In Roman Polanski's neo-noir Chinatown, Jack Nicholson's private eye sexes up his mediocre snooping with blithe arrogance and sarcastic machismo. It's the actor's default mode, sure, but in 1974 it hadn't yet calcified into Shtickolson. On the trail of murder, water, and incest, his Jake Gittes is dumped in the wilds of Greek tragedy. There, depravity incarnate Noah Cross (John Huston) tells him, "You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you don't." Of the movie's double love interest, the good and vulnerable Evelyn (Faye Dunaway), Polanski later said, "I was absolutely adamant that she has to die at the end if the film has to have any meaning." Oscar-winning scribe Robert Towne never intended to harm her so grievously, but perhaps the matter was settled when Polanski—hardly a filmmaker dispensed toward wish fulfillment—based Evelyn's scalpeled eyebrows and gift-bow lipstick on memories of his mother, the first woman in his life to be taken from him and butchered. And there's still more subtext. Nicholson was then beginning an affair with Huston's actual daughter, Angelica. A few years later, his home served as the scene of Polanski's enduring crime: sex with a girl younger than Evelyn when she bore her father's child. But we'll leave the last word to Cross: "You see, Mr. Gittes," he explains, "most people never have to face the fact that, at the right time and the right place, they're capable of anything." Call for showtimes. (R) JESSICA WINTER

Thu., Sept. 13, 2012

comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow