Chinatown (1974) Poster



The haunting trumpet solos are by respected Hollywood studio musician, Uan Rasey.
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At the time of filming, Jack Nicholson had just embarked on his longstanding relationship with Anjelica Huston. This made his scenes with her father, John Huston, rather uncomfortable, especially as the only time Anjelica was on-set, was the day they were filming the scene where Noah Cross interrogates Nicholson's character with "Mr. Gittes...do you sleep with my daughter?"
After several takes that never looked quite right, Faye Dunaway got annoyed and told Jack Nicholson to actually slap her. He did and felt very guilty for it, despite it being Dunaway's decision. The shot made it into the movie.
The screenplay is now regarded as being one of the most perfect screenplays ever written, and is now a main teaching point in screenwriting seminars and classes everywhere.
Jack Nicholson (Jake Gittes) is present in every scene of the film.
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.
Screenwriter Robert Towne was originally offered one hundred twenty-five thousand dollars to write a screenplay for The Great Gatsby (1974), but Towne felt he couldn't better the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, and accepted twenty-five thousand dollars to write his own story, "Chinatown", instead.
Because this film was the first of a planned trilogy, Jack Nicholson turned down all detective roles he was offered so that the only detective he played would be Jake Gittes.
At one point, Roman Polanski and Jack Nicholson got into such a heated argument, that Polanski smashed Nicholson's portable television with a mop. Nicholson used the television to watch Los Angeles Lakers basketball games, and kept stalling shooting.
The film's enigmatic title is a metaphor for moral corruption by unseen forces. Throughout the film, Jake Gittes refers to his time as a police officer in Chinatown, where "you can't always tell what's going on." In Hollywood, the movie's line, "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown", has become a mantra for those who have been burned or snubbed by the entertainment industry, the implication being that it's better to "let it go" than make an issue of it, because that's just how the industry works.
Roman Polanski said that in staying true to the tradition of Raymond Chandler's detective stories, he shot the whole movie from the perspective of the main character.
Faye Dunaway and Roman Polanski were notorious for their on-set arguments. During filming, Polanski pulled out some strands of Dunaway's hair. On another occasion, when she asked him what her character's motivation was, he exploded, "Just say the f**king words, your salary is your motivation!"
Roman Polanski eliminated Jake Gittes' voice-over narration, which was written in the script, and filmed the movie so that the audience discovered the clues at the same time Gittes did.
This was the final film that Roman Polanski made in the United States, as he fled to France in February 1978, shortly before he was due to be sentenced for unlawful sexual intercourse with a thirteen-year-old girl named Samantha Gailey. He has avoided visiting any country likely to extradite him to the U.S. since then.
Although Los Angeles is given its modern pronunciation in the film ("an-je-les"), prior to the mid 1950s, residents said the city's name with a hard G ("angle-es").
Robert Towne wrote the screenplay with Jack Nicholson in mind.
Roman Polanski had been planning to make a film with Jack Nicholson, but hadn't found the right property yet. He actively pursued the script when he learned about it. As luck would have it, Polanski was also Producer Robert Evans' first choice for director, as he wanted a European vision of the United States, which he felt would be darker, and a little more cynical.
Faye Dunaway's distinctive look was inspired by Roman Polanski's memories of his mother, who in the pre-World War II-era, would fashionably wear penciled-on eyebrows, and have her lipstick shaped in the form of a Cupid's bow.
Although he liked the idea of doing a cameo in the film as the hood who slits Jack Nicholson's nose, Roman Polanski was less thrilled about having to have his long hair cut off for his brief appearance in the film.
In the original script, no scenes took place in Chinatown at all.
The Van der Lip Dam disaster is a reference to the collapse of the St. Francis Dam in 1928, forty miles northwest of Los Angeles, which had been designed by self-educated engineer William Mulholland. The consequent flooding killed at least four hundred fifty people, a loss of life that remains second only to that from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire in California's history.
