Favorite Films: Chinatown (1974)

Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown

Eddie Muller of the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) series Noir Alley thinks that Chinatown is the greatest film ever made about Los Angeles. I am inclined to agree with him. Last night, I saw it for the nth time and newly appreciated it for its dark beauty.

How is it that the ultimate film about L.A. was directed by a Pole? You might remember that five years earlier, Charlie Manson and his gang brutally murdered Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, who at the time was 8½ months pregnant. She was stabbed 16 times, killing herself and her unborn child. Polanski was away in Europe at the time working on a film project.

Roman Polanski Playing a Bit Part in His Film

So, yes, I think Polanski had an understanding of the dark side of Los Angeles, which came out in his film. In fact, it was Polanski who insisted that Faye Dunaway gets shot in the head at the end of the movie while attempting to escape her father and incestuous lover played by John Huston. Both the producer and scriptwriter wanted to have Dunaway shoot Huston at the end. Polanski disagreed, saying that his film was not an adventure for children.

Film is a collaborative art form. In consequence, there are so many ways a film can go wrong. This film didn’t. Even after decades, it comes across as fresh, interesting, and somber as it did 48 years ago when it premiered.

I even like the sequel, The Two Jakes (1990) directed by and starring Jack Nicholson.

An interesting side note: I knew the next-door neighbor to the Tate murder house on Cielo Drive. It was inhabited by Richard Anderson, a Hollywood actor who had a long and illustrious career and was also a delightful person.