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Plot, Details & Awards

Chinatown

(1974)
R In Theaters 06/20/1974 , 130min.
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Plot & Details

"You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you don't," warns water baron Noah Cross (John Huston), when smooth cop-turned-private eye J.J. "Jake" Gittes (Jack Nicholson) starts nosing around Cross's water diversion scheme. That proves to be the ominous lesson of Chinatown, Roman Polanski's critically lauded 1974 revision of 1940s film noir detective movies. In 1930s Los Angeles, "matrimonial work" specialist Gittes is hired by Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) to tail her husband, Water Department engineer Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling). Gittes photographs him in the company of a young blonde and figures the case is closed, only to discover that the real Mrs. Mulwray had nothing to do with hiring Gittes in the first place. When Hollis turns up dead, Gittes decides to investigate further, encountering a shady old-age home, corrupt bureaucrats, angry orange farmers, and a nostril-slicing thug (Polanski) along the way. By the time he confronts Cross, Evelyn's father and Mulwray's former business partner, Jake thinks he knows everything, but an even more sordid truth awaits him. When circumstances force Jake to return to his old beat in Chinatown, he realizes just how impotent he is against the wealthy, depraved Cross. "Forget it, Jake," his old partner tells him. "It's Chinatown." Reworking the somber underpinnings of detective noir along more pessimistic lines, Polanski and screenwriter Robert Towne convey a '70s-inflected critique of capitalist and bureaucratic malevolence in a carefully detailed period piece harkening back to the genre's roots in the 1930s and '40s. Gittes always has a smart comeback like Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, but the corruption Gittes finds is too deep for one man to stop. Other noir revisions, such as Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973) and Arthur Penn's Night Moves (1975), also centered on the detective's inefficacy in an uncertain '70s world, but Chinatown's period sheen renders this dilemma at once contemporary and timeless, pointing to larger implications about the effects of corporate rapaciousness on individuals. Polanski and Towne clashed over Chinatown's ending; Polanski won the fight, but Towne won the Oscar for Best Screenplay. Chinatown was nominated for ten other Oscars, including Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costumes, and Score.

Awards

Academy Awards

Year Award CategoryCast & Crew Result
1974 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Sound Lawrence O. Jost Nominated
1974 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Original Screenplay Robert Towne Won
1974 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Costume Design Anthea Sylbert Nominated
1974 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Actor Jack Nicholson Nominated
1974 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Art Direction W. Stewart Campbell Nominated
1974 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Art Direction Richard Sylbert Nominated
1974 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Art Direction Ruby Levitt Nominated
1974 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Cinematography John A. Alonzo Nominated
1974 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Picture Robert Evans Nominated
1974 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Sound Charles Grenzbach Nominated
1974 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Original Dramatic Score Jerry Goldsmith Nominated
1974 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Director Roman Polanski Nominated
1974 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Editing Sam O'Steen Nominated
1974 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Actress Faye Dunaway Nominated

British Academy of Film and Television Arts

Year Award CategoryCast & Crew Result
1974 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Best Screenplay Robert Towne Won
1974 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Best Director Roman Polanski Won
1974 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Best Picture Roman Polanski Nominated
1974 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Best Actor Jack Nicholson Won

Golden Globes

Year Award CategoryCast & Crew Result
1974 Hollywood Foreign Press Association Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture John Huston Nominated
1974 Hollywood Foreign Press Association Best Director Roman Polanski Won
1974 Hollywood Foreign Press Association Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama Jack Nicholson Won
1974 Hollywood Foreign Press Association Best Picture - Drama Won
1974 Hollywood Foreign Press Association Best Original Score Jerry Goldsmith Nominated
1974 Hollywood Foreign Press Association Best Screenplay Robert Towne Won
1974 Hollywood Foreign Press Association Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama Faye Dunaway Nominated

American Film Institute

Year Award CategoryCast & Crew Result
1998 American Film Institute 100 Greatest American Movies Won

British Academy of Film and Television Arts

Year Award CategoryCast & Crew Result
1974 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Best Screenplay Robert Towne Won
1974 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Best Director Roman Polanski Won
1974 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Best Picture Roman Polanski Nominated
1974 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Best Actor Jack Nicholson Won

Directors Guild of America

Year Award CategoryCast & Crew Result
1974 Directors Guild of America Best Director Roman Polanski Nominated

Edgar Allan Poe Awards

Year Award CategoryCast & Crew Result
1974 Edgar Allan Poe Awards Best Screenplay Robert Towne Won

Library of Congress

Year Award CategoryCast & Crew Result
1990 Library of Congress U.S. National Film Registry Won

National Board of Review

Year Award CategoryCast & Crew Result
1974 National Board of Review Best Picture Nominated

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