Jack Nicholson was born to play sharp-dressed, wisecracking private investigator Jake Gittes, an ex-cop with some bad memories of his old Chinatown beat in 1937 Los Angeles, who’s doing much better for himself these days tracking down unfaithful wives and husbands — until he uncovers a monumental scam engineered by the corrupt powers that be that will shape the future of L.A.
One could argue that this film was a career best for many of its collaborators, including director Roman Polanski, production designer Richard Sylbert and cinematographer John Alonso, who created a beautiful film noir in color, its atmospherics enhanced by Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting score with its melancholy trumpet solos. Then there was Faye Dunaway, the lovely but flawed woman of mystery and tragedy with whom Jake becomes involved, and director John Houston in full acting mode as the mighty, menacing and unrepentantly sinful Noah Cross, the manipulator of deceitful doings within the Department of Water and Power.
And then there is the taut and complex screenplay that won an Academy Award for Robert Towne, who always intended “Chinatown” to be the first of a trilogy based loosely on the history of the shady dealings that built the City of Angels.
The Blu-ray edition contains a three-part documentary on that history, “Water and Power: The Aqueduct — The Aftermath — The River and Beyond,” plus commentary by Towne and director David Fincher (“Zodiac”). There’s also an appreciation of the film from prominent filmmakers and documentaries on the filming of “Chinatown” and its legacy.
And there’s that dark and jolting ending in a part of the city where things never went well for Jake, when one of his colleagues sadly implores him with that famous last line to “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
Just try to forget it.
— Gene Triplett