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.
John Huston was a talented director, having produced films such as The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. But he was also an outstanding actor and screenwriter. Uploaded by seetimaar.blogspot.com.
With the ease of editing using today’s technologies, it’s not unusual for directors to shoot a lot of scenes, a lot of takes per scene, and then to make the movie in the editing suite. That’s not how John Huston worked. He sketched each scene before shooting it, placed the actors deliberately, and made his movies as he was filming them. His pictures usually came in under budget as well.
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From his first movie in 1941 to his last in 1987, he set a standard for excellence. Among his films:
Maltese Falcon (1941 – writer)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948 – writer)
Key Largo (1948 – writer)
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
The African Queen (1951 – writer)
Moulin Rouge (1953 – writer)
The Misfits (1960)
The Night of the Iguana (1964 – writer)
The Man Who Would Be King (1975 – writer)
Prizzi’s Honor (1985)
In addition to his direction duties, Huston also wrote many of his films. He won the Oscar for Best Director and Best Screenplay for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. He was a skillful actor as well, having parts in several dozen films. Huston received the Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1983.
Bogart and Astor on the poster, not Lorre and Greenstreet. Duh. Uploaded by content.artofmanliness.com.
Dashiell Hammett wrote the book. John Huston directed the film. And Humphrey Bogart made it memorable.
The Maltese Falcon, which premiered in 1941, is usually considered the first entry in the film noir genre. It was Huston’s directorial debut, and also marked the first film appearance of the corpulent Sydney Greenstreet. Also in major parts were the lovely Mary Astor and the supremely creepy Peter Lorre.
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The movie was made with three variations from typical filmmaking techniques that would amaze the modern movie maker. First, the entire film was shot in sequence, which the actors loved. Second, production was so meticulously planned that almost no lines of dialogue were cut. And third, much of the dialogue was taken directly from the novel. Imagine that, respecting the source material.
The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, but didn’t win. It battled for Best Picture against Citizen Kane (Great American Thing No.: 110), Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Suspicion, and the winner, How Green Was My Valley. The American Film Institute named it the number 32 Greatest Movie of All Time, and number 6 in the Mystery genre.
Copyright 2009-2011, Robin G. Chalkley. All material on these pages, and the listing of items as Great American Things, is copyrighted. The exceptions are the photographs and videos, which remain the property of their respective owners.
Header photo used courtesy of Flickr photographer too melo.