the studio gate

the backlot

the screening room
The Screening Room

The 1970s belonged to Jack Nicholson. You could say that nearly every decade belongs to Jack, Jack being Jack. But if Jack retired from film during the 1970s, he'd already have an impressive resume. "Five Easy Pieces" (1970). "Carnal Knowledge" (1971). "The King Of Marvin Gardens" (1972). "The Last Detail" (1973). "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" (1975). In that period of time, he acted in Roman Polanski's superb film, "Chinatown" (1974). The classic has been re-released on a special collector's edition DVD. 

"Chinatown" is such a well-written and brilliantly acted film that it seems impossible to imagine that the clash of strong personalities of Robert Evans (producer), Roman Polanski (director), Robert Townsend (writer), Faye Dunaway (actress) and Nicholson didn't derail this film. Whatever tension they had works in spades in this detective story.

The film has been seen probably by most people, so the story is probably known. If you haven't seen it before, now is your chance. What starts out to be a detective story catches you off guard and takes you, along with J.J. "Jake" Gittes (Nicholson), into a dark place. Townsend uses the fight over water in sun-drenched Los Angeles during the 1930s as a backdrop. Along the way, Gittes meets corrupt and dangerous people, nearly everyone of them with something to hide.  

The film is very adult in theme, yet moves along at a brisk enough pace that keeps you engaged. It tries not to take it self so seriously that it becomes ponderous and arrogant in trying to be an "artistic film." The film is artsy and entertaining at the same time. The acting, direction, production design, cinematography meld together into a masterpiece.

Polanski lets the action play out, at times, in long takes. He uses the widescreen to his advantage. Compressed onto a television screen, even in its letterboxed glory, Polanski's direction needs a real movie theater screen to be appreciated. Cinematographer John A. Alonzo used both widescreen framing and hand-held camerawork to give this homage to 1940s detective stories a new spin. I was fortunate enough to have seen "Chinatown" on a big widescreen some years ago. As good as this DVD is, Alonzo's cinematography is even more remarkable on a big movie screen.

Nicholson takes off where Humphrey Bogart left off in "The Maltese Falcon." He's hard-boiled and dogged in his pursuit of solving the mystery unfolding before him. The chemistry between him and Dunaway is electric, for lack of a better term.

If you haven't seen it in a long time, uncut, do yourself a favor and re-visit "Chinatown."     

Bill Kallay

Special thanks to Click Communications

Photos: Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.

Quick Glimpse


Mystery and great acting make "Chinatown" worth re-visiting

Director: Roman Polanski

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Houston





Picture: Very good
Sound: Good

The late John A. Alonzo's cinematography is excellent

Who would've thought that a story dealing with the fight over L.A. water  would work so well?

Aspect Ratio (2.39:1)

Dolby Digital 5.1

November 6, 2007