According to Roman Polanski's autobiography, he was outraged when he got the first batch of dailies back from the lab. Due to the success of The Godfather (1972), Producer Robert Evans had ordered the lab to give this movie a reddish look. Polanski demanded that the film be corrected.
Screenwriter Robert Towne based his famous exchange, Evelyn: "What did you do in Chinatown?" Jake:"As little as possible", on a joke a LAPD officer friend told him. This was because there were so many different Chinese dialects floating around that an Anglo cop would only get himself into trouble by misinterpreting anything said by the Chinese residents.
Roman Polanski forced Robert Towne to sit and re-write the script with him. Towne was so opposed to this idea that he would argue with Polanski non-stop.
Among the items in Ida Sessions' pocketbook, which Jake Gittes rummages through, are a two dollar bill, and a Screen Actors Guild membership card.
Despite lobbying Robert Evans and Jack Nicholson for the chance to direct the film, when he finally landed the gig Roman Polanski started having second thoughts. The thought of returning to Los Angeles, where his wife Sharon Tate had been brutally murdered four years earlier, was too overwhelming for him.
Was voted the fourth greatest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
The role of Evelyn Mulwray was originally intended for the producer's wife, Ali MacGraw, but she lost the role when she divorced him for Steve McQueen.
Jack Nicholson said to the public that he rather disliked the ending.
At the end of the film, when Jake says "give me five minutes", there are exactly five minutes left in the film. This was actually unintentional.
The orange grove scene was filmed at Triad Ranch, 3240 Sunset Valley Road, Moorpark, California, the house of Walter Brennan, John Huston's friend.
The movie's line "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown." was voted as the #74 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100).
The first part of a planned trilogy written by Robert Towne about J.J. "Jake" Gittes and Los Angeles. The second part, The Two Jakes (1990), was directed by Jack Nicholson.
Roman Polanski wanted William A. Fraker as his Cinematographer, having successfully collaborated with him on Rosemary's Baby (1968). This notion was blocked by Producer Robert Evans, as he felt that the pairing of the two would create too powerful a bond, making his life as a producer more difficult.
The name of Water and Power engineer Hollis Mulwray is likely a play on the real-life head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, William Mulholland (1855-1935). A man obsessed with an engineering challenge of epic proportions, Mulholland brought the Owens River to Los Angeles, which turned the previously lush Owens Valley into a virtual desert, through a combination of determination and deceit.
Rance Howard, who plays the role of an angry farmer at the council meeting, is the father of famed actor and Director Ron Howard, and the grandfather of Bryce Dallas Howard.
To emphasize the point that the audience is seeing everything from Gittes' perspective, Roman Polanski often put the camera behind Jack Nicholson, so the audience sees his back and shoulders.
Phillip Lambro was originally hired to write the film's music score, but it was rejected at the last minute by Producer Robert Evans, leaving Jerry Goldsmith only ten days to write and record a new score. However, when it was time to put together a trailer for the film, the studio's marketing department decided that Goldsmith's new score wasn't suitable, and asked Lambro to use cues from his original score instead. In exchange for allowing his music to be used for the trailer, Lambro asked to retain the publishing rights to his own score. Paramount Pictures agreed, on the condition that if the music was ever released commercially, Lambro could not use the title "Chinatown". An album with Lambro's original rejected score was finally released in 2012 under the title "Los Angeles, 1937".
Cinematographer Stanley Cortez was fired soon after production began, because his classical style did not match the naturalistic style Polanski wanted for the film, and proved to be too time consuming. Polanski had to find a replacement in only a few days, and chose John A. Alonzo. As David Fincher and Robert Towne describe on their DVD commentary, two scenes shot by Cortez are in the film. The orange grove fight with the farmers (but not the following porch scene with Evelyn), and the drive back to Los Angeles at sunset are Cortez's work.
