Break out your pin curls and fedoras because it’s time for another installment of Classic Movie Monday, where I sift through Netflix’s Classic section so you aren’t stuck watching all Hellraiser: Bloodline. This week I paid homage to our drought here in Southern California, and my slight obsession of 1930s Los Angeles, by watching Chinatown.
Chinatown (1974) is directed by Roman Polanski and stars Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway and was actually inspired by the real-life “California Water Wars” that occurred in the early 1900s. The film is much more exciting than the real life inspiration, so I would suggest you skip your google search of the water wars and just go straight to watching the film. If the sex, murder, and conspiracy doesn’t catch your interest you can go back and google the struggle over distribution of water.
Chinatown is set in 1937 Los Angeles and is every bit as art deco and film noir fueled as you could possibly want. The film opens with a woman who identifies herself as Evelyn Mulwray hiring Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), a private investigator, to trail her husband whom she suspects is having an affair. Jake Gittes, being the amazing P.I. every film noir needs, successfully tails Hollis Mulwray and hears him publically oppose the creation of a new reservoir and even photographs Mulwray with a young and attractive woman. It looks like Mulwray’s goose is cooked when pictures of him and the young lady get published in a newspaper.
After celebrating another successful tail, Gittes is greeted at his office by the real Mrs. Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway). Woops. In order to avoid being sued by the real Evelyn Mulwray and co. and to satisfy his own curiosity, Gittes tries to figure out who would want Hollis Mulwray exposed and more importantly why. What he discovers is far more serious than an affair with a young woman and it doesn’t take long for a sinister plot to unwind concerning a drought, the distribution of water in Los Angeles, sex and murder.
There are a lot of spoilers regarding this film floating around out there, so this review is going to remain pretty ambiguous. I knew absolutely nothing about the film the first time I saw it (granted I was fourteen years old) and I think that’s why I fell so in love with it. This is really the perfect thing to watch for those of us unlucky enough to be living in California’s horrific drought. As a Southern California native it was super interesting to see characters discussing the increasing sprawl of Los Angeles in the 1930s and 1940s.
You can also do what I did, and have an unconventional double feature of Big Trouble in Little China and Chinatown. Both are available on Netflix and while incredibly different both are fantastic.
I did some P.I. work and tracked down this Chinatown trivia for you—
– Faye Dunaway and Roman Polanski had heated on-set arguments and at one point Polanski pulled out strands of Dunaway’s hair.
– Polanski wanted to stay true to the tradition of Raymond Chandler and film noir detective stories so the entire film is in the perspective of the main character. Because of this, Jake Gittes is in every scene of the film.
– In the original script no scenes took place in Chinatown at all.
– Polanski has a cameo as a thug who slits Gittes’ nose.
– The line, “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown” is on numerous “Greatest Movie Lines” lists.