AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Director: Roman Polanski (Dir)
Release Date:   Jul 1974
Duration (in mins):  129-132
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Cast: Jack Nicholson  (J. J. [Jake] Gittes)
  Faye Dunaway  (Evelyn Mulwray)
  John Huston  (Noah Cross)

Summary: In 1937 Los Angeles, private detective J. J. "Jake" Gittes, who specializes in adultery cases, is hired by the well-dressed Mrs. Evelyn Mulwray to follow her husband Hollis, chief engineer for the Department of Water and Power. Jake later sits in on a city council meeting, where Mayor Bagby offers his support for a new dam that will guarantee an adequate water supply for the city. After Hollis emotionally speaks out condemning the project as unsafe, Jake follows him as he inspects the dry Los Angeles riverbed under the Hollenbeck Bridge, then goes out to Point Fermin, where thousands of gallons of water rush through a drainage pipe out into the sea that night. A few days later, Jake and his associate, Duffy, photographs Hollis rowing a pretty young blonde woman around Echo Park Lake. Jake then follows the couple to the El Macando courtyard apartments, where he secretly takes pictures of the girl embracing Hollis. The next day, one of Jake's photographs is printed on the front page of the newspaper, accompanied by a story about Hollis' "love nest." When Jake arrives at his office, he is stunned to learn that the woman claiming to be Mrs. Mulwray was an imposter, and the real Evelyn, who has come to the office, intends to sue him. Angry that he has been duped, Jake finesses his way into Hollis' office, but finds no compromising information, only a handwritten notation reading "Oak Pass Reservoir, Tuesday, 2:00 pm." His search is interrupted by Hollis' underling, Russ Yelburton, who assures him that Hollis is not the sort of man to have an affair, then escorts Jake out. Jake then goes to Hollis' estate to speak with him directly. Evelyn says that she will not pursue her lawsuit, then suggests that Hollis might be at the Oak Pass reservoir. Jake then drives there and encounters Lt. Lou Escobar, an old rival from his days on the police force in Chinatown, and sees Hollis' dead body being pulled from the water. Evelyn later identifies Hollis at the morgue and refutes Escobar's suggestion that her husband committed suicide, claiming that they were trying to work out their problems over his affair. Outside, Jake tries to convince Evelyn that Hollis was murdered, but she insists that it was an accident. After she leaves, Jake goes back inside to look around and is puzzled when a medical examiner casually tells him that one of the bodies in the morgue was a homeless man who drowned under the Hollenbeck Bridge. Knowing that there should not have been enough water there to drown someone, Jake revisits the bridge. After finding only a small pool of water in the gravelly land below, Jake speaks with a boy on horseback and learns that water rushes through at night. When Jake returns to walk around the Oak Park Reservoir that evening, he hears a gunshot, then a rush of water, which quickly envelopes him. After making his way out of the torrent, he is stopped by a short man in a white suit, accompanied by Claude Mulvihill, a cheap detective whom Jake detests. The short man puts a knife into Jake's left nostril, then suddenly cuts through it, warning Jake that next time he will lose his entire nose. At the office the next day, as Duffy and Jake’s other associate, Walsh, try to talk him out of pursuing the Mulwray case, he receives a phone call from a woman named Ida Sessions, who reveals that she was hired to impersonate Mrs. Mulwray but had no idea that anyone would be killed. Because she is frightened, she will not reveal anything more, but tells him to look in the obituary column. Later, Jake goes back to see Yelburton, and while he is waiting, notices several pictures on the walls of Hollis with Noah Cross, the man whom Walsh had photographed a few days before having a heated argument with Hollis outside the Pig 'n Whistle restaurant. Yelburton's secretary tells him that Cross and Hollis owned the water company in partnership, but Hollis thought that water should belong to the people and gave the company to the city. When he speaks with Yelburton, Jake alludes to knowing more than he does, saying that Hollis’ murder is tied to the new dam and the deliberate dumping of thousands of gallons of water during a drought. After Yelburton sheepishly admits that some water has been diverted quietly to the northwest San Fernando Valley, Jake proffers that he is not after him, but those behind him. Returning to his office, Jake is visited by Evelyn, who wants to hire him to investigate Hollis' murder. Some time later, Jake goes to Catalina Island to the Albacore Club to see Cross, whom he has learned is Evelyn’s father. Implying that he does not want his vulnerable daughter to be taken advantage of, but also indicating that he feels sorry for the girl Hollis was seeing, Cross offers to double what Evelyn is paying if Jake finds the girl. Jake catches Cross in a lie when he says that he had not spoken to Hollis in years, but Cross brushes aside Jake’s revelation that they had been photographed together. Some time later, Jake goes to the Hall of Records, where he discovers that thousands of acres of farm land in the Valley recently have been sold. Armed with a list of the purchases he has torn from the record books, Jake drives to the Valley but finds himself chased by a family of angry farmers who think he works for the water company. Just before Jake is knocked out by one of the younger farmers, the father snarls that the city has attacked their wells to force them to sell their land cheap. When Jake wakes up, Evelyn is with him, summoned by the father, who found her card in Jake’s pocket. As they drive back into town, Jake tells her that the proposed dam is a fraud because the water will be going to unincorporated areas of the Valley instead of the city of Los Angeles. He also tells her about the recent land sales at bargain prices. As Evelyn comments on the old-fashioned names of the buyers, Jake suddenly remembers that one of them, Jaspar Lamar Crabb, who was listed in the obituary column Ida Sessions suggested he look at, had died a week before his deed was recorded. Because Crabb had lived at the Mar Vista Rest Home, Jake suggests they drive there. Pretending