Chinatown (1974 film)

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Chinatown

Theatrical poster by Jim Pearsall
Directed byRoman Polanski
Produced byRobert Evans
Written byRobert Towne
Starring
Music byJerry Goldsmith
CinematographyJohn A. Alonzo
Editing bySam O'Steen
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date(s)
  • June 20, 1974 (1974-06-20)
Running time131 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$6 million[1]
Box office$29,200,000[2]
 
  (Redirected from Jake 'J.J' Gittes)
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Chinatown

Theatrical poster by Jim Pearsall
Directed byRoman Polanski
Produced byRobert Evans
Written byRobert Towne
Starring
Music byJerry Goldsmith
CinematographyJohn A. Alonzo
Editing bySam O'Steen
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date(s)
  • June 20, 1974 (1974-06-20)
Running time131 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$6 million[1]
Box office$29,200,000[2]

Chinatown is a 1974 American neo-noir film, directed by Roman Polanski from a screenplay by Robert Towne and starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston. The film features many elements of the film noir genre, particularly a multi-layered story that is part mystery and part psychological drama. It was released by Paramount Pictures. The story, set in Los Angeles in 1937, was inspired by the California Water Wars, the historical disputes over land and water rights that had raged in southern California during the 1910s and 1920s, in which William Mulholland acted on behalf of Los Angeles interests to secure water rights in the Owens Valley. Chinatown was the last film Roman Polanski made in the United States before fleeing to Europe.

Chinatown has been called one of the greatest films ever made.[3][4][5] It holds second position on the American Film Institute list of Best Mystery Films of all time. Chinatown was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning in the category of Best Original Screenplay for Robert Towne. It also won Golden Globe Awards for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenplay. 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 1990, starring Jack Nicholson, who also directed it, with a screenplay by Robert Towne. The film, however, failed to generate as much acclaim as its predecessor.

Contents

Plot

A woman calling herself Evelyn Mulwray (Ladd) hires private investigator J.J. "Jake" Gittes (Nicholson) to perform matrimonial surveillance on her husband Hollis I. Mulwray (Zwerling), the chief engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Mr. Mulwray is in the public eye due to his opposition to the proposed construction of a new dam, citing grounds of safety. Gittes tails him and photographs Mulwray with a young woman, Katherine Cross (Palmer). The photos hit the front page of the paper the next day, and Gittes is confronted by the real Evelyn Mulwray (Dunaway). Gittes realizes he had been duped, and to repair his reputation, he must figure out who was behind the hiring, and why.

Gittes goes looking for Mr. Mulwray. Eventually, he finds former colleague Lt. Lou Escobar (Lopez) recovering Mulwray's drowned body. He suspects he was murdered and investigates further. He learns that huge quantities of water are being released from the reservoir every night. Breaking into the reservoir, he is confronted by water department security chief Claude Mulvihill (Jenson) with a henchman (Polanski) who slashes Gittes's nose. Back at his office, Gittes receives a call from one Ida Sessions, the bogus Mrs. Mulwray. She does not identify her employer, but provides a clue: the name of one of "those people" is in that day's obituaries.

Gittes learns that Mrs. Mulwray's maiden name was Cross and that her husband was once her father's business partner. Visiting the Department of Water and Power, Gittes learns his name: Noah Cross (Huston). Gittes joins Noah Cross at his estate for lunch and Cross offers to hire Gittes to find Katherine, who has been missing since Mulwray's death. Gittes visits the hall of records, where he learns that one of the deceased persons in the obituary column had just bought a huge land tract in the orange grove of the northwest San Fernando Valley. He goes there but is caught and beaten by angry landowners. They explain that agents of the water department have been demolishing their water tanks and poisoning their wells.

Gittes reviews the obituary column, noticing that a resident of the Mar Vista Inn, a retirement home, died two weeks earlier, but "bought" acreage in the Valley only one week ago. He deduces that it is a ploy designed not to conserve water for city taxpayers, but to irrigate the rural valley after buying it. Mulwray had presumably realized this, leading to his murder. Evelyn and Gittes bluff their way into the inn and confirm that the real estate deals are done in the name of its residents without their knowledge. After fleeing from Mulvihill and his thugs, they hide at Evelyn's house, where they give in to their mutual attraction and make love. This sours somewhat when Gittes discovers that she has been keeping Katherine hidden from Cross.

Gittes gets a mysterious call from Escobar using Ida Sessions's phone and arriving there, finds Sessions has been murdered. Escobar reveals that the coroner found salt water in Mulwray's lungs, indicating that the body was moved to the freshwater reservoir where it was found. Gittes returns to Evelyn's mansion, where he discovers a pair of men's eyeglasses in her salt water garden pond. Presuming that Evelyn killed Mulwray and that the glasses had been his, Gittes confronts Evelyn about her relationship with Katherine. Gittes slaps her repeatedly until she cries out "She's my sister and my daughter!" and falteringly tells of sexual abuse by her father at age 15. She adds that the eyeglasses are not her husband's: he did not wear bifocals. Gittes decides to help Evelyn and Katherine escape from Escobar, who now suspects Evelyn of Mulwray's murder, with Gittes as accessory after the fact.

