatest, most completely satisfying crime films of all time.--Anne Hurley