A mentally unstable veteran works as a nighttime taxi driver in New York City, where the perceived decadence and sleaze fuels his urge for violent action by attempting to liberate a presidential campaign worker and an underage prostitute.
Robert De Niro,
In 1937 Los Angeles, private investigator Jake 'J.J.' Gittes specializes in cheating-spouse cases. His current target is Hollis Mulwray, high-profile chief engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, whose wife suspects him of infidelity. In following Mulwray, Gittes witnesses some usual business dealings, such as a public meeting for construction of a new dam to create additional water supply for Los Angeles, as fresh water is vital to the growing community during the chronic drought; Mulwray opposes the dam. Eventually Gittes sees Mulwray meeting with an unknown young woman who isn't his wife. Once news of the supposed tryst between Mulwray and this woman hits the media, additional information comes to light that makes Gittes believe that Mulwray is being framed for something and that he himself is being set up. In his investigation of the issue behind Mulwray's framing and his own setup, Gittes is assisted by Mulwray's wife Evelyn, but he thinks she isn't being ...Written by
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. See more »
They're in a drought and heat, yet when Jake enters the orange grove, fully ripe oranges can be seen. Oranges ripen in winter and are all picked before spring. See more »
All right, Curly. Enough's enough. You can't eat the Venetian blinds. I just had them installed on Wednesday.
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The film opens with the 1940's Paramount logo. See more »
TV versions omit the "screwing like a chinaman" joke told by Jake. See more »
There is a word, impossible to spell, that describes the alignment of solar bodies like the planets when they all fall into place together. A similar word would describe this film. Everything about it is right. Polanski never directed a better movie. The performers, down to the lowest atmosphere person, are superb. The editing, the score, the sound, the decor, the dialog, all are just about flawless. The photography is peerless. The white garden apartments, the terra cotta roof tiles, the palms and desert sand are all painted with a faint gold, faintly ripe with false promise, like the oranges that bounce from Gittes' desperately speeding car in the northwest Valley.
Polanski deserves much of the credit. When Gittes surprises Evelyn Mulwray in her car, after he follows her to her daughter's house, her face slumps forward and beeps the horn briefly. Then, so faintly, we hear a few dogs bark in the background. Not only is the scene itself exquisitely done but it prefigures the ending, as does Gittes' remark earlier to Evelyn that she has a flaw in her iris. The movie is too good to deserve much dissecting. It stands repeated watching. If there is anything wrong with it, it is the serious and tragic ending that Polanski always insists on tacking on. Robert Towne was right and Polanski wrong in this case. Everything came together on this film. It's not only the best detective movie ever made; it's one of the best movies ever made -- period. A marvelous job by everyone concerned.
I have to add (6/27/05) that the word I mentioned in the first sentence is spelled "syzygy." Man, did I get enlightening email on that. I might as well add two other impressive features of this movie. (1) Polanksi takes his time. Example: Gittes sneaks into Hollis Mulwray's office and begins to go through the drawers of his old-fashioned wooden desk. As he slides each drawer out, Polanksi gives us a shot of their humdrum contents (checkbooks, magnifying glass, and so forth) and we can almost smell the heat and the odor of shellac and sawdust emanating from the wooden containers. The contents reveal nothing of importance in this case. But (2) sometimes irrelevant information crops up that resonates later in the film with its own echo. The detail might be just a word ("applecore") or an ordinary object (a pair of spectacles found in a pond, immediately after Gittes imitates the Japanese gardener's remark that the water is bad for the "glass.") Some of the references may be so consistent as to constitute a theme (water). None of this hits you over the head with its significance. It's all very neatly stitched together.
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