“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
On June 20th, 1974, the neo-noir masterpiece Chinatown was released.
A film with few equals, Chinatown has received numerous accolades. The movie’s successes range from nominations for 11 Oscars, winning 4 Golden Globes, preservation by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”, -AND- is commonly revered as one of the greatest films of all time.
Fashioned from a legendary screenplay by Robert Towne, often championed as one of the exemplary pillars of scriptwriting in Hollywood. Though, the real nucleus of the film was the inspired direction by Roman Polanski. Polanski’s unique eye for the material soaked the movie with as much shadow and nihilism as one might expect from a director only a few years removed from the brutal slaying of his wife and unborn child at the hands of the Mason family.
Towne wrote the screenplay with the star Jack Nicholson in mind, who eventually brought the project to Polanski, with whom he had been searching for a suitable collaboration. Producer Robert Evans immediately jumped at the chance for Polanski to direct, hoping he would bring a more cynical approach to the story. Inevitably regretting his decision, Polanski’s take ended up being so dark that his unwavering insistence on a tragic end to the story led to Evans and Polanski parting ways in dispute. The result of which was Polanski re-writing the final scene of the movie only a few days before filming.
Though Towne denies reports that he envisioned a happy ending, he has said he initially found Polanski’s finale to be excessively melodramatic. In an interview 23 years after the film’s release, Towne admitted Polanski’s stark and straightforward conclusion was more fitting than the complicated and overly literary ending he originally planned.
Regardless of what the film might have been, we will always have what it is. An achievement in capturing time at its worst and a near perfect movie at its best. Ironically, the film’s most iconic line might plead for Chinatown to be forgotten, but I can’t imagine it’ll happen anytime soon.