CHINATOWN (1974) C widescreen 131m dir: Roman Polanski
w/Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Perry Lopez, John Hillerman, Darrell Zwerling, Diane Ladd, Roy Jenson, Roman Polanski, Richard Bakalyan
Excellent crime drama, set in the Los Angeles of 1937. Nicholson is superb as a smalltime private detective who stumbles on a big case which involves graft over valuable land and water rights, murder, incest, and other intriguing elements. They're all put in their proper place by writer Robert Towne in an intricate, literate screenplay (which is so well-done that it is often used as a paradigm in screenwriting classes). This is a treat not to be missed.
From The Movie Guide: "A wonderfully brooding, suspenseful revisitation of the land of film noir, CHINATOWN is not only one of the greatest detective films, but one of the most perfectly constructed of all films. With Polanski's brilliant direction, Towne's intricate screenplay, and Nicholson's and Dunaway's tour-de-force performances, the film stands as one of the best of the 1970s. ...
"Besides telling a gripping story involving incest and political graft, CHINATOWN recaptures the atmosphere of Los Angeles, 1937 --- the cars, clothes, and buildings, right down to the barber chairs (kudos to production designer Richard Sylbert and costumer Anthea Sylbert). The tone and flavor of this film evoke strong memories of MURDER, MY SWEET and the original THE BIG SLEEP, yet it stands singularly on its own merits. Even the muted color cinematography (normally antithetical to the tenets of noir) is evocative and appropriate. Interestingly, Towne's script included not a single scene set in Chinatown --- initially a metaphorical state of mind rather than a specific location.
"Look for director Polanski as the thug who pokes a switchblade up Nicholson's nostril while uttering the famous line, 'You know what happens to nosy fellows? They lose their noses.' Another highlight: Dunaway's 'sister ... daughter ... sister ... daughter' routine, a camp classic much parodied since."
CHINATOWN received an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (Towne). It was also nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor (Nicholson), Actress (Dunaway), Cinematography (John A. Alonzo), Editing (Sam O'Steen), Score (Jerry Goldsmith), Art Direction (Richard Sylbert, W. Stewart Campbell, Ruby Levitt), Costume Design (Anthea Sylbert), and Sound (Bud Grenzbach, Lawrence Jost).