4.8 11
Director: Roman Polanski

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston


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"You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you don't," warns water baron Noah Cross (John Huston), when smooth cop-turned-private eye J.J. "Jake" Gittes (Jack Nicholson) starts nosing around Cross's water diversion scheme. That proves to be the ominous lesson of Chinatown, Roman Polanski's critically lauded 1974 revision of 1940s film…  See more details below


"You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you don't," warns water baron Noah Cross (John Huston), when smooth cop-turned-private eye J.J. "Jake" Gittes (Jack Nicholson) starts nosing around Cross's water diversion scheme. That proves to be the ominous lesson of Chinatown, Roman Polanski's critically lauded 1974 revision of 1940s film noir detective movies. In 1930s Los Angeles, "matrimonial work" specialist Gittes is hired by Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) to tail her husband, Water Department engineer Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling). Gittes photographs him in the company of a young blonde and figures the case is closed, only to discover that the real Mrs. Mulwray had nothing to do with hiring Gittes in the first place. When Hollis turns up dead, Gittes decides to investigate further, encountering a shady old-age home, corrupt bureaucrats, angry orange farmers, and a nostril-slicing thug (Polanski) along the way. By the time he confronts Cross, Evelyn's father and Mulwray's former business partner, Jake thinks he knows everything, but an even more sordid truth awaits him. When circumstances force Jake to return to his old beat in Chinatown, he realizes just how impotent he is against the wealthy, depraved Cross. "Forget it, Jake," his old partner tells him. "It's Chinatown." Reworking the somber underpinnings of detective noir along more pessimistic lines, Polanski and screenwriter Robert Towne convey a '70s-inflected critique of capitalist and bureaucratic malevolence in a carefully detailed period piece harkening back to the genre's roots in the 1930s and '40s. Gittes always has a smart comeback like Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, but the corruption Gittes finds is too deep for one man to stop. Other noir revisions, such as Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973) and Arthur Penn's Night Moves (1975), also centered on the detective's inefficacy in an uncertain '70s world, but Chinatown's period sheen renders this dilemma at once contemporary and timeless, pointing to larger implications about the effects of corporate rapaciousness on individuals. Polanski and Towne clashed over Chinatown's ending; Polanski won the fight, but Towne won the Oscar for Best Screenplay. Chinatown was nominated for ten other Oscars, including Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costumes, and Score.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Dave Roth
A dark Hollywood jewel from the 1970s, Chinatown remains among the most aggressively visceral experiences of evil ever committed to film. There's a lot to keep track of in Chinatown, and it all flows through Jack Nicholson, in one of his most potent performances. The dialogue is wonderfully sharp, courtesy of screenwriter Robert Towne. But what makes Chinatown so bracingly powerful and fresh is its genuine American malignancy. Chinatown's Los Angeles is a city born of a greedy desire to conquer a forbidding desert, a place where power excuses all perversion. Nicholson grafts flesh, bone, and soul onto the character of private eye Jake Gittes, a man familiar with compromise and rationalization who doesn't even realize his inner goodness until he confronts true evil --the wealthy land developer Noah Cross (a memorably wicked John Huston). Faye Dunaway, as the woman who draws Gittes into a complex mystery involving L.A.'s water supply, has never been more beautiful, or more haunted. And director Roman Polanski provides the perfect subverting eye for Chinatown, a beautiful sun-bleached dream built upon a soft bed of malignant criminality.
All Movie Guide - Mark Deming
By 1974, a lingering national malaise spawned by the killing of John F. Kennedy and fed by the national debate over the Vietnam War, the continued wave of political assassinations, and the sudden rise and slow collapse of the counterculture movement had finally come to a head with the revelations of the Watergate scandal. Chinatown, a glossy variant on the hard-boiled film noir detective pictures of the 1940s, suggested that none of this was new, and that ugly battles over power and profit touched every area of our lives...even the water we drink. In Chinatown, elected officials are the easily purchased pawns of corrupt power brokers whose appetites know no check or balance (ranging from simple greed to the violation of natural law through incest), and the closest thing we have to a honest and moral guide through this fallen world is a private detective -- a man whose career dictates that his loyalty can be purchased for a relatively small fee. While Roman Polanski's expert pacing and the superbly modulated performances of Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston would have made Chinatown memorable regardless of its political and cultural contexts, the intelligent but relentless cynicism of Robert Towner's screenplay reflected the dark tone of '40s noir while updating it for a California-fed '70s culture.

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Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Paramount Catalog
[Dolby Digital Mono]
Sales rank:

Special Features

Commentary by Screenwriter Robert Towne with David Fincher; Water and Power: The Aqueduct - The Aftermath; The River and Beyond; Chinatown: An Appreciation; Chinatown: The Beginning and the End; Chinatown: Filming; Chinatown: The Legacy; Theatrical Trailer HD

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Jack Nicholson J.J. Gittes
Faye Dunaway Evelyn Mulwray
John Huston Noah Cross
Perry Lopez Escobar
John Hillerman Yelburton
Diane Ladd Ida Sessions
Darrell Zwerling Hollis Mulwray
Burt Young Curly
Frederico Roberto Cross's Butler
George Justin Barber
Rance Howard Irate Farmer
Doc Erickson Customer
Fritzi Burr Mulwray's Secretary
Charles Knapp Mortician
Claudio Martinez Boy on Horseback
Allan Warnick Clerk
John Holland Farmer in the Valley
Jesse Vint Farmer in the Valley
Denny Arnold Farmer in the Valley
Elizabeth Harding Curly's Wife
John Rogers Mr. Palmer
Cecil Elliott Emma Dill
Bob Golden Policeman
Paul Jenkins Policeman
Lee de Broux Policeman
Jim Burk Farmer in the Valley
Roman Polanski Man With Knife
Dick Bakalyan Loach
Joe Mantell Walsh
Bruce Glover Duffy
Nandu Hinds Sophie
James Hong Evelyn's Butler
Beulah Quo Maid
Jerry Fujikawa Gardener
Belinda Palmer Katherine
Noble Willingham Councilman
James O'Reare Lawyer
Roy Roberts Mayor Bagby
Roy Jenson Claude Mulvihill
Elliott Montgomery Councilmen

