I've watched Roman Polanski's classic movie Chinatown for a third time. Because it’s one of the great crime films, I feel I gain something new each time I see it. It’s not my favourite film by any means, but I certainly admire its technical accomplishment, the superb acting, and Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting theme tune.
Jack Nicholson is terrific as Jake Gittes, a private eye who is hired by a woman who claims that her husband, Hollis Mulwray, is having an affair. Gittes finds Mulwray with a young woman, and discredits him, but then Mulwray’s real wife (played by Faye Dunaway) turns up, and the plot begins to thicken.
The story, set in 1937, involves dirty dealings over water rights in Los Angeles, and was based on a complex and long-running real-life controversy. Polanski himself appears briefly as a vicious gangster, and John Huston is brilliantly effective as Dunaway’s rich and corrupt father.
The script was written by Robert Towne, and it won an Academy Award. The mystery element is more than competently done, but what really marks out Towne’s work is the attention to character and setting, not least the enigmatic backdrop of Chinatown itself in the chilling final scene. Apparently, Towne planned a trilogy featuring Gittes, but it was a long time before the sequel to Chinatown, The Two Jakes, appeared, and many people (not me) thought it was a let-down, with the result that the third film in the sequence has never been made.