Review : Chinatown

The third day of the Alphabet Challenge (Alphabet Challenge) sees us shaking off the disappointment of ‘B’ and moving to ‘C’ and more specifically, the Roman Polanski masterpiece – ‘Chinatown’.


The film was made in 1974 and follows the exploits of Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), Private Detective. Based in Los Angeles, Gittes is well known across the city – in fact he gets so much publicity, he’s ‘practically a movie star’.

The film is set against the backdrop of the ‘Californian Water Wars’, a series of conflicts between the city of Los Angeles and the farmers of eastern California (especially an area called the ‘Owens Valley’).

Gittes is hired by a Mrs Evelyn Mulwray to follow her husband Hollis and prove that he is having an affair. Hollis is Chief Engineer for the LA department of water and power and currently involved in hotly contested plans to build a reservoir to prevent future water shortages in the city. For Gittes though, following through on this request, opens the door to a much larger case including land deals, impersonation and murder.

One of the definitive ‘neo noir’ films, this builds up from all of the classical touches of the original film noir, but adds to it a darker story, more explicit sexual content and more violence (in one part leading to a nasty injury to Gittes’ nose).


Nicholson excels in this role. Its  said that the role was written for him, and thats very believable.  His character is the classic ‘truth seeker’ from the noir universe and we follow him through the story knowing nothing that he doesn’t. Beyond Nicholson, Dunaway is also strong playing the role of ‘black widow’ character and one whose motives you are often unsure of.

John Huston’s role as Noah Cross in the film is another stand out, with not only his performance but the link that he brings to the film, to the original noir films such as the Maltese Falcon and Key Largo. His very presence reminding us of the world that Chinatown is born out of.

The screenplay was by Robert Towne (who also wrote a 1990 sequel – the Two Jakes) and he won the Best Screenplay oscar for it, easily his most notable work.

The score by Jerry Goldsmith (who by this time had already worked on Planet of the Apes, Papillon and Patton, is a classic and instantly lifts the viewer to a different time and place. It’s perfectly crafted for this film has received huge acclaim since the film was released.


This film is a masterpiece of crime cinema. It holds up against the over 40 year old status and is a film that everyone should see.

‘I don’t get tough with people, Mr Gittes. My lawyer does’




One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s