Technical Credits
Roman Polanski Director
John A. Alonzo Cinematographer
Richard Bruno Costumes/Costume Designer
W. Stewart Campbell Art Director
Hank Ebbs Makeup
Hank Edds Makeup
C.O. Erickson Associate Producer
Robert Evans Producer
Jane Feinberg Casting
Mike Fenton Casting
Logan R. Frazee Special Effects
Jerry Goldsmith Score Composer
Charles Grenzbach Sound/Sound Designer
Lee C. Harman Makeup
Brian Hooker Songwriter
Howard W. Koch Asst. Director
Ruby Levitt Set Decoration/Design
Sam O'Steen Editor
Gabe Resh Set Decoration/Design
Robert Resh Set Decoration/Design
Leo Robin Songwriter
Anthea Sylbert Costumes/Costume Designer
Richard Sylbert Production Designer
Robert Towne Screenwriter

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Chinatown 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
KubrickerJM More than 1 year ago
Polanski's dark city of angels, memories on every street corner. Pity a trilogy was never completed or maybe Nicholson will come out of semi-retirement to do it...?
Guest More than 1 year ago
From the opening to the closing credits, this film is quintissential Hollywood filmmaking. A rich story with many interesting characters, Chinatown is a fictional retelling of how water was brought to L.A. in order to help it expand to the size it is today. Of course, there was plenty of controversy behind this, and this movie brings out what it must've been like, or at least similar to. Chinatown is also considered the model screenplay by many screenwriting instructors. Enjoy this Hollywood classic!
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a great movie on so many levels. The writing, acting, directing, and the cinematography all work together to make this movie an all time classic. Jack Nicholson gives one of his best performances as the private dectective who finds himself caught up in murder and the deep, dark secret of his client. Faye Dunaway does a quietly wonderful job as the desperate widow of the murdered man. The outward story of how water played an important role in the development of the L.A. region sets the stage for a story of betrayal at the most basic of levels. Chinatown is a movie to own.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" (1974) integrates moral despair with classic, and bankable, Hollywood elements--an atmospheric setting, a likable hero, a lady in distress, romance, suspense, and direct narrative and cinematic allusions to the Raymond Chandler crime movies of the forties. Though the film is set in Los Angeles of the thirties, the conspiracy it details is based on an actual fraud of 1905, in which wealthy Southern California businessmen and politicians staged a "drought" in order to ensure the public's acceptance of a controversial piece of water legislation, one that would help expand the city of Los Angeles and line their own pockets. Robert Towne's Oscar-winning script is the story of private investigator. J. J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson), who is first used by the conspiracy in an effort to discredit an honest water commissioner. Gittes specializes in matrimonial work-spying and reporting on errant spouses-but his investigation will uncover a family sexual secret that surely tops his usual profession. When the subject of Gittes' surveillance is killed, Gittes is confronted by his beautiful widow (Faye Dunaway), who, in the best Chandler tradition, is a poor liar. Gittes is a self-serving, narcissistic man, but he had at some date been expelled from the detective ranks of the police force, and he bears a particular dislike for bureaucratic functionaries. Naturally, he is intrigued by Mrs. Mulray (Dunaway), who first threatens to sue him and then promptly asks him to drop the investigation. Gittes' strength is also his weakness his humane qualities--his independence and open mindedness--allow him to see what others do not, and ultimately his emotional attachment to Mrs. Mulray will serve to discredit his skillfully collected evidence. Ironically, at one point the police threaten to arrest him on a charge of conspiracy. By the time he has gotten the goods on the man behind the plot, Noah Cross (John Huston), Gittes has so antagonized the police that they pointedly dismiss him as a hindrance. "Chinatown" is an engrossing, fast paced film that is both a parody and a revival of the old Hollywood detective genre. It is also a complex picture. Anyone who leaves his seat, even for an instant, risks missing a new turn in the twisting story. As the complex plot unravels, we discover more and more about what is actually happening or what is apparently happening. Nothing is what it seems, which is, as we will learn, the reason for the film's name. Chinatown is the district where Jake Gittes started his career as a cop. It is a section of Los Angeles where bizarre things happen regularly. Cops who want to survive in this world learn that if in doubt, it is best to back off and do nothing. Throughout the film, "Chinatown" represents not only an ethnic zone which defies police penetration, but a state of mind Chinatown is where Gittes arranges for Mrs. Mulray to go to evade her father and the police it is a place of compromised strength where emotion conquers professional coolness and it is the place where Gittes mistakes ideals for possibilities. As in the metaphor of "Jaws" (1975), "Chinatown" activates man's primal relationship with water as a weakness. In "Chinatown", water is used for recreation it is also a weapon (The Water Commissioner is drowned in a pond, Gittes is almost swept under in a drainage gulley) but in the film's strongest indictment of capitalism, water--a primary element of nature--becomes a viable currency, to be hoarded, diverted and controlled for private interest. "Chinatown" uncovers a conspiracy where the public is least likely to suspect it, in an element that is both familiar and benign. Much of the film's success is due to Robert Towne's screenplay. Originally, he wrote the script like a standard detective movie that he planned to direct himself. Then he saw some photographs of Los Angeles circa 193
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