Director: Roman Polanski
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston
Plot: JJ 'Jake' Gittes is a private detective who seems to specialize in matrimonial cases. He is hired by Evelyn Mulwray when she suspects her husband Hollis, builder of the city's water supply system, of having an affair. Gittes does what he does best and photographs him with a young girl but in the ensuing scandal, it seems he was hired by an impersonator and not the real Mrs. Mulwray. When Mr. Mulwray is found dead, Jake is plunged into a complex web of deceit involving murder, incest and municipal corruption all related to the city's water supply.
The screenplay is now regarded as being one of the most perfect screenplays and is now a main teaching point in screen writing seminars and classes everywhere.
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.
Because this film was the first of a planned trilogy, Jack Nicholson turned down all detective roles he was offered so that the only detective he played would be Jake Gittes. The second part, The Two Jakes (1990), was directed by Jack Nicholson in 1990.
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.
The last movie director Roman Polanski filmed in the US before he had to flee due to his rape conviction
The role of Evelyn Mulwray was originally intended for the producer's wife, Ali MacGraw, but she lost the role when she divorced him for Steve McQueen.
Jack Nicholson said to the public that he rather disliked the iconic ending.
At the end of the film, when Jake says "give me five minutes", there are exactly five minutes left in the film. This was actually unintentional.
Roman Polanski considered Julie Christie for the role of Evelyn Mulray.
There were many rumours circulating about Faye Dunaway's diva-like behavior during the making of the film. One such was that she refused to flush her own toilet and expected her assistants to do it for her. On another occasion, while filming a scene in a car, Roman Polanski refused to let her to urinate, so he could finish the scene. She then urinated in a cup and threw it in his face.
Roman Polanski has said that the dark ending to the film was a result of his own despair following the murder of his wife, actress Sharon Tate. Robert Towne originally intended to have a happy ending. However, during pre-production Roman Polanski and Towne argued over it, with Polanski insisting on a tragic ending. Polanski won the argument and, when the picture was re-released in 1999, Towne admitted that he had been wrong.
According to Faye Dunaway, Evelyn's eye wound was meant to parallel the story of Oedipus, who blinded himself after realizing his marriage was incestuous. Miss Dunaway had to fight to keep this in the film - when there was a problem getting the makeup/prosthetics, the filmmakers wanted to change where Evelyn would be shot.
When Evelyn is treating Jake's nose wound, he asks about her flawed eye. In the end of the film, Evelyn was shot through that same eye.
The film frequently shows us images of two things that are identical, except that one is flawed: Two pocket watches side by side, one broken. A pair of eyeglasses, one lens cracked. Gittes' nostrils, one sliced. Gittes smashes one taillight on Evelyn's car. He loses one shoe in the reservoir. Evelyn has a flaw in one of her irises. Katherine looks like a duplicate of Evelyn, but is the product of incest. The list goes on. But according to Robert Towne, it was totally unintentional; he and Roman Polanski never discussed using such images as a recurring theme. Whatever meaning we may ascribe to the symbolism, the filmmakers didn't put it there on purpose.
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".