Classic Film Review: A Private Eye’s Woes

Chinatown is a murder mystery film directed by Roman Polanski and was written by Robert Towne. Jack Nicholson stars as private detective J.J. “Jake” Gittes. Some of the cast members joining Nicholson in this 1974 film are Faye Dunaway, John Hillerman, Perry Lopez, Burt Young, and John Huston.

Gittes is a pretty successful and respected private detective in 1930’s Los Angeles. He is usually involved in confirming affairs and so on. A woman claiming to be the wife of the chief engineer of the Water and Power Department hires Gittes to confirm that an affair is taking place. Gittes finds much more than that is going on when he learns that this woman is an imposter and the real spouse wants to avail herself of his investigative services. The wayward engineer is later found drowned in a reservoir, and Gittes is up to his neck in political and sexual scandal surrounding this case. Gittes has his nose disfigured for his trouble, so he ends up sporting a heavy bandage through much of the tale.

So this film is considered a classic, but I found it to be a little overrated. I didn’t really dislike the film generally, but I was less enthralled than I expected. I found the pace to be a little slow at times, but I believe that I have felt that way about most Polanski films. The acting was fine, but I didn’t find Gettis to be the most interesting of protagonists. There were some interesting elements and a particularly scandalous twist involving the identity of the dead engineer’s mistress. Even though the genre is a favorite cinematic indulgence, the movie itself is something I found to be only an adequate example.

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