Gittes plans for the two women to flee to Mexico through a fisherman client of his, Curly (Young), and instructs Evelyn to meet him at her butler's home in Chinatown. Gittes arranges for Cross to meet him at Mulwray's home. Cross admits he intends to incorporate the Northwest Valley into the City of Los Angeles, then irrigate and develop it. When Gittes produces Cross's bifocals, physical evidence linking him to Mulwray's murder, Mulvihill appears and forces him to surrender the glasses, and to take them to Katherine. When the three reach the hiding place in Chinatown, the police are already there and arrest Gittes for withholding evidence and extortion.

Cross approaches Katherine, saying that he is her "grandfather". Evelyn brandishes a small pistol at Cross, and when he is undeterred she shoots him in the arm. As Evelyn speeds away with Katherine, the police open fire, killing Evelyn. Cross clutches Katherine and takes her away, while Escobar orders Gittes released, along with his associates. One of them urges, "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown!" Jake and his associates walk away as Escobar directs the crowd away from the crime scene.

Cast

Jack Nicholson as J.J."Jake" Gittes, in Chinatown

Production

Background

In 1971, producer Robert Evans originally offered Towne $175,000 to write a screenplay for The Great Gatsby (1974), but Towne felt he could not better the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Instead, Towne asked for $25,000 from Evans to write his own story, Chinatown, to which Evans agreed.[6][7]

Chinatown is set in 1937 and portrays the manipulation of a critical municipal resource — water — by a cadre of shadowy oligarchs. It was the first part of Towne's planned trilogy about the character J.J. Gittes, the foibles of the Los Angeles power structure, and the subjugation of public good by private greed.[8] The second part, The Two Jakes, was about another grab for a natural resource — oil — with a thicker-torsoed Gittes in the 1940s. It was directed by Jack Nicholson and released in 1990, but the second film's commercial and critical failure scuttled plans to make Gittes vs. Gittes,[9] about the third finite resource — land — in Los Angeles, circa 1968.[8]

Origins

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. For reasons of engineering and safety, Mulwray opposes the dam that Cross and the city want to build. 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 before it catastrophically failed the next morning on March 12, 1928. More than 450 people, 42 of them schoolchildren, died that day and the town of Santa Paula was inundated with flood water.[10] The incident effectively ended Mulholland's career and he died in 1935. Margaret Leslie Davis, in her 1993 book Rivers in the Desert: William Mulholland and the Inventing of Los Angeles, says the sexually charged film is a metaphor for the "rape" of the Owens Valley. She notes that it fictionalizes Mulholland into a corrupt and sinister character while underplaying the strong public support for Southern California's controversial water projects.

Development

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 the complicated array of dialects and gangs in Los Angeles's Chinatown made it impossible for the police to know whether their interventions in Chinatown were helping victims or furthering their exploitation. As a consequence, the police decided the best course of action was to do as little as possible.[7]

Polanski found out about the script through Nicholson, with whom he had been planning to make a film once they found the right property. Producer Robert Evans wanted Polanski to direct as well, because he wanted a European vision of the United States, which he thought would be darker and more cynical. Polanski, just a few years removed from the murder of his wife in Los Angeles, was initially reluctant to return, but was persuaded to accept the project based on the strength of the script.[7]

Towne wrote the screenplay with Nicholson in mind.[7] Evans, the producer, intended the screenplay to have a happy ending with Cross dying and Evelyn Mulwray surviving. Evans and Polanski argued over it, with Polanski insisting on a tragic end. "I knew that if Chinatown was to be special," Polanski said, "not just another thriller where the good guys triumph in the final reel, Evelyn had to die."[11] Evans and Polanski parted ways due to the dispute and Polanski wrote the final scene just a few days before it was shot.[7]

The original script was over 180 pages. Polanski eliminated Gittes' voiceover narration, which was written in the script, and structured 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 Polanski on Rosemary's Baby. When Robert Evans became aware of the hiring he insisted the offer be rescinded. Evans, who had also produced Rosemary's Baby, felt pairing Polanski and Fraker created a team with too much power on one side, and would thus complicate the production.

Characters and casting

Filming

Polanski appears in a cameo as the gangster who cuts Gittes' nose. The effect was accomplished with a special knife which indeed could have 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's 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.[7]

The scene at the Noah Cross estate was filmed on Catalina Island, California.

