Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Back to 1974: Chinatown

I had forgotten how stunning CHINATOWN was and still is, how we loved it back in 1974 - it was on again this week as part of a Jack Nicholson season on tv (along with THE PASSENGER below). Everything about it is so perfect, Polanski fashions a movie of great moments from Robert Towne's script, changing the ending of course. It captures the L.A. of the 1930s as it must have been, all those 1920s houses etc and the perfect costumes and hairstyles. There's that first great scene as Jack persists in telling his Chinaman joke unaware of Mrs Mulwray behind him ... and then that teasing plot of what is happening to the water supply .... and who is behind it all, as Noah Cross plots for "the future" ...
She never sees anyone for long ...
We had got used to Nicholson's rather lazy performances over the decades since, but he was on the ball here, as he was for Antonioni and Forman. Faye Dunaway is equally mesmerising, and its as much her movie as Jack's as her Evelyn Mulwray contains the dark heart of the film, along with Noah Cross, her venal father, as ripely played by John Huston. Faye's marcelled hair and plucked eyebrows give her a unique look here, she looks inscrutably oriental (as they used to say) in that scene in bed with JJ Gittes. (Funny, much as we liked CHINATOWN we simply had no interest in seeing the later THE TWO JAKES...).  That ending too still stuns and that final line  "Forget it,'s Chinatown" is of course up there with "Nobody's perfect" or "Frankly my dear I don't give a damn". I like the old style credits and that melancholy lovely score by Jerry Goldsmith is exactly right, particularly at the end. Faye and Polanski of course had one of the great feuds, seems he pulled a hair out of her head .... she is so brilliant here though that there should have been a tie for best actress that year. Perhaps her win in 1976 for NETWORK was for CHINATOWN as well ...

In all, perhaps the finest balance of Hollywood classicism and European art cinema any director has ever conjured, and a key '70s movie and part of the new Hollywood of Coppola, Scorsese, De Palma et al. Polanski is now subject to a two-part retrospective in London, where CHINATOWN will be getting 38 screenings and those other ones we like like REPULSION and his delicious vampire satire DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES (Polanski label). Geoff Andrew of the BFI refers to CHINATOWN as "A dazzlingly intelligent film of great dramatic power and near-mythic import."


  1. Faye was glorious here, glamorous to the tips of her fingernails. She truly seemed the embodiment of a new-found Golden Age movie queen here. I remember reading once that Julie Christie was considered for Evelyn Mulwray, and, much as I adore Ms. Christie, I had to say, "Nope, nobody could take Dunaway's place in this one".

  2. Perfectly true, from another long time Christie admirer (I really wanted her to win that second oscar for AWAY FROM HER 40+ years after her first). I also love Faye's goddessey looks in THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, A PLACE FOR LOVERS - as per recent reviews here, and her deliciously evil Milady in the MUSKETEERS films ..... why though did she do that shoddy remake of THE WICKED LADY ? !

  3. Yes, I enjoyed those other postings as well...and truly adored Faye in her heyday. Its a huge puzzlement to me why she made some of the choices she did in her career, especially as it seems impossible now for her to make her way back. Julie could have given her some advice on how to be more particular and stay sought after!