For the first screening, Roman Polanski took his old friend, composer Bronislau Kaper. Producer Robert Evans afterwards asked Kaper what he thought of the picture, to which Kaper replied, "It's a great film, but you have to change the music."
In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #21 Greatest Movie of All Time.
Cross' mispronunciation of Gittes' last name wasn't in the script. John Huston couldn't get it right, so Roman Polanski had Jack Nicholson add a line trying to correct him, and after that just let it go.
Ranked #2 on the American Film Institute's list of the ten greatest films in the genre "Mystery" in June 2008
Jack Nicholson had the name "Jake Gittes" written on the shirts he used in the movie. Though this is not shown, it was done so Nicholson could enter into character more easily.
The riverbed, to which is referred in the movie, is now where the Burbank and Pasadena freeways sit, leading into the more original neighborhoods of the town of Burbank.
The film correctly used the 1930s' pronunciation of the main street leading into Chinatown, "Alameda". Now pronounced as Al-a-MEAD-a, old timers still pronounce it as it was in the film, Al-a-MAID-a.
Roman Polanski learned of the script through Jack Nicholson, with whom he had been searching for a suitable joint project.
After Ali MacGraw was discarded, Robert Evans wanted Jane Fonda for the part of Evelyn Mulwray, while Roman Polanski insisted upon Faye Dunaway. Faye Dunaway was Polanski's vision for the character Evelyn Mulwray in the 1930s, since his mother used to have pencil eyebrows and wore red lipstick in the shape of Cupid's bow, as depicted in Dunaway's make-up.
The only scene in the film in which Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston appear together is the last scene in the film. This is also the only scene in the movie that is set and was filmed in Chinatown.
Robert Evans had recently vacated his post as head of Paramount Pictures. This was his first film as a hands-on Producer.
Jerry Goldsmith's music for this movie, written and recorded in just ten days, remains the all-time favorite score of Director David Lynch.
Roman Polanski considered Julie Christie for the role of Evelyn Mulray.
The El Macondo Apartments are named after the imaginary city in Gabriel García Márquez's novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude".
The year in which Chinatown is set is 1937. Jack Nicholson was born in 1937.
The original script was over one hundred eighty pages.
When Gittes follows Hollis Mulray to the cliff top (where he leaves a watch under his tire) he passes a bar with an open door. One can hear "I Can't Get Started" by Bunny Berigan, the hit of August 1937.
Peter Bogdanovich turned down the chance to direct. He later regretted his decision.
Robert Towne said that John Huston was, after Jack Nicholson, the second-best-cast actor in the film, and that he made Cross menacing, through his courtly performance.
One of Christopher Nolan's favorite movies.
Ralph Bellamy turned down the role of Noah Cross.
Jake Gittes was named after Jack Nicholson's friend, Producer Harry Gittes.
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
The film cast includes four Oscar winners: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, and Roman Polanski; and three Oscar nominees: Burt Young, Diane Ladd, and Joe Mantell.
Noah Cross is a reference to the Biblical character of Noah, with all of the associated connotations about water.
There were many rumors circulating about Faye Dunaway's diva-like behavior during the making of the film. One such was that she refused to flush her own toilet, and expected her assistants to do it for her. On another occasion, while filming a scene in a car, Roman Polanski refused to let her urinate, so he could finish the scene. She then urinated in a cup and threw it in his face.
The movie's final line "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown" was voted as the #71 of "The 100 Greatest Movie Lines" by Premiere in 2007.
The fifteenth highest grossing film of 1974.
The film is included on Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" list.
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John Huston was offered the chance to direct this movie, but he decided that he did not want to.
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Mike Nichols was offered the chance to direct.
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The black and white (good and evil) scene of Evelyn wearing a black dress is evocative of Mike Nichols's scene in The Graduate (1967), with Mrs. Robinson wearing a black dress, while leaning against a stark white wall, as her daughter Elaine finds out about her mother's affair with Benjamin.
