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Chinatown (1974) Poster

(1974)

Trivia

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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.
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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.
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Jack Nicholson (Jake Gittes) is present in every scene of the film.
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Screenwriter Robert Towne was originally offered $125,000 to write a screenplay for The Great Gatsby (1974), but Towne felt he couldn't do better than F. Scott Fitzgerald novel and accepted $25,000 to write his own story, "Chinatown," instead.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!"
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Jack Nicholson said to the public that he rather disliked the ending.
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In the original script, no scenes took place in Chinatown at all.
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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.
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L.A.'s original Chinatown was demolished between 1933 and 1936 to make way for Union Station. The current Chinatown, located a few blocks away, opened in 1938. So the only time L.A. had no official Chinatown was 1937, the year in which this film is set.
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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.
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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.
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Robert Towne wrote the screenplay with Jack Nicholson in mind.
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Among the items in Ida Sessions' pocketbook, which Jake Gittes rummages through, are a two dollar bill and a Screen Actors Guild membership card.
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There is a rumor that this was 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. The supposed third part never existed, as later confirmed by the writer; however, certain elements and details of the story (a corrupt company called Cloverleaf tries to buy up all public transportation in order to replace it with freeways) would later end up in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), which was a film-noir spoof/homage of Chinatown.

The interesting thing about the trilogy concept is that they focused on the three thing that were instrumental in making Los Angeles what it would grow the way that it did, which is via the control of water, real estate, and transportation.
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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.
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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.
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Roman Polanski forced Robert Towne to sit and rewrite the script with him. Towne was so opposed to this idea that he would argue with Polanski non-stop.
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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).
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Cinematographer Stanley Cortez was fired soon after production began. His classical style did not match the naturalistic style Polanski wanted for the film, and he 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 state in 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.
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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, who felt that the pairing of the two would create too powerful a bond, making his life as a producer more difficult.
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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 10 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. Lambro was asked if cues from his original score could be used 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".
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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.
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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."
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Jerry Goldsmith's music for this movie, written and recorded in just 10 days, remains the all-time favorite score of director David Lynch.
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When J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) asks Mr. Palmer (John Rogers), director of the Mar Vista Rest Home, whether they "accept people of the Jewish persuasion" and is assured that they do not, there is a mirror in the next room, over the left shoulder of Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), in the shape of an inverted pentagram, considered by some to be a symbol of evil. The director, Roman Polanski, was raised Jewish and his mother died at Auschwitz.
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Anjelica Huston who was dating Jack Nicholson and was the daughter of John Huston brought her sister Allegra Huston to the set to meet Jack. In the book she wrote Allegra said that Anjelica kept her away from their father since he was playing the bad guy and she was only about 10.
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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.
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Peter Bogdanovich turned down the chance to direct. He later regretted his decision.
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The haunting trumpet solos are by respected Hollywood studio musician Uan Rasey.
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Was voted the fourth greatest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
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The film correctly used the 1930s' pronunciation of "Alameda," the main street leading into Chinatown. Now pronounced as Al-a-MEAD-a, old timers still pronounce it as it was in the film, Al-a-MAID-a.
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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 was set and filmed in Chinatown.
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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.
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The El Macondo Apartments are named after the imaginary city in Gabriel García Márquez's novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude".
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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 What? (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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In June 2008, ranked #2 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Mystery."
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Roman Polanski learned of the script through Jack Nicholson with whom he had been searching for a suitable joint project.
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In his 2020 nonfiction book "The Big Goodbye: 'Chinatown' and the Last Years of Hollywood," author Sam Wasson discloses that for more than 40 years, revered screenwriter Robert Towne secretly employed Edward Taylor, an old college friend, as his uncredited writing partner, because Towne realized he himself was an excruciatingly slow writer and Taylor "would help," especially as he labored under intense pressure to complete Chinatown (1974).