that they are looking for a home for his father, they ask to look around. Jake recognizes the names of many of the residents as the same as those on the newly recorded deeds, but when he speaks with one of the residents, Emma Dills, who is making a quilt with an emblem for the Albacore Club, she knows nothing about any property in the Valley. The home’s manager, now joined by Claude, then orders them to leave. Outside, Jake sees the man in the white suit approaching and, with Evelyn’s quick driving, is able to escape. Later, at Evelyn’s house, the two make love. After Evelyn receives a phone call, she tells him that she must leave, but first confides that her father owns the Albacore Club. When Jake then reveals that he had met her father there, she becomes unsettled and warns him that her father is dangerous. Suspicious of the phone call, Jake follows Evelyn to a house on Canyon Drive where he peeks through the window and sees the young blonde woman crying, apparently struggling with Evelyn and her Chinese butler, Kahn. When Evelyn gets into her car, she is startled by Jake, who assumes that the girl is being held against her will and coldly threatens to call the police. Evelyn then says that the girl is her sister and implies that she condoned Hollis' affair because she wanted him to be happy. Finally back at his house, Jake receives two anonymous calls from a man who says that Ida Sessions wants to see him. The next morning, Jake arrives at Sessions’ house, where he discovers her dead body, then is surprised by Escobar and his partner, Loach. Escobar guesses that Ida had initially hired Jake but assumes that Evelyn killed her husband and is being blackmailed by Jake. Escobar also reveals that the autopsy on Hollis showed that he had drowned in salt water, not the reservoir’s fresh water. After Jake tries to convince Escobar that there has been a plot to divert water and that Hollis was murdered because of it, Escobar gives him two hours to find Evelyn and bring her in to the police. Jake then goes to Evelyn’s house, but only finds the maid. He then goes outside and gazes at the pond, which the gardener complains is filled with salt water. Remembering that he had seen something shiny in the pond the first time he visited, Jake and the gardener retrieve a broken pair of gold-rimmed glasses. Jake then drives to the Canyon Drive house and gruffly asks Evelyn if the glasses belonged to Hollis. After she acknowledges that they look like his, Jake calls Escobar and tells him to come over. Evelyn is confused by Jake’s actions, prompting him to demand that she tell him about the girl, suggesting that she killed Hollis out of jealousy and shouting that he knows that she does not have a sister. As Jake angrily starts to slap her, Evelyn finally breaks down and screams "she's my sister and my daughter." She then explains to the stunned Jake that she became pregnant at age fifteen after her father raped her, then went to Mexico, where Hollis took care of her and continued to take care of both her and the girl, who is named Katherine. Now Jake tells her to find a place to go, and Evelyn suggests Kahn's house in Chinatown. Before leaving, Evelyn glances again at the eyeglasses and mentions that they could not have belonged to Hollis because he did not wear bifocals. A short time after Evelyn drives away with Katherine, Escobar and Loach arrive. Jake lies that Evelyn has gone to her maid's house in San Pedro and offers to give them the address, but Escobar insists that Jake come along. When they arrive in the San Pedro, Escobar reluctantly acquiesces to Jake’s request for a few minutes alone with Evelyn. The house actually belongs to Curly, a man who had hired Jake to follow his cheating wife. Once inside, Jake asks Curly to take him for a ride in his truck, and while Jake hides from sight, offers to forgive his bill and pay him $100 if he will take Evelyn and Katherine to Ensenada in his boat. Later, outside Evelyn’s house, Jake loads Curly's truck with her suitcases, then calls Cross to tell him that he has found the girl and he should bring his checkbook to Evelyn’s house. When Cross arrives, Jake confronts him about murdering Hollis and raping Evelyn. Although Cross genuinely admired Hollis for "making this town," he admits to murdering him so that water could be brought to the Valley. He also said it was not for the money, which he did not need, but for the future, explaining that once water is in the Valley, the land will be incorporated into the city. With Loach as his henchman, Cross forces Jake to take them to Katherine. When Cross, Jake and Loach arrive on Chinatown’s Alameda Street a short time later, they are approached by Escobar and his men, who start to handcuff Jake. Happy to be taken out of danger, Jake blurts out that Cross killed Hollis. During the confusion of conflicting stories, Evelyn and Katherine approach Evelyn's car. When Cross tries to introduce himself to Katherine as her grandfather, Evelyn draws a gun and warns that he will never have her. After shooting Cross in the arm, she drives off, ignoring Escobar’s order that she stop. When she continues driving down the street, Escobar and his men shoot at the car until it stops. Hearing the sound of the car’s blaring horn in the distance, Jake, Escobar, Cross and the others rush to it and find Katherine covered in blood, screaming next to Evelyn’s dead body. Cross pulls Katherine away, shielding her eyes, as Jake stares at Evelyn’s body. When he directs a crack at Escobar, Escobar screams at Walsh and Duffy to do Jake a favor and take him away. As Jake is being pulled away by his friends, Walsh tries to comfort him saying, “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.” 

Distribution Company: Paramount Pictures Corp.
Production Company: Long Road Productions, Inc.
Director: Roman Polanski (Dir)
  Howard W. Koch, Jr. (Asst dir)
  Michele Ader (2d asst dir)
Producer: Robert Evans (Prod)
  C. O. Erickson (Assoc prod)
Writer: Robert Towne (Wrt)

Subject Major: Fathers and daughters
  Los Angeles (CA)
  Private detectives
Subject Minor: Butlers
  Knife wounds
  Los Angeles (CA)--Chinatown
  Los Angeles (CA)--Echo Park
  Mothers and daughters
  Retirement homes
  San Fernando Valley (CA)
  San Pedro (CA)
  Santa Catalina Island (CA)
  Yachts and yachting

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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