Director Roman Polanski has had a tough and turbulent path through life—some of it his own making some of it just plain back luck. Part of my decision to review Chinatown was his legal problems resurfacing again in September of 2009 when he was arrested in Switzerland at the request of the U.S. Government for extradition back to the States to face criminal charges involving alleged sex with a minor from the 1970’s. On July 12, 2010, however, the Swiss rejected the U.S. request and instead declared him a “free man” although all six of the original charges are still pending in the U.S.
In 1969, before he was personally involved with our criminal justice system, Polanski’s pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by Charles Manson and his band of twisted followers. Despite the personal hell one would go through under such circumstances, Polanski directed Chinatown which was released in 1974. Chinatown is a 1974 American neo-noir film based on Robert Towne’s screenplay and starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston. The film clearly embodies the film noir genre with its multidimensional tale that is part mystery and part psychological drama.
The film, set in 1937 Los Angeles was inspired by the disputes over water rights that had plagued southern California. Nicholson plays JJ ‘Jake’ Gittes, a private detective who concentrates on matrimonial matters. He is hired by a phony Evelyn Mulwray when she suspects her husband Hollis, builder of the city’s water supply system, of having an affair. Gittes takes the case and photographs him with a young girl however, he was hired by an impersonator and not the real Mrs. Mulwray. When Mulwray is found dead, Jake is plunged into an intricate web of deceit involving murder, incest and governmental corruption all stemming from the city’s water supply.
Polanski even makes a cameo appearance in film (the clip of course shown here) as the individual who famously cuts Jack Nicholson’s nose forcing him to wear an obnoxious bandage throughout much of the film. Perhaps most importantly, Chinatown has one my favorite lines said in a movie “Forget it, Jake — it’s Chinatown” (again clip provided for your viewing pleasure). It is also the last line of this great film. You are a fool if you don’t make time to watch this one.