Chinatown

1974, Movie, R, 131 mins

Review

CHINATOWN
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A wonderfully brooding, suspenseful revisitation of the land of film noir, CHINATOWN is not only one of the greatest detective films, but one of the most perfectly constructed of all films. With Polanski's brilliant direction, Towne's intricate screenplay, and Nicholson's and Dunaway's tour de force performances, the film stands as one of the best of the 1970s.

The plot revolves around Gittes (Nicholson), a Chandleresque private eye who specializes in the most distasteful of detective enterprises--snooping after straying spouses. After being duped by a woman pretending to be the wife of the city water commissioner, Gittes meets the man's real wife, Evelyn Mulwray (Dunaway), but before long she ends up a widow. Drawn into these strange goings-on, Gittes follows a jigsaw puzzle of clues that leads to Mulwray's father, Cross (Huston). Cross has involved himself in the "future" of Los Angeles by engineering a plot to divert the city's water supply for his own gain.

Besides telling a gripping story involving incest and political graft, CHINATOWN recaptures the atmosphere of Los Angeles, 1937--the cars, clothes, and buildings, right down to the barber chairs (kudos to production designer Richard Sylbert and costumer Anthea Sylbert). The tone and flavor of this film evoke strong memories of MURDER, MY SWEET and the original THE BIG SLEEP, yet it stands singularly on its own merits. Even the muted color cinematography (normally antithetical to the tenets of noir) is evocative and apppropriate. Interestingly, Towne's script included not a single scene set in Chinatown--initially a metaphorical state of mind rather than a specific place.

Look for director Polanski as the thug who pokes a switchblade up Nicholson's nostril while uttering the infamous line, "You know what happens to nosy fellows? They lose their noses." Another highlight: Dunaway's "sister... daughter... sister... daughter" routine, a camp classic much parodied since. CHINATOWN earned 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, but only Towne took home a statuette for his cynical screenplay. leave a comment

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