Soundtrack

Chinatown
Film score by Jerry Goldsmith
Released1995
GenreJazz, soundtrack
LabelVarèse Sarabande

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 ten days to write and record a new one. Parts of the original Lambro score can be heard in the original trailer for the movie. The haunting trumpet solos were performed by Hollywood studio musician and MGM first trumpet Uan Rasey. The soundtrack was released through Varèse Sarabande on 7 November 1995 and features twelve tracks of score at a running time just over thirty minutes.

  1. "Love Theme from Chinatown (Main Title)"
  2. "Noah Cross"
  3. "Easy Living"
  4. "Jake and Evelyn"
  5. "I Can't Get Started"
  6. "The Last of Ida"
  7. "The Captive"
  8. "The Boy on a Horse"
  9. "The Way You Look Tonight"
  10. "The Wrong Clue"
  11. "J.J. Gittes"
  12. "Love Theme From Chinatown (End Title)"

Goldsmith received an Academy Award nomination for his efforts though he lost to Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola for The Godfather Part II. Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal[12] published an article on July 11, 2009 praising Jerry Goldsmith's music for the film, crediting its success to the revised score. The soundtrack to Chinatown is often regarded as one of the greatest scores of all time and ranks in ninth place on the American Film Institute's top 25 American film scores.[13] Filmmaker David Lynch cites Chinatown as his favorite film score of all time.[14]

Legacy

Evans says that the film cemented Jack Nicholson, then a rising star, as one of Hollywood's top leading men.[7]

Robert Towne's screenplay for the film has become legendary among critics and filmmakers, often celebrated as one of the best ever written.[8][15][16] However, it was Roman Polanski who decided about filming the fatal final scene, changing Towne's idea of a happy ending.

Chinatown brought more public awareness to the land dealings and disputes over water rights which arose while drawing Los Angeles' water supply from the Owens Valley in the 1930s.[17]

The film holds a 100% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes with 50 reviews.[18] Metacritic assigned a rating of 86/100 based on 10 critic reviews.[19]

Awards and honors

Academy Awards – 1974

The film won one Academy Award and was nominated in a further ten categories:[20][21]

Wins
Nominations

Golden Globes – 1974

Wins
Nominations

Other awards

American Film Institute recognition

References

  1. ^ "Chinatown, Box Office and Business". IMDb. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071315/business. Retrieved January 17, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Chinatown, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=chinatown.htm. Retrieved January 17, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Pulver, Andrew (2010-10-22). "Chinatown: the best film of all time". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/oct/22/best-film-ever-chinatown-season. 
  4. ^ 100 Greatest Films
  5. ^ "Greatest film ever: Chinatown wins by a nose". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2010-10-24. http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/greatest-film-ever-chinatown-wins-by-a-nose-20101023-16yk6.html. 
  6. ^ * Thomson, David (2005). The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood. ISBN 0-375-40016-8
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Robert Towne, Roman Polanksi and Robert Evans (2007-11-04). Retrospective interview from Chinatown (Special Collector's Edition) (DVD). Paramount. ASIN B000UAE7RW. 
  8. ^ a b c The Hollywood Interview. "Robert Towne: The Hollywood Interview". http://thehollywoodinterview.blogspot.com/2009/10/robert-towne-hollywood-interview.html. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  9. ^ "'My sister! My daughter!' and other tales of 'Chinatown' - CNN.com". CNN. 2009-09-29. http://www.cnn.com/2009/SHOWBIZ/Movies/09/29/chinatown.towne.movie/index.html. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  10. ^ * Reisner, Marc (1986). Cadillac Desert. ISBN 0-670-19927-3
  11. ^ "Chinatown". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
  12. ^ "Log In". The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/services/article/SB10001424052970204261704574274152752739772-search.html?KEYWORDS=chinatown&COLLECTION=wsjie/6month. 
  13. ^ AFI's 100 YEARS OF FILM SCORES at the American Film Institute. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
  14. ^ "David Lynch tweets". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/twitter/list/lynchqa?page=9. 
  15. ^ Writers Guild of America, West. "101 Greatest Screenplays". http://www.wga.org/subpage_newsevents.aspx?id=1807. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  16. ^ Writers Store. "Chinatown & The Last Detail: 2 Screenplays". http://www.writersstore.com/product.php?products_id=134. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  17. ^ hooover.org, Chinatown Revisited, 30 April 2005, retrieved 24 November 2010
  18. ^ "Chinatown". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/chinatown/. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  19. ^ "Chinatown Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More". Metacritic. 1974-06-20. http://www.metacritic.com/movie/chinatown. Retrieved 2012-07-20. 
  20. ^ "The 47th Academy Awards (1975) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/legacy/ceremony/47th-winners.html. Retrieved 2011-10-02. 
  21. ^ "NY Times: Chinatown". NY Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/9362/Chinatown/awards. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 

Bibliography