Chinatown: the Backbone of Many Animated Crime Mysteries

Chinatown Poster

Chinatown Poster

Whoa, hey there guys, it’s been awhile since I posted so I figured I’d upload a review I recently wrote for a class, so here are my thoughts on Chinatown.

In 1974 director Roman Polanski created the perfect crime-mystery drama that would bring a man to tears: Chinatown. In this instance, it was a woman who was brought to tears, since I am a female, but you still get the idea.

Chinatown opens up in a dim, dusty old office with an older woman dressed, awkwardly, to the nines. She is there to ask for the help of private eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson). She claims her famous husband, Hollis Mulray, owner and builder of many Los Angeles’ dams, bridges, and water sources, is cheating on her. This single scene sets the mysterious tone for this terrific, mind-boggling 1930s trip of a movie.

Discussing the rest of the plot is a difficult feat to accomplish without giving anything away about the movie’s many layers. Although, I would like to point out that the plotline of this movie happens in the summer of 1937, which was one of the hottest years for the West coast. Many people were paying high taxes for clean drinking water in California. The public was told the taxes would help bring water to their parched lips.

The setting is classic for a real private eye, mystery drama.  For many 20 somethings, when they think of a P.I. detective they think about a dusty 1930s Hollywood setting. This may be thanks to old reruns on television or maybe even a personal favorite movie.

Seeing the old automobiles puttering around town with every man wearing a fedora, and every adult lighting up a cigarette, paints