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Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week: 'Chinatown'

January 27, 2011 |  6:00 am


If you live in L.A. and haven't seen the neo-noir perfection of "Chinatown" on the big screen recently, you owe it to yourself to indulge in the Egyptian Theatre's one-night stand Friday at 7:30 p.m. It will screen as part of the American Cinematheque's retrospective of director Roman Polanski's work running Thursday through Sunday, beginning with his often-overlooked debut film, 1962's "Knife in the Water."

But "Chinatown" remains one of Polanski’s masterworks -- and one of my favorites. The 1974 film scratches the city's dark underbelly, circa 1937, when guys wore zoot suits and fedoras, and water rights were like gold just waiting to be minted. The film itself represents a bit of Hollywood history as well, with 11 Oscar nominations coming out of the extraordinary collaboration of creative talents that started with Robert Towne writing what would be arguably his best script, which is saying a lot, and the film's only Oscar winner.

The film starred a triumvirate of greats -- Jack Nicholson in his classic performance as the local gumshoe J.J. Gittes, Faye Dunaway as the ultimate enigma of a dame with the best marcel ever, and the aging John Huston, huffing and puffing cigars and destruction at every turn. And "Chinatown" represents Polanski's filmmaking at its best. His cameo as a knife-wielding, nose-slitting thug remains one of the film's most memorable moments. It's noir; it's L.A.; it's Dunaway, Huston and Nicholson. It's more than enough.

-- Betsy Sharkey

Photo: Jack Nicholson in "Chinatown." Credit: Paramount Pictures


Comments () | Archives (5)

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The best film ever made.... Cheers AJW

You're right: "Chinatown" is wonderful. Nicholson is wonderful. Dunaway is wonderful. So is Huston and everybody else.

But you're wrong: There are no zoot suits in this movie. Check it out.

It's held up very well, hasn't it? Though the original title, "Water And Power" would have been even better...

Yes, "Chinatown" was the inpiration for "Mirror Image", just "Once Upon A Time In The West" inspired "Yesterday's Hero". I guess that makes me a counter puncher. I have to be inpired, usually by a great movie and "Chinatown" was a great movie.

Not only were there no zoot suits, but in real life, the truly venal water fights were decades before the film takes place. That's fine for the movie, and doesn't detract from it, but anyone writing about it ought to know better.


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