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The orange grove scene was filmed at Triad Ranch, 3240 Sunset Valley Road, Moorpark, California, the house of John Huston's friend, actor Walter Brennan.
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Jack Nicholson had the name "Jake Gittes" written on the shirts he used in the movie. Though this is not prominently shown, it was done so Nicholson could enter into character more easily.
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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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When Journalist Tom Burke interviewed the film's director, Roman Polanski, for a profile on him for Rolling Stone magazine, Polanski arranged for the not-yet-released film to be secretly screened for Burke without the studio's permission, even though no music score had yet been recorded for the soundtrack and other glitches had yet to be corrected. Shortly after the beginning of this screening, at which Polanski was not present, Burke realized he had to urinate, yet so engrossed was he in the film that he refused to pause the screening, but saw the film through to the end before relieving himself. When he spoke to Polanski later about the experience, the director seemed to delight in this fact more than any other, convinced that, since Burke had found himself unable to stop watching the film even to answer the call of nature, he had made what he called an "audience movie."
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This film was selected into the National Film Registry in 1991 for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
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The riverbed, which is referred to in the movie, is now where the Burbank and Pasadena freeways sit, leading into the more original neighborhoods of the town of Burbank.
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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.
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Robert Evans had recently vacated his post as head of Paramount Pictures. This was his first film as a hands-on producer.
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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.
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The original script was over one hundred eighty pages.
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In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #21 Greatest Movie of All Time.
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Jake Gittes was named after Jack Nicholson's friend, producer Harry Gittes.
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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.
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Noah Cross is a reference to the Biblical character of Noah with all of the associated connotations about water.
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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.
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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.
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The year in which Chinatown is set is 1937. Jack Nicholson was born in 1937.
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Ralph Bellamy turned down the role of Noah Cross.
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Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
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One of Christopher Nolan's favorite movies.
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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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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Roman Polanski considered Julie Christie for the role of Evelyn Mulray.
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The film is included on Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" list.
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Screenwriter Robert Towne employed his friend Edward Taylor to cowrite the initial drafts of the script. Taylor received no credit.
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There are repeated references in the film to a broken dam that caused a disaster in Los Angeles, and several characters were personally involved in its construction. This subplot is loosely based on the failure of St. Francis Dam on March 12, 1928. The dam was designed and built between 1924 and 1926 by the Bureau of Water Works and Supply, created as a large regulating and storage reservoir for the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Due to the dam's defective soil foundation and a number of design flaws, contraction cracks and a minor amount of seepage appeared shortly following its completion. Despite a series of repairs over the following years, the dam broke into several large pieces in March 1928. The resulting flood caused a blackout in Los Angeles ,the San Fernando Valley, and the Santa Clara River Valley (due to the destruction of electrical infrastructure by the water), heavily damaged the towns of Fillmore, Bardsdale, and Santa Paula, and killed 431 people. Chief engineer William Mulholland was blamed for the disaster, because he had noticed several flaws in the dam, but reported them to be unimportant. He had also postponed needed repairs, hours before the failure of the dam. Mulholland was forced to retire and spend the rest of his life as a recluse.
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As this was originally conceived as a trilogy, Jack Nicholson subsequently turned down every other detective role he was offered as he wanted to be only associated with the character of J.J. Gittes.
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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. Both films share the same Production Designer, Richard Sylbert
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Jane Fonda turned down the role of Evelyn Mulwray.
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In Robert Towne's original script, the villainous Noah Cross dies and his heroic daughter Evelyn Mulwray survives. Roman Polanski (the film's director) rejected this ending. He felt there was nothing special in thrillers where the good guys triumph, and that the film needed a tragic ending to stand out. After Towne refused to rewrite his ending scene, Polanski wrote his own version of the film's final scene. Depicting Evelyn's tragic death.
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The fifteenth highest grossing film of 1974.
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Included among the American Film Institute's 2001 list of the Top 100 Most Heart-Pounding American Movies.
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Bruce Glover who plays Duffy, one of Jake's colleagues in the agency, played Mr. Wint in the 1971 Bond film Diamonds Are Forever (1971). He is also the father of actor and author Crispin Glover.
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Mike Nichols was offered the chance to direct.
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Characters pronounce words such as Los ANGLE-es and Ala-MAY-da, but then San PEE-dro (rather than PAY-dro). This is correct for the time period, as Los Angeles residents of the 1930s used these same pronunciations. Residents of San Pedro call it San PEE-dro to this day.
