Sunday, April 12, 2015

584. CHINATOWN (1974)

Running Time: 130 minutes
Directed By: Roman Polanski
Written By: Robert Towne
Main Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Perry Lopez, John Hillerman
Click here to view the trailer


I promise not to return to the blog after today until I have watched and am prepared to write a review for Stalker, as Tarkovsky Week has officially stretched into "Tarkovsky Two Months" and even I'll admit it's ridiculous at this point. My PLAN (emphasis on the word "plan") is to get it watched by tomorrow night, even if it takes me two or three sit downs. Anyway, Polanski's 1974 noir, Chinatown, has been streaming on Netflix for months, so I decided to give it a whirl - not the first time I've seen it, I might add.

Chinatown is told in the same vein as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe stories, with Nicholson playing the role of the lead dick, Jake Gittes. When he's hired by the wife of the chief engineer of the L.A. Department of Water & Power, to find out if the man is cheating, Jake is on the case, tailing Mr. Hollis Mulwray around town until he finds him kissing on another woman and photographing the action so he can get his easy payday. However, things turn out to be less than easy, when the photographs somehow wind up in the early edition and the REAL Mrs. Mulwray (Dunaway) comes a knocking. It turns out that the woman who hired Jake originally was an impostor and now Mrs. Mulwray wants answers and plans to get them in the form of a lawsuit against Gittes. Jake, not particularly fond of being duped and then sued, sets out to find out why he was fooled, which in turn leads him to bigger and fatter fish to fry. The whole movie takes place during the course of a drought and it turns out that the city's short water supply may be somewhat to blame for all the nefarious goings on. While snooping around the L.A. water reservoir, Gittes discovers that large quantities of water are being purged every night. It is also during this scene that Jake is attacked and has his nose slashed, causing his character to sport a bandage and/or a nasty nose scar for the duration of the film.


I'd seen Chinatown once before and judging by my IMDB rating, I didn't like it that much - only giving it a 4/10 on the movie site. Yesterday's rewatch proved I must have been a little out of my mind or perhaps a little confused. Actually, anyone who claims that Chinatown is hard to follow or confusing (THE BOOK actually notes this) must be giving less than full attention, as I found the film fairly easy to follow along with and didn't stumble once. It's no Big Sleep, I'll tell you that much. As long as you pay attention (and how could you not with Nicholson's mug onscreen - a talent too good to not encapsulate your attention) you'll be fine and most should be pleased, as it happens to be one of those classic movies that is actually good and merits it's praise. The only thing I'd really complain about, as far as the story goes, is the fact that the whole thing hinges on this big water department scandal and it's all sort of silly if you think about it. I mean, the Gittes character gets his nose slashed, gets shot at, is nearly killed several times and thanks, in part, to the city's water department heads, who don't want him finding out that their irrigating their recently purchased land. I mean, must we get this carried away over a simple water supply? Must there be death and doom all because the city is re-routing water to their orange groves? It's all a bit silly, isn't it? However, I will say that the whole thing with the incest sort of puts this movie into a whole new category. Up until that point this is a simple, modern film noir, but once they introduce the fact that Mrs. Mulwray has a daughter who is also her sister AND basically say that it wasn't a rape from the old man, this movie gets a lot darker and a lot more unusual, slipping into a category all it's own.

Oh well...if you can look past that (and honestly, at times I couldn't) then it's all good and Chinatown will surely provide you with an easy, fun, enjoyable, thrilling couple of hours at the movies. The cast is excellent and I'm learning lately what a fan of Faye Dunaway I am. Not necessarily in this, but loved her in Mommie Dearest and it doesn't get much sexier with your clothes on than watching her play chess with Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair. It kind of makes me want to go bust open my Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection and check out Family Plot, starring her and a Hitchcock film I haven't seen, to boot. I'm always a fan of Nicholson and especially after watching and pondering over his films from THE BOOK. I realize now, more than ever, that the acclaim that is showered upon him as completely deserving and if anything, not enough. Is he officially retired? Is there a particular reason that he hasn't done a movie since 2010, other than he "just hasn't"? As far as Polanski goes, I wouldn't call this his best work, by a long shot. I'd easily put Rosemary's Baby above this and even Knife in the Water, my personal favorite Polanski film. In a perfect world, in fact, Knife in the Water would've gotten Chinatown's spot, but no book that calls itself a definitive guide to the best and most "must see" films is going to exclude Chinatown, so que sera sera.

RATING: 7/10  Not a personal favorite or anything, but certainly deserving that extra nudge into '7' territory and something I'd happily sit through again someday, just to make sure I got everything straight. PS. John Huston was fabulous in this too!


April 12, 2015  5:53pm


  1. The first film from your viewing in a long time I'd class as a personal favourite.
    You know I love Noirs .. and this is a cracking Neo Noir.
    I'm rather astonished that in the past you rated it so lowly .. and a little dissapoited you still keep at as 'just' a 7 .. but, hey, that's a decided improvement. Let me give you a few more years and another viewing!

    1. Yeah, I could totally like it a LOT eventually, but still it's not bad and a solid film.

  2. Like you it took me a second viewing to fully appreciate this film, and boy did I enjoy it.
    Chinatown is like a fine wine. It’s meant to be savoured!

    1. I think viewings three, four, five, etc. will only get better and better for Chinatown.


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