Tag Archives: Chinatown

Film: Chinatown

Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston were featured in Chinatown. But the real star of the movie was the screenplay by Robert Towne. Uploaded by screencrave.com.

I love film noir. Give me a good black and white mystery from the 1940s, maybe written by Raymond Chandler, with a tough private eye and a beautiful dame, and I’m a happy guy. The popularity of color naturally pushed noir into the shadows (so to speak), but it had something of a revival in the 1970s, led by the wonderful Chinatown.

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Directed by child molester¬† Roman Polanski (he’ll never be on this list), the movie featured Jack Nicholson (Great American Things, Sept. 12, 2009) in one of his greatest performances, along with Faye Dunaway and John Huston. But the real star of the film was Robert Towne, the screenwriter. He set his mystery in the 1930s, allowing for the true noir mise-en-scene. (Pardon my French.)

Towne’s brilliant script won an Oscar, the only one the film received out of eleven nominations. In the AFI’s original 100 Years…100 Movies, Chinatown was ranked number 19. In the 10th anniversary edition, it was 21. And it was the AFI’s number 2 mystery film. Why it wasn’t number one is… a mystery.

Actor: Jack Nicholson

Jack got a busted nose in Chinatown. Uploaded by cinemaisdope.com.

Jack got a busted nose in Chinatown. Uploaded by cinemaisdope.com.

Jack Nicholson has played some of the most fascinating roles in movie history. He’s been the Joker in Batman… J.J. Gittes in Chinatown… Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest… Jack Torrance in The Shining… and Colonel Jessep in A Few Good Men. And that’s just some of the high points.

H-e-e-e-re's Johnny! Uploaded to Flickr by stephen-kingdotch.

H-e-e-e-re's Johnny! Uploaded to Flickr by stephen-kingdotch.

One of the ways we know an actor is truly great is that he makes each part so distinctively his own that we can’t imagine anyone else in the role. And with Nicholson, there’s an edge about him that helps make his every character unpredictable.

I don’t consider Five Easy Pieces a highlight of his career, but the diner scene is quintessential Nicholson. He wants breakfast made his way, and the waitress won’t allow any substitutions. Look at how Jack controls every moment of this scene:

While it seems that Nicholson dominates most of his movies, in each of his movies for which he’s won Academy Awards, his co-star also won Best Actress: Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Great American Thing No. 140), Helen Hunt in As Good as it Gets, and Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment. In addition to the three wins, he’s been nominated nine additional times. He received a Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1994.

Oh, and he also played the President of the United States in Mars Attacks! Ack ack. Ack ack ack.