"As Little as Possible."

1974 ,

directed by Roman Polanski,

photographed by John Alonzo,

written by Robert Towne,

produced by Robert Evans,

music Jerry Goldsmith,

costumes Anthea Sylbert,

production designer Richard Sylbert,

editor Sam O'Steen.

130 mins..


Los Angeles in 1937 is suffering from a drought. J.J.Gittes an ex-cop and private investigator specialising in matrimonial work, is hired by a woman claiming to be Mrs. Evelyn Mulwray to discover whether her husband, the water commissioner, is faithful. Gittes spies on Hollis Mulwray and sees him with a young girl.The story makes front page headlines and Gittes learns he has been duped in a plot to discredit the commissioner, who opposes the construction of a water reservoir in the San Fernando Valley farmlands near Los Angeles. The authentic Mrs. Mulwray who is the daughter of the powerful magnate Noah Cross, threatens to sue Gittes, But when her husband is found murdered, she asks Gittes to find the criminal. The detective uncovers a crooked land deal, whereby acreage in the San Fernando Valley is being purchased cheaply by Noah Cross and his associates under false names for speculation pending the reservoir's construction. Gittes is aided and hindered by the anguished Evelyn Mulwray. He learns that the young girl spotted with Hollis Mulwray is Evelyn's daughter and sister, Kathryn, the offspring of Noah's sex with Evelyn when she was 15 years old. Gittes falls in love with Evelyn and agrees to help smuggle Kathryn out of the country. However the police follow his trail to Chinatown where Evelyn and Kathryn await Gittes. Noah Cross arrives also and Evelyn wounds her father while attempting to flee with Kathryn. Handcuffed, Gittes is powerless to help and tries to stop the police preventing flight. Evelyn is fatally wounded and Cross comforts his grand daughter/daughter."


"The story was in the best Chandler tradition....but [Robert] Towne and I couldn't agree on an ending. Towne wanted the evil tycoon to die and his daughter, Evelyn to live. He wanted a happy ending; all would turn out OK for her after a short spell in jail. I knew that if Chinatown was to be special, not just another thriller where the good guys triumph in the final reel, Evelyn had to die..... The right ending was important for several reasons. Chinatown was a great title, but unless we set at least one scene in L.A.'s real-life Chinatown, we'd be cheating, pulling in the public on false pretences....To this day Towne feels my ending is wrong; I am equally convinced that his more conventional ending would have seriously weakened the picture.... I saw Chinatown not as a retro piece or conscious imitation of classic movies shot in black and white, but as a film about the thirties seen through the camera eye of the seventies." R.Polanski, Roman by Polanski , Pan London 1985.


".... I went down the block for Gittes, I thought that taking someone like that, maybe venal and crude and used to petty crime and people cheating on each other, and then getting him involved in a crime which was really evil and allowing him to see the larger implications and then to draw the distinctions would be interesting..... Two things triggered it off. In 1969 there was an article in West magazine called "Raymond Chandler's LA". There were photographs of LA taken today but showing locations as they existed then. The other was my memory of how certain other sections used to look, and I was very sad about many of the changes - and angry in some changes...I started with Carey McWilliams' book on Southern California, An Island on the Land (1946) and then went to Morrow Mayo's Los Angeles (1933) and several tracts. I read some of the Department of Water and Power's own accounts which rationalised and justified what happened. At one point if I hadn't called the picture, Chinatown , I'd have called it Water and Power....[Nicholson and Dunaway in bed] My least favourite in the film. As written initially it was just the opposite of what was filmed. Originally Evelyn was very disturbed by the sex and didn't lie back and say 'Gee tell me about yourself..' She was extremely upset and was actually out of bed , smoking. And Gittes was upset because he had just made love with her and she was rejecting him. ... Frankly I would have preferred that - she was disturbed by the sex and she still embodied a mystery.." J.McBride (ed) Film Makers and Film Making , Tarcher, LA 1983, the American Film Institute interviews.

photographer :

"I didn't start Chinatown . The production designer Richard Sylbert had already done the sets, and Anthea Sylbert had done the costumes. I let Dick spray lacquer over every piece of wood on the sets; I was trying to keep a very low-key lighting, and I felt the shiny wood at least would give me some perspective lighting in some places it would be too dark to illuminate. The selection of the colour was made after the was finished, when making the prints. I helped it along by putting Chinese tracing paper on the sets, which has a soft brownish texture. And outside the windows of the sets we used black and white backdrops, not colour to give a monochromatic look.When we made the release prints at Technicolour, we worked reel after reel for this sepia tone, and we finally came up with the color I thought was right... What Roman wanted was to shoot the whole picture with a given lens. If you noticed the point of view in the picture was that of someone looking over Jack's shoulder. That was the style Roman wanted. " McBride as above.

composer :

"After I saw the picture I said immediately to Bob Evans, "I'm going to use four pianos, four harps, strings, two percussions and a trumpet." He said, "Great." Bob had fallen in love with a Bunny Berrigan recording that had a trumpet. I used the trumpet and constructed sort of an old fashioned theme, woven into very modern music. I was able particularly in the main title to have a fresh sound and yet give an indication of the period." Jerry Goldsmith in McBride above.


"Where Towne is biased towards the romantic, commercial and political, Polanski tends to be cynical, elitist and anti-social..." V.W.Wexman, Roman Polanski ,Columbus London 1985.

" Goldsmith's tendency towards traditional Hollywood romanticism provides an unexpectedly harmoniously counterpoint to the pessimistic atmosphere of decay Polanski is so adept at creating." Waxman as above.

"In a sense, Gittes' perpetual looking has always involved him in consequences, though his determination to do as little as possible has limited the weight of the responsibility he has assumed. As the film progresses he is confronted with ever more graphic displays of violence and devastation. His spying on Curly's wife leads to her eye being blackened; his spying on Hollis Mulwray's widow, however, leads to her eye being blasted from its socket. In the first instance, the issues are of limited importance and the result comic; in the second the issues are monumental and the result disastrous. Yet he remained trapped in the private eye fantasy of his own invincible heroism and eventual triumph.." Waxman.

Themes in the film, give you some clues what to look for; eg

1. the damage to the senses, eyes, noses, ears.

2.the theme of making the same mistake again,

3. the relation between personal and communal corruption,

4. the Old Testament, Noah Cross and water,the Ark.

5. colour design ; black, white, brown and beige.

6. fish imagery.

7. the inadequacy of Jake Gittes, the       destructive nature of the man out of control. The racist and       misogynist as detective.

8. technical; photography, the constant use of the close-up on the central characters. framing; characters pushed to the side of the Panavision screen, Evelyn harassed in       the morgue.


R.Polanski, Roman by Polanski , Pan London 1985.

J.McBride (ed) Film Makers and Film Making ,Tarcher, LA 1983