Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Jack Nicholson (Jake Gittes); Faye Dunaway (Evelyn Mulwray); John Huston (Noah Cross); Diane Ladd (Ida Sessions); John Hillerman (Russ Yelburton); Perry Lopez (Lou Escobar); Roy Jenson (Claude Mulvihill), and Darrell Zwerling (Hollis Mulwray).
In his outstanding tribute to the classic film noir thrillers of the 1930's and ‘40s, director Roman Polanski created an almost perfect mystery movie. Chinatown won accolades from film critics across the nation as well as an Academy Award for the Best Original Screenplay of 1975 for Robert Towne.
Chinatown's intricate web of intrigue combined elements of sexual perversion, greed, and political corruption into a no-holds-barred look at the sordid side of Los Angeles. A city shining in the West but where many of the lives of the rich and famous were anything but golden.
Detective Jake Gittes earns his money the dirty way. Spying on cheating spouses and taking the 8x10 glossies of marital infidelity that will ultimately earn his clients fat divorce settlements. Despite his fast talking chatter, Gittes is just a short step away from the seamy (and steamy) indiscretions he spies upon.
Gittes used to be a cop but the puzzling and disturbing world he covered as a member of the LAPD, coupled with his own disrespect for the police hierarchy, sent him off to open his own detective agency.
Every LA cop knew that it was better to turn a blind eye to what went on inside the Department, just as it was necessary to let sleeping dogs lie in the Chinatown district. Chinatown hid secrets with its alien culture that were beyond the cops' understanding. A world tied intrinsically to the past and seasoned by troubling demons and strange gods whose long fingers reach into the present, often with tragic outcomes.
As the movie opens, Gittes agrees to have his operatives tail a high profile Angeleno. Hollis Mulwray heads the powerful LA water department and was known as a straight arrow. Mulwray's wife pleads with Gittes to spy on her husband and find out if he is, as she suspects, embroiled in an extra marital affair. Despite Gittes warning to Mrs. Mulwray that it might be in her best interest to ignore her fears and just accept her husband's infidelity, the detective eventually takes the case.
Gittes obtains photos of the middle-aged Mulwray seemingly romancing a young blonde and the story and photos of Mulwray and his young lady are published in the newspaper, igniting a scandal. Gittes soon learns that he's been duped. The woman who hired him to investigate Mulwray was a phony. The real Mrs. Hollis Mulwray is furious and threatens Gittes with a lawsuit.
Realizing that he's been a patsy for some unknown enemy, Gittes vows to investigate the Mulwray case on his own. Following Mulwray, Gittes realizes that whatever is going on is not just a simple sexual fling by the head of the water company. There's more trouble than tawdry illicit sex going on in Mulwray's life.
Gittes follows Mulwray to dry desert creek beds and then down to the ocean in the dead of night. Whatever is happening with Mulwray seems less about sex and more about the need for L.A. to have more water in the midst of a drought.
Before long, Mulwray is dead. He's apparently drowned in a water reservoir in the Hollywood Hills above Los Angeles. Jumped by gangsters posing as security agents, Gittes is warned to not stick his nose where it doesn't belong. In a particularly graphic scene, Gittes' nose is slashed nearly off his face by one of the rat-faced thugs (director Roman Polanski in a great cameo role).
However real the personal threat, Gittes is in too deep to let this mystery go. He soon becomes involved with Mulwray's widow, Evelyn (Faye Dunaway) and makes arrangements to meet with Mulwray's former partner, a crusty and devilish millionaire, Noah Cross. Cross is played perfectly by John Huston who won directorial accolades for his work on The Maltese Falcon decades before. When Noah Cross realizes that Gittes' silence can't be bought, Cross menacingly sneers, ‘You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you don't.
As Gittes moves from one puzzling clue to another, he knows in his gut that something bad, really bad, is happening. Something deep and dark. It's Chinatown all over again.