The film marked French-born Polish director Roman Polanski’s return to Hollywood five years after the gruesome 1969 Manson murders that took the life of his actress wife Sharon Tate at the hands of the Charles Manson Family. One of my favorite directors this would also be the last film Polanski would make on location in the US. It was also supposedly during the making of this film that he would be indicted and convicted with the 1977 statutory rape (and drugging) of a 13 year-old girl (later identified as Samantha Geimer) while at the home of star/actor Jack Nicholson (absent at the time), and had to flee to Europe as a fugitive. But enough about the director.
The film was a fall back to the old studio detective films of the 40’s, the classic detective/film noir genre elements, mystery, romace and suspense. Set in 1937, the first scene opens in the upscale office of a Los Angeles private detective-hero, an overdressed character named J. J. (Jake) Gittes (Jack Nicholson). He’s a former cop who now specializes in investigations involving messy, ‘dirty’ divorce cases and extra-marital affairs. And here is just the beginning of the story.
Jack Nicholson, as always is superb in this dark, and somewhat disturbing film, and he wrestles throughout trying to make bad look good, only to find more and more of the story unravel, failing to proove that good triumphs over evil.
This movie if released a year later, probably would have swept the Oscars due to Godfather Part II, but out of eleven Academy Award nominations, only one took the Oscar home, Best Original Screenplay for Robert Towne. Chinatown however did win four of its seven nominations at the 32nd Annual Golden Globes ceremony: it defeated Coppola’s film for the Best Picture-Drama award; Polanski won the Best Director award; Jack Nicholson won the Best Actor in a Leading Role-Drama award; and Robert Towne won the Best Screenplay honor.