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CHINATOWN (1974)

Engaged by a mysterious femme fatale (Dunaway) to spy on L.A. Dept. of Water and Power Chief Engineer Hollis Mulwray, private eye J.J. Gittes (Nicholson) uncovers an intricate power struggle and more skullduggery than he bargained for in this acclaimed noir thriller directed by Roman Polanski and written by Robert Towne. When Mulwray ends up dead and Gittes's nose is slashed by shadowy henchmen, the mystery deepens into conspiracy and psychodrama, leading to an emotionally wrenching climax.

The cast includes: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Perry Lopez, John Hillerman, Roy Jenson, James Hong, Burt Young, and Noble Willingham.

#19 on the AFI Top 100.

CHINATOWN was nominated for the Best Picture award. Eleven Oscar nominations; one win (Original Screenplay)

Director Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" is a gripping, disturbing detective crime drama in the Hammett/Chandler tradition. Polanski received a nomination for best directing.

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chinatown-movie

Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" tells the tale of a 1930's private eye, Jake Gittes (Nicholson) hired on a case by a sexy lady, Evalyn Cross Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), to catch her husband, Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling) in an adulterous relationship. Before long he's in well over his head, with danger at every corner, after Hollis is murdered, and he gets involved in investigating the reasons why Hollis' was killed. Things get complicated and dangerous, as he discovers truths about land and water deals, lost children, and an assortment of other dangerous realities, that were hidden for a reason.

Towne's screenplay was awarded the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. While some think the pacing is a little slow, the story is carefully built and developed, containing clues along the way. The twists and turns of his tense, suspenseful and entertaining, classic screenplay makes the audience pay close attention, at the edge of their seats, trying to figure out this disturbing mystery noire film, that is held up as an inspiration for the genre.

"Chinatown" is one of the few films of the modern era to hold to its own worth, or to exceed the classic private eye films of the past like, "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Big Sleep." It's chief benefits are an excellent screenplay, (by Robert Towne), superior, vivid disciplined direction by Roman Polanski, and top flight acting by Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston.

Jack Nicholson is superb as a 1930's private eye. Nicholson plays a small time P.I., who gets in over his head in an investigation that ultimately involves politics, strange relationships, land, and Los Angeles' precious water supply. His investigation gets more complicated and dangerous as he goes along. At the bottom of his investigation, he finds old-fashioned human evil, greed, and power to be the motive and cause behind the crimes committed. It's interesting to see Nicholson, this early in his career, delivering a top notch, memorable performance.

John Huston shines forth in his portrayal of the shady, villainous millionaire Noah Cross, who was the former partner of Hollis, as well as the father of Evelyn. "Course I'm respectable. I'm old. Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough."

Faye Dunaway gives us one of her best performances as the "multi-faced" flawed Evelyn, who drifts between being ice cold to being sensuous. Evelyn is rather an unpredictable woman, with a lot of personal issues, who can't always be counted on.

My favorite scene takes place when Nicholson finally figures out what the big mystery is all about. Without giving anything away, it makes for quite a shocker, and well worth waiting for.

Polanski, also gives us a glimpse of his acting ability as well. He has a brief role as a nasty hood, that cuts Jack's nose. Polanski, who began his film career as an actor, is quite convincing in his role.

The film was followed years later by a sequel, "The Two Jakes". Directed by star Nicholson. While it has its moments, the film is a poor follow up to the original.

If you enjoyed CHINATOWN, you may like THE BIG SLEEP, THE MALTESE , DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, HARPER, MARLOWE, HAMMETT, FAREWELL MY LOVELY, NETWORK, and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL.

Noah Cross Quote: "Most people never have to face the fact that, at the right time and the right place, they're capable of... anything!"