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Fay Dunnaways character, Evelyn Mulwray, drives a 1938 Packard 12 Convertible Victoria, but the film is set in 1937, as a newspaper shows in the barbershop scene
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The film's plot took inspiration from the so-called "California water wars" (1902-c. 1941), a series of of political conflicts between the city of Los Angeles and farmers and ranchers in the Owens Valley of Eastern California over water rights. To provide a water supply for Los Angeles, water from the Owens River started being diverted to Los Angeles. This gradually ruined the economy of the Owens Valley, and displaced its farmers.
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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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This film is in the Official Top 250 Narrative Feature Films on Letterboxd.
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The film's producer was Robert Evans (1930-2019), head of production for Paramount Pictures from 1966 to 1974. Evans is credited with taking a floundering studio and turning it into a leading company of the film market. He greenlit several important crime films of the 1970s, such as the first two "Godfather" films. Evans was convicted of cocaine trafficking in 1980, and was implicated in the murder of theatrical producer Roy Radin in 1983. Despite his lifelong protestations of innocence in both cases, his career declined considerably.
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Chief engineer Hollis Mulwray (the first murder victim in the film) was loosely inspired by William Mulholland, superintendent and chief engineer of the Bureau of Water Works and Supply. Mulholland designed and supervised the building of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a 233-mile-long (375 km) system to move water from Owens Valley to the San Fernando Valley. He is credited with providing Los Angeles with a sufficient water supply to allow the city to grow rapidly, despite its semi-arid climate. Mulholland Dam, Mulholland Drive, and Mulholland Highway were named in his honor.
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The dialogue includes the lines "What did you do in Chinatown?" / "As little as possible". These were based on a real-life conversation between screenwriter Robert Towne and a vice cop who used to work in Chinatown. The cop explained that due to the complicated use of dialects and the multiple gangs acting in Los Angeles's Chinatown, the police were uncertain whether their own actions were actually assisting crime victims or were assisting gangs in exploiting victims.
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When Jake confronts Evelyn he says to her, "I want the truth". Jack Nicholson would later appear in the 1992 film A Few Good Men where Tom Cruise also says, "I want the truth".
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The date given for the publication of Hollis Mulwray's supposed infidelity is September 29, 1937. This places the events of the film in early Autumn, and there is a subplot about a November election. Yet several characters complain of still suffering from summer colds.
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This was the second film directed by Roman Polanski to be entirely filmed in the United States, following "Rosemary's Baby" (1968). Polanski had moved to the United States in 1968, but mostly filmed projects outside this country.
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The film's main screenwriter was Robert Towne, who had frequently collaborated with Roger Corman since the early 1960s. Towne's main claims to fame in Hollywood were scripting the gothic horror film "The Tomb of Ligeia" (1964), and serving as a script doctor for both "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967) and "The Godfather" (1972).
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Robert Towne's intention was to depict Los Angeles as being controlled by a cadre of shadowy oligarchs. Which is why villain Noah Cross operates above the law and has influence over the police. The film intentionally defies some of the rules of the then-recently abandoned "Hays Code" (1934-1968), which prohibited villainous depictions of politicians, police officers, and other authority figures.
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While researching the history of Los Angeles in order to write his script, screenwriter Robert Towne drew inspiration from the non-fiction book "Southern California Country: An Island on the Land" (1946) by Carey McWilliams and from a magazine article called "Raymond Chandler's L.A". Towne wrote a letter to McWilliams to thank him for the inspiration.
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Robert Towne (the film's screenwriter) based Evelyn Mulwray on various "black widow" characters from classic films noir. The main plot twist is that Evelyn has not actually killed her husband, she is merely withholding information about the crime and its motives.
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Faye Dunaway grew to dislike Roman Polanski during the film's production, for supposedly mistreating her. She recalled in an interview what she disliked about him: "It was the incessant cruelty that I felt, the constant sarcasm, the never-ending need to humiliate me".
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The film's initial cinematographer was Stanley Cortez (1908 - 1997), who had a great reputation for working on psychological dramas over several decades. Polanski soon grew frustrated with Cortez's slow process, old-fashioned compositional sensibility, and unfamiliarity with the Panavision equipment. He had Cortez fired, and replaced with the relatively inexperienced John A. Alonzo (1934-2001). Alonzo was known for his uncomplicated and minimalistic style, and had started his career with filming documentaries for for National Geographic.
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Jerry Goldsmith composed and recorded the film's score in ten days.
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Actress Meg Tilly has starred in two sequels to two classic movies. She first starred in 'Psycho II' (1983), the sequel to 'Psycho'(1960), then later starred in 'The Two Jakes' (1990), the sequel to 'Chinatown' (1974). These four pictures were each first released in four different decades.
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Included among the 25 films on the American Film Institute's 2005 list of AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores.
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Cameo 

C.O. Erickson: The film's executive producer plays the banker in the barbershop who starts an argument with Jake.
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Director Cameo 

Roman Polanski: Although he liked the idea of doing a cameo in the film as the hood who slits Jack Nicholson's nose, he was less thrilled about having to have his long hair cut off for his brief appearance in the film.
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Spoilers 

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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."
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Three lines are repeated twice at seperate intervals. "I think I would've remembered", "It's an innocent question", and "As little as possible". "My daughter/my sister" is repeated several times at once.
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