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When Bogart played Philip Marlowe, the detective was a white knight, troubled but untainted by the corruption he encounters at every turn on the mean streets of Los Angeles. Jack Nicholson’s Jake Gittes is an altogether seedier proposition, a two-bit snoop whose cynicism may be his best quality. He spends most of Chinatown jumping to wrong conclusions about what crimes have been committed, by whom, and for what reasons. He’s in over his head, but even that’s beyond him. He keeps on going and only makes matters worse.

Chinatown is one of those gold-plated classics, a masterpiece that was recognized as a cut above the rest immediately on its release in 1974 (rave reviews; 11 Academy Award nominations) and which has only grown in stature over the years. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also weirdly timeless, set in 1937 and evoking the private eye film noir genres associated with Raymond Chandler and Humphrey Bogart… it’s a classicist’s classic. And of course its reputation was bolstered by the estimation of Syd Field in his seminal film school tome “Screenplay”, first published in 1979, that this was the best written film of the decade.

Recent scholarship has revealed a more complicated authorship: movies are made by alchemy, not men. But Chinatown still resonates with our time just as it did back in the mid-70s.

John Huston – who plays rich landowner Noah Cross – had directed one of the first film noirs in Hollywood, The Maltese Falcon, back in 1941. He was still making great films in the 70s, including Fat City, also showing in our Ragged Glory: Summer in the 70s series.

In its total recapturing of a past, in its plot, its vivid characterizations, its carefully calculated and accelerating pace, its whole demonstration of a medium mastered, Chinatown reminds you again that motion pictures are larger, not smaller than life.

Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times

July 28 Only: Introduction from novelist Winona Kent (Ticket to Ride; Jason Davey Mysteries)


Roman Polanski


Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Hillerman, Perry Lopez, Burt Young, John Huston

Country of Origin







Best Original Screenplay, Academy Awards 1975; Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Direction, Best Screenplay, BAFTA 1975

130 min

Book Tickets

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Robert Evans


Robert Towne


John A. Alonzo


Sam O’Steen

Original Music

Jerry Goldsmith

In the Spotlight: Crime Scenes

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