In The Maltese Falcon, Bogart’s Sam Spade is blunt and mildly neurotic but also self-confident. In Chinatown (1974), an homage to Falcon, private investigator Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is ordinary, straightforward, coarse but also respectful, and rather fragile in a way Spade is not.
Roman Polanski directed Chinatown as he should have: conventionally and magisterially. He received from Faye Dunaway one of her best, most sophisticated performances.
I have already written about the film’s “grim and ugly” ending—i.e., an ending that follows the dark doings in film noir to what may be considered a different plane: the horrors of reality. These are horrors sexual, psychological, existential. Anyone would recoil from what is done to women in the movie—patently, today’s feminists would—yet it isn’t a misogynistic work. It is a harshly radical pop picture about death, which befalls here both women and men.
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