|The poster for Chinatown emphasizes
its elusive mystery and twisted plot in
the curves of cigarette smoke and water.
Jack Nicholson (above) portrays detective Jake
Gittes, helpless against the tragic tangle of lives
and desires in Chinatown.
John Huston (below) is the perfect, deadly
combination of downhome charm and utter
evil as ruthless tycoon Noah Cross.
Itâ€™s a story of lust and greed--and of bringing water to Los
Angeles. Loosely based on historical events, itâ€™s set three
decades after those events occurred. The central historical
character is divided between two different characters in the filmâ€”
one the villain and the other the victim. Itâ€™s so well known Iâ
€™ve recently seen it referenced on two different television
shows. Itâ€™s called Chinatown, though very little of the film is
set there and the title actually refers to the complexity of the plot.
On the surface, it scarcely sounds like the stuff of memorable
movie-making, though it pained and troubled me when I first saw
it, and Iâ€™ve never quite gotten those initial reactions out of my
It has a stellar cast and a fugitive director. Itâ€™s one of my
Jack Nicholson portrays Jake Gittes, a 1930s detective. The film
is directed by Roman Polanski, though director John Huston is
one of the most memorable actors in it. He plays the evil half of
the character that represents William Mulholland, the water
tycoon Noah Cross.
Faye Dunaway plays Evelyn Mulwray, the wife of the other half,
who hires Gittes to find her husband, water department chief
Hollis Mulwray, whom she suspects of seeing another woman. It
turns out that he isnâ€™t seeing anyone. Heâ€™s drowned.
The movie is both bleak and stylish. It was nominated for eleven
Oscars including Best Picture, Actor, Actress and Director, losing
out to The Godfather in all but Screenplay for Robert Towne.
Other nominations included Cinematography, Art, Set
Decoration, Sound, Score, Editing and Costume Design.
"You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe
me, you don't," Cross tells Gittes in a line that neatly sums up the
entire convoluted interwoven themes of identity and water.
Faye Dunaway is the troubled and tragic Evelyn Mulwray, wife of Hollis Mulwray,
whose name is a partial anagram of Mulholland.