TajLV’s review published on Letterboxd:
Part of My Autumn Rewatches Challenge
Task 22: Have another look at any film you previously rated at a full five stars (★★★★★).
I believe this is my fourth watch of this masterpiece from director Roman Polanski, but it has been at least 20 years since my last viewing. The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and it won the category of Best Writing, Original Screenplay for writer Robert Towne. The Golden Globes named this as the year's Best Motion Picture - Drama, while honoring director Polanski, writer Towne and leading actor Jack Nicholson with prizes as the best in their respective categories.
I'm sure I never saw this in a theater. I was living in Malaysia when it came out, and although it wasn't banned like many other R-rated American movies, the film wasn't distributed in any Asian country before 1982, with the sole exception of Japan. It was released there in April 1975, nine months before I arrived in Tokyo to work/live, so its run had surely ended by then. I do know I had a bootleg videotape copy of it on Betamax in the late 1970s, which I watched I couple of times. And I'm pretty sure I saw it on VHS tape or television in the 1990s, but not since then, so here we go....
Things I remembered: Nicholson's standout role as Private Detective J.J. "Jake" Gittes. John Huston's strong performance as Noah Cross, a wealthy developer who is father to Evelyn Cross Mulwray (Fay Dunaway). A "fake" Evelyn hiring Jake to check on her husband, Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling), the chief engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, whom she suspects of philandering. Mulwray's death by drowning in salt water; "bad for glass." Diane Ladd as the murdered Ida Sessions, who had pretended to be Mrs. Mulwray. The an unforgettable scene of a thug (Polanski) shoving a knife up Jake's nose. Belinda Palmer as Katherine Cross, Evelyn's secluded sister and the shocking revelation of their true relationship after Jake slaps Evelyn around a bit. The actual district known as Chinatown not appearing in the film till the very end. The closing line spoken by Walsh (Joe Mantell), "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."
Things I'd forgotten: - That Nicholson is in each and every scene throughout the entire film. How truly superb his acting was. And how sharp the dialog is -- a masterclass in scriptwriting. Bert Young's minor role as Jake's client Curly, appearing twice. Jake getting beaten up by the farmers. The visit to the nursing home. Polanski firing a gun. All the smoking and the use of cigarette cases so that no product branding appears. The excellent score by composer Jerry Goldsmith.
Surprisingly, I didn't forget much. It is such a powerful and well made film, a real five-star masterpiece. What's hard to believe is that Polanki's wife, actress Sharon Tate, was killed by the Manson Family only miles from where the filming here took place, and this was the only film Polanski directed in the United States after that. But I guess Walsh's admonition rings true: "Forget it... It's Chinatown."
Ranked #1 among my Best Films of 1974
Ranked #1 among my Roman Polanski Ranked
Ranked #9 in my Showdown #29: Most Quotable
Ranked #14 among My 50 Favorites
Ranked #19 among the original AFI 100 (1998)
Ranked #21 among the revised AFI 100 (2007)
Ranked #111 among the IMDb Top 250 (June 2014)
Representing 1974 in My Life as Drama
Representing 1974 among Films Nominated for Best Picture