One of the seminal Neo-Noir films, and considered by many to be among the best of Film Noir films in general, Chinatown (1974) was written by Robert Towne and directed by Roman Polanski. The film stars Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston. It is DARK.Chinatown tells the story of Jake Gittes, a former cop turned Private Detective living and working in 1937 Los Angeles. Gittes is hired by a woman claiming to be Evelyn Mulwray, the wife of the city's water commissioner to prove that her husband is having an affair. It seems like a simple enough job. But it isn't. The woman who hired him isn't the real Mrs. Mulwray. Then the water commissioner ends up dead and the real Mrs. Mulwray hires Gittes to find out what really happened. He may think he knows what he's dealing with. But he doesn't.Fun fact: Chinatown was co-financed by Bob Guccione, the publisher of the famous pornographic magazine Penthouse.For the kind of place, see Friendly Local Chinatown. Don't confuse this with Big Trouble in Little China, however tempting it may be.Had a lesser-known (and less well-regarded) sequel, The Two Jakes, directed by Jack Nicholson and released in 1990.
This movie contains examples of:
Accidental Misnaming: Cross persists in pronouncing Jake's last name as "Gitts" even after he's corrected. Also, Curly addresses him as "Mr. Geetis" a couple times.
Adult Fear: Got evidence of corruption in the government? The rich and powerful will just cover it up. Not fair? Too bad; you're a nobody.
And Then What?: Subverted - Jake attempts this with the villain. It doesn't work.
Jake Gittes: I just wanna know what you're worth. More than 10 million?
Noah Cross: Oh my, yes!
Jake Gittes: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can't already afford?
Chekhov's Gun: The script is so loaded with these that many consider it to be one of the most structurally perfect screenplays ever written, and it has a reputation for being taught in screenwriting classes. Nothing is superfluous in this movie.
'Bad for glass'. The salt water is bad for the grass.
Evelyn has a flaw in her left eye, Jake shoots out the left taillight of her car, the pair of glasses that Jake finds has the left lens broken, Jake's left nostril is the one that gets slashed.... and so on and so on. Guess where Evelyn eventually gets shot?
Even the seemingly insignificant touch of Evelyn accidentally setting off the car horn by resting her head on the steering wheel comes back with a vengeance at the end, when Jake (and the audience) know her fate even before seeing the carnage by the continuous sound of the car horn.
Chekhov's Gunman: Jake's client in the opening scene, and the fact that he cannot afford to pay Jake for his services.
Cigarette of Anxiety: Faye Dunaway gets so nervous that she lights a cigarette while her previous one is still burning.
Deliberate Values Dissonance: The characters' casual sexism/racism/antisemitism. It should be noted that when Gittes makes an anti-Semitic comment during his conversation with the manager of the Vista Inn retirement home, he is bluffing; he's pretending to be the son of a potential resident there, so that he can get information about fraudulent real estate dealings. He is, therefore, pretending to be the type of upper-crust exclusivist who would seek out such a venue. His anti-Semitic comment is not his actual opinion; it's part of his guise to get into the place.
Screenwriter Robert Towne once expressed that Huston was the second best-cast actor in the film, next to Jack Nicholson. Huston's performance, he claimed, elevated Cross above the portrayal in the script and made him truly memorable.
Eye Scream: Evelyn ends up getting fatally shot through the eye at the end.
Faux Affably Evil: This is the facade that Noah Cross hides behind. Beneath, Cross is a living example of what a man is capable of doing if he had no moral scruples and no law to stop him.
Cross: See, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that, at the right time, and the right place, they're capable of ANYTHING.
Femme Fatale: Everyone thinks Evelyn Mulwray is one of these. She is the exact opposite.
Film Noir: Although it goes out of its way to subvert and lampshade many of the core tropes of the genre.
Genre Deconstruction: Critics such as John G. Cawelti have argued that the film is all about deconstructing the "myth" of Film Noir and the Hardboiled Detective. Gittes isn't a tough, emotionally detached private eye, but rather a vulnerable, flawed Anti-Hero. Evelyn isn't a Femme Fatale, but everyone assumes she is (in part because of the misogynistic value system underpinning 1930s California). And the villain is so rich, powerful and influential that Gittes is ultimately powerless to stop him or his conspiracy. And so on.
Gratuitous French: When Jake is in bed with Evelyn and speaks about his bad memories of Chinatown.
Evelyn:Cherchez la femme. Jake: (*looks back in blank incomprehension*) Evelyn: Was there a woman involved? Jake: Of course.
Guile Hero: While "hero" might be something of a stretch, the fact is that Jake is VERY good at making people slip up so he can wring info out of them, and has so many tricks up his sleeve he'd do Batman proud.
Karma Houdini: Part of the Downer Ending is that Noah Cross gets away scot-free for his crimes, and even takes Katherine, his daughter/granddaughter, away at the end. It's implied that he'll go on to molest her the same way he did his daughter.
Noah Cross, who is trying to gain control of all the water in Los Angeles. Noah Cross' original name in the script was Julian, so someone on the team probably decided to change the name sometime during production in realization.
The coroner's name is Morty (Mort is French for "dead").
Missing White Woman Syndrome: At the beginning of the film, farmers are campaigning for the construction of a new dam which will allow for better irrigation. Hollis explains that the proposed site for the new dam has a shale base, as did the previous dam in the area, which collapsed and killed five hundred people. In a line of dialogue present in the screenplay but not the film itself, Escobar explains that the reason this collapse and all the deaths it caused didn't get sufficient publicity was because most of the people killed were Mexican immigrants.
Stopped Clock: Jack places a watch under the car of the person he's tailing. That way he can know at what time he left by the time the watch was run over.
Title Drop: Probably one of the most famous examples: "Forget it, Jake—it's Chinatown...."
The Unreveal: What exactly happened during Jake's time in Chinatown.
Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The city of Los Angeles really did steal water from valley farmers. Interestingly, this was neither the first nor the last time the events in question were fictionalized, merely the most well-known.
Villainous Incest: One of several things that really helps to cement Noah Cross as a thoroughly nasty villain.
Would Hit a Girl: Jake slaps Evelyn repeatedly to get the truth out of her. When he comes to call in a favour from a man that hired him to find out if his wife was cheating on him, the wife opens the door sporting a huge black eye. In keeping with the Deliberate Values Dissonance, neither of these instances spark much outrage in-universe.
Your Mom: Gittes uses the wife variation to insult a cop:
Loach: What happened to your nose, Gittes? Somebody slammed a bedroom window on it?