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Tough-guy hired-gun character Mulvihill was likely named after the Associate Producer of Jack Nicholson's film, The Last Detail (1973), Charles Mulvehill.
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John Huston had already played Noah in his own directorial effort, The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966).
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Robert Evans deliberately pursued Roman Polanski to direct, as he knew he was coming off the back of two major flops, Macbeth (1971), and the lesser known Che? (1972), and that he would be very keen to impress, and would make every effort to ensure that this was a hit, which it was.
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Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
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The film was part of a cycle of 1970s conspiracy movies. These included: Executive Action (1973), Klute (1971), Chinatown (1974), Cutter's Way (1981), Telefon (1977), Winter Kills (1979), The Conversation (1974), The Parallax View (1974), Three Days of the Condor (1975), The Domino Principle (1977), Good Guys Wear Black (1978), Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977), Hangar 18 (1980), Capricorn One (1977), and All the President's Men (1976). Blow Out (1981) would follow in the early 1980s.
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C.O. Erickson: The film's Executive Producer plays the banker in the barbershop who starts an argument with Jake.


The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

Katherine Mulwray is raised believing that Evelyn Mulwray is her sister, but it is later revealed that Evelyn is her mother (or rather, both mother and sister). Shortly after the film was released, Jack Nicholson discovered that the woman he was raised to believe was his sister was, in fact, his mother. He also learned the people he was raised to believe were his parents were actually his grandparents.
Roman Polanski has said that the dark ending to the film was a result of his own despair following the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate.
The film frequently shows us images of two things that are identical, except that one is flawed: Two pocket watches side by side, one broken. A pair of eyeglasses, one lens cracked. Gittes' nostrils, one sliced. Gittes smashed one taillight on Evelyn's car. He lost one shoe in the reservoir. Evelyn has a flaw in one of her irises. Katherine looks like a duplicate of Evelyn, but is the product of incest. The list goes on. But according to Robert Towne, it was unintentional. He and Roman Polanski never discussed using such images as a recurring theme. Whatever meaning may be ascribed to the symbolism, the filmmakers did so unintentionally.
According to Faye Dunaway, Evelyn's eye wound was meant to parallel the story of Oedipus, who blinded himself after realizing his marriage was incestuous. Miss Dunaway had to fight to keep this in the film, when there was a problem getting the make-up and prosthetics, the filmmakers wanted to change where Evelyn would be shot.
Robert Towne originally intended to have a happy ending. However, during pre-production, Roman Polanski and Towne argued over it, with Polanski insisting on a tragic ending. Polanski won the argument and, when the picture was re-released in 1999, Towne admitted that he had been wrong.
When Evelyn is treating Jake's nose wound, he asks about her flawed eye. In the end of the film, Evelyn was shot through that same eye.
Originally, the opening scene had an exchange where Curly tells Gittes he's going to kill his unfaithful wife, and Gittes tells him he's not rich enough to get away with murder. (That's why they're talking about Curly paying his bill as they come out of the office, and why Gittes says, "I only brought it up", Curly's financial situation, "to illustrate a point.") Robert Towne later regretted removing this part of the scene. "That exchange I miss probably as much as any in the movie", he said in 1999. "Because it really foreshadows (the) 'You've got to be rich to kill somebody and get away with it' (theme). He's really foreshadowing the whole movie."
Shortly after Hollis Mulwray's body is recovered, the original script included an omitted scene in which Lieutenant Escobar reveals to Gittes that he has limited sympathy for the victim, because a cousin of his was killed in the Van Der Lip dam disaster. From Faber and Faber script published UK 1998.
When Jake and Evelyn are in the car during the scene where Evelyn tells Jake that Katherine is her sister, she lowers her head and accidentally hits the car horn. This foreshadows her death, in which she is shot while driving her head lies on the car horn.
In the scene where Evelyn is treating Jake's nose wound, Jake was asking Evelyn about her flawed eye. In the end of the film, Evelyn was shot through that same eye.
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