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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

Chinatown (1974) ft. Scott Cole

Guest: Scott Cole (Twitter-X/IG (@colecommascott) movie commentator, and occassional writer/contributor for The Movie Friends (@moviefriendspodcast))


  • Roman Polanski, Director

  • Robert Towne, Writer

  • Jack Nicholson as J. J. "Jake" Gittes

  • Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Cross-Mulwray

  • John Huston as Noah Cross

  • Perry Lopez as Lt. Lou Escobar

  • John Hillerman as Russ Yelburton

  • Darrell Zwerling as Hollis I. Mulwray

  • Diane Ladd as Ida Sessions

  • Roy Jenson as Claude Mulvihill

  • Roman Polanski as Man with Knife

  • Dick Bakalyan as Detective Loach

  • Joe Mantell as Lawrence Walsh

  • Bruce Glover as Duffy

  • Nandu Hinds as Sophie

  • James Hong as Kahn

  • Beulah Quo as Maid

  • Jerry Fujikawa as Gardener

  • Belinda Palmer as Katherine Cross

  • Rance Howard as Irate Farmer

  • Burt Young as Curly


  • Chinatown was originally released on June 20, 1974. (50th Anniversary)

  • The film earned a total of roughly $8.5 million in 1974 finishing in the top 10 for the year, but would finish its theatre run with nearly $29 million internationally.

  • Chinatown was met with near universal critical praise primarily for the screenplay, direction, and acting performances of its two leads: Nicholson and Dunaway.

  • It was nominated for 11 Oscars: Best Picture, Director (Polanski), Actor (Nicholson), Actress (Dunaway), Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Sound, and Original Score, with Robert Towne winning Best Original Screenplay.

  • AFI Lists:

    • 1998 – AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – Ranked 19th

    • 2001 – AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – Ranked 16th

    • 2003 – AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:

      • Noah Cross – Ranked 16th Villain

      • J.J. Gittes – Nominated Hero

    • 2005 – AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:

      • "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown" – Ranked 74th

    • 2005 – AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Ranked 9th

    • 2007 – AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – Ranked 21st

    • 2008 – AFI's 10 Top 10 mystery film – Ranked 2nd

  • 2010 – Best film of all time, The Guardian

  • 2012 - In the British Film Institute's 2012 Sight & Sound poll of the greatest films ever made, Chinatown was 78th among critics and 91st among directors.

  • 2015 - The film ranked 12th on BBC's "100 Greatest American Films" list, voted on by film critics from around the world.

  • 2022 - In the 2022 update of the Sight & Sound poll of the greatest films ever made, Chinatown was 146th among the critics and 72nd among directors.

  • Chinatown received a sequel in 1990, The Two Jakes, directed by and starring Jack Nicholson that did not receive nearly the acclaim of the original.

  • In 1991, the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

  • Chinatown currently holds a 98% among critics on RT, a 92 score on Metacritic, and a 4.3/5 on Letterboxd.

Plot Summary: Chinatown (1974), directed by Roman Polanski, is a masterful blend of noir and tragedy that stands as one of the great achievements in American cinema. The film stars Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes, a private detective whose specialty is uncovering marital infidelities. When he is hired by a woman claiming to be Evelyn Mulwray (Diane Ladd) to investigate her husband’s suspected affair, Gittes is drawn into a labyrinth of deceit, corruption, and murder. Set against the backdrop of 1930s Los Angeles, the plot thickens as Gittes discovers the true Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) and realizes he has been duped. The deeper he digs, the more he uncovers a sinister conspiracy involving water rights and the powerful land magnate Noah Cross (John Huston).

Chinatown is not just a detective story; it is a commentary on the corruption and decay that lie beneath the surface of society, a theme that remains relevant to this day. In the end, as the iconic final line suggests, "Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown," the film reminds us that some mysteries are better left unsolved, and some wounds never heal.

Did You Know:

  • After several takes that never looked quite right, Faye Dunaway got annoyed and told Jack Nicholson to actually slap her. He did and felt very guilty for it, despite it being Dunaway's decision. The shot made it into the movie.

  • At the time of filming, Jack Nicholson had just embarked on his longstanding relationship with Anjelica Huston. This made his scenes with her father, John Huston, rather uncomfortable, especially as the only time Anjelica was on set was the day they were filming the scene where Noah Cross interrogates Nicholson's character with "Mr. you sleep with my daughter?"

  • Roman Polanski said that in staying true to the tradition of Raymond Chandler's detective stories, he shot the whole movie from the perspective of the main character.

  • Roman Polanski eliminated Jake Gittes' voice-over narration, which was written in the script, and filmed the movie so that the audience discovered the clues at the same time Gittes did.

  • Roman Polanski had been planning to make a film with Jack Nicholson, but hadn't found the right property yet. He actively pursued the script when he learned about it. As luck would have it, Polanski was also producer Robert Evans' first choice for director, as he wanted a European vision of the United States, which he felt would be darker, and a little more cynical.

  • Faye Dunaway and Roman Polanski were notorious for their on-set arguments. During filming, Polanski pulled out some strands of Dunaway's hair. On another occasion, when she asked him what her character's motivation was, he exploded, "Just say the f**king words, your salary is your motivation!"

  • L.A.'s original Chinatown was demolished between 1933 and 1936 to make way for Union Station. The current Chinatown, located a few blocks away, opened in 1938. So the only time L.A. had no official Chinatown was 1937, the year in which this film is set.

Ask Dana Anything:

  • Eliza Kilpatrick from Australia:

    • Dana, are legal films a genre?

    • What movie does the best job of portraying a solicitor?

    • Dana, Please tell us why you think Tom is single?

    • P.S Please review The Castle (AUS) (1997)

Best Performance: Jack Nicholson (Jake Gittes)/John Huston (Cross)

Best Secondary Performance: Roman Polanski (Director)/Faye Dunaway (Evelyn)

Most Charismatic Award: Faye Dunaway (Evelyn)/Fritzi Burr (Mulwray Sec'y)/Allan Warnick (Clerk)

Best Scene:

  • Water Release

  • The Real Mrs. Mulwray

  • Jake Attacked

  • Lunch with Cross

  • Katherine (Sister v. Daughter)

  • Escape at Curly's

  • Chinatown

Favorite Scene: Lunch with Cross/Chinatown

Most Indelible Moment: Chinatown/Jake Attacked

In Memorium:

  • William Russell, 99, English actor (Doctor Who, The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, The Great Escape, Superman), holds the Guinness World Record for longest gap between appearances on the same TV show (1965-2022 Doctor Who)

  • Betty Anne Rees, 81, American actress (Unholy Rollers, Sugar Hill)

  • Jeannette Charles, 96, British actress (National Lampoon's European Vacation, The Naked Gun, Austin Powers in Goldmember), famously known for her lookalike roles of Queen Elizabeth II.

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Walsh: Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.

Ida Sessions: Are you alone?

Jake Gittes: Isn't everybody?

Loach: What happened to your nose, Gittes? Somebody slammed a bedroom window on it?

Jake Gittes: Nope. Your wife got excited. She crossed her legs a little too quick. You understand what I mean, pal?

Jake Gittes: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can't already afford?

Noah Cross: The future, Mr. Gittes! The future.

Noah Cross: Of course I'm respectable. I'm old! Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.

Jake Gittes: But, Mrs. Mulwray, I goddamn near lost my nose. And I like it. I like breathing through it. And I still think you're hiding something.

Evelyn Mulwray: Hollis seems to think you're an innocent man.

Jake Gittes: Well, I've been accused of a lot of things before, Mrs. Mulwray, but never that.

Lt. Escobar: How'd you get past the guard?

Jake Gittes: Well, to tell you the truth, I lied a little.

Noah Cross: Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water.

Lt. Escobar: [pointing to a graffito on the wall] Isn't that your phone number?

Jake Gittes: Is it? I forget. I don't call myself that often.

Morty: Isn't that something? Middle of a drought and the water commissioner drowns. Only in L.A.

The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 7.5

Impact/Significance: 8.33

Novelty: 7.5

Classic-ness: 6.67

Rewatchability: 8.17

Audience Score: 8.7 (81% Google, 93% RT)

Total: 46.87

Remaining Questions:

  • Who hired Ida Sessions, and why was she killed?

  • Why was a cop firing a gun on a crowded street at 100 yards, and did he have the legal right to do so?

  • What happens to Katherine?

  • How did Cross move Mulwray's body and clean up the scene without anyone seeing him at Mulwray's house?

  • What do you think the significance of the title Chinatown is?

    • The film's enigmatic title is a metaphor for moral corruption by unseen forces. Throughout the film, Jake Gittes refers to his time as a police officer in Chinatown, where "you can't always tell what's going on." In Hollywood, the movie's line, "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown", has become a mantra for those who have been burned or snubbed by the entertainment industry, the implication being that it's better to "let it go" than make an issue of it, because that's just how the industry works.

Listener Questions:

  • Andrew Corns (The Revisionist Almanac)

    • This is a larger Jack question but just how incredible was that run of his from 1969 - 1980? It’s gotta be one of the best of any actor in a 10ish year span, right?


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