YMMV / Chinatown


  • Award Snub:
    • The film won an Oscar for Best Screenplay, but probably would have won a few more, perhaps even Best Picture, if not for the misfortune of being released in the same year as The Godfather Part II. A lesser example than most, because the winner is also a great film. Chinatown did beat The Godfather Part II for Best Drama at the Golden Globes.
    • John Huston plays one of the most chilling villains of all time, and yet was not nominated for a supporting Oscar.
    • And then there's Jack Nicholson losing Best Actor. The award (largely seen as a sympathy Oscar) was given to Art Carney for the forgettable fluff piece Harry and Tonto.
  • Awesome Music: Jerry Goldsmith's beautifully evocative score, highlighted by the main title theme with its melancholy trumpet solo.
  • Complete Monster: Noah Cross is a seemingly jovial, charming businessman who is working to stop a drought impacting Los Angeles. In truth, however, Cross is a ruthless sociopath who is purposefully enabling the drought to work towards creating fertile land he can sell for real estate. Cross murders anyone who could stand in his way, be it random innocents or his own son-in-law, and is revealed to have ignored serious warnings about the stability of the St. Francis Dam, showing zero remorse for the hundreds left dead when the dam inevitably burst due to his Cross's own greed. The true extent of Cross's evil is put on display as his daughter Evelyn is revealed to have been raped as a teenager by Cross, and in the present, Cross is attempting to get his hands on Evelyn's Child by Rape, Katherine. In the end, after Evelyn is killed, Cross fakes horror at the scene before swiftly dragging Katherine away, planning to use her as Evelyn's replacement for Cross's pleasure. note  Noah Cross has stood out for decades as one of cinema's most memorable, and depraved, villains, a reputation handily earned.
  • Continuity Lockout: The chief reason The Two Jakes failed. Despite Chinatown's many It Was His Sled moments, Jakes required a lot of knowledge of the previous film for it to have a full impact.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment: Back in the day, John Huston played a different, far more benevolent, Noah in 1966's The Bible.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: The sexual abuse Noah Cross commits within the movie could be seen in a whole new light after attention was brought to a real-life court case implicating Roman Polanski himself in something similar. This article on Cracked explicitly notes the parallels between how Cross gets off scott-free for his crimes and how Polanski himself escaped jail time by fleeing the U.S.note 
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • After this film was released, Joan Crawford declared that Faye Dunaway would be perfect to play her in a biography. Okay, stop laughing, it's true.
    • Those who saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit first will enjoy Roger's "pattycake" scene a lot more after watching the opening scene in Chinatown.
    • The film can become somewhat funny from the youth's point of view now, since the tragic and lost main character contrasts very much with the modern Nicholson's Large Ham roles.
    • In one of the grand ironies in film history, Jack Nicholson himself found out shortly after the movie was released that his "sister" was actually his mother, which is damn-near identical to the movie's iconic plot twist. See the Trivia tab for more details.
  • It Was His Sled: It's such a famous film that the Wham Line "She's my sister and my daughter!" has lost its power as The Reveal to many.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • "Forget it, _____. It's _______"
    • The "sister, daughter" slapping scene.
  • Moral Event Horizon: If there was any kind of sympathy for Noah Cross, it is long gone when it's revealed that he fathered a daughter upon his own daughter, Mrs. Mulwray, by rape.
  • Nightmare Fuel: The final scene becomes quite psychedelic and very embarrassing due to a somewhat narcotic atmosphere, alienated by Catherine and the famous Jake's Heroic B.S.O.D.. A good way to do Downer Ending.
  • Neutral Evil: Noah Cross is a Faux Affably Evil tycoon who has more money and power than he knows what to do with. Doesn't matter: he wants more.
  • One-Scene Wonder:
    • John Huston, as Noah Cross, has all of two (three at a push), very brief, scenes in this very long film. And he's often remembered as one of the most despicable villains in cinematic history.
    • Diane Ladd as "Mrs. Mulwray" (aka Ida Sessions), who hires Gittes in the first scene. She does turn up a couple times later, first as a voice on the phone and then as a corpse.
    • Polanski himself, as the Man with the Knife. "You're a very nosy fella, kittycat. You know what happens to nosy fellas? No? Wanna guess?"note 
  • True Art Is Angsty: Richard Evans, the film's producer, wanted Roman Polanski as director because he thought Polanski, a european, would have a Darker and Edgier vision of the USA more suited to the script. For his part, Polanski also insisted that the script's conclusion be changed from a Bittersweet Ending reminiscent of classic film noir stories to a stark and nihilistic Downer Ending, thinking that they needed to go all the way now that the Hays Code was gone and that it was necessary for Chinatown to be a truly special film and not just a cookier-cutter Hollywood movie where everything magically works out in the end.
  • Vindicated by History: The Two Jakes is now recognized as a worthy sequel to Chinatown, especially if one watches the films back-to-back, but it's not the classic the original is.


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/YMMV/Chinatown