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Chinatown (1974)

Director: Roman Polanski
Cast overview: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway
Running time: 130 minutes

This 1974 film introduces J.J. Gittes (Nicholson), a Los Angeles private investigator hired by Evelyn Mulwray (Dunaway) to expose her adulterous husband. It's perhaps the most famous film about water politics, centring as it does around the LA water board and the building of a new dam. Polanski is known for creating effective mysteries and this fits nicely in the genre.

It takes its inspiration from the film noir films of the forties and fifties, and succeeds extremely well in creating that sort of time period and atmosphere. That is one of the film's greatest successes, in finding a gap and exposing it to its maximum potential. Likewise, Nicholson plays a character that's sly, cynical and cautious, complementing the glamour of Faye Dunaway's. A solid supporting cast featuring the likes of John Huston and Bruce Glover only adds to the film.

The plot itself is solid, original, and well-written. Nothing appears left to chance here, it's clear that an idea of what was wanted and required was fully formulated and this results in a film that is entertaining, authentic, and fully evocative of the film noir heyday. The LA setting - itself well-covered territory, no pun intended, in films - complements the film as a whole and serves as a gritty backdrop to the crime, suspicion and duplicity that we witness throughout.

Overall, this is an excellent film from Polanski, featuring as it does Nicholson and Dunaway at the peak of their careers, a well-written and tense script, and a realistic and gritty setting in LA and surrounding areas. It's not my favourite film, but it's certainly one I'll be coming back to regularly in the future, and it will almost certainly make my 1970s list.

[last lines]
Walsh: Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.

Noah Cross: 'Course I'm respectable. I'm old. Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.

Jake Gittes: Mulvihill! What are you doing here?
Mulvihill: They shut my water off. What's it to you?
Jake Gittes: How'd you find out about it? You don't drink it; you don't take a bath in it... They wrote you a letter. But then you have to be able to read.

At one point, Roman Polanski and Jack Nicholson got into such a heated argument that Polanski smashed Nicholson's portable TV with a mop. Nicholson used the TV to watch L.A. Lakers basketball games and kept stalling shooting.

The Chinatown (1974) screenplay is now regarded as being one of the most perfect screenplays and is now a main teaching point in screen writing seminars and classes everywhere.

The scene where Roman Polanski slits Jack Nicholson's nose was extremely complex to film, and the two men involved got so tired of explaining how it was done (by using a specially-constructed knife with a short hinge that would be safe as long as it was handled VERY carefully) that they began to claim Nicholson's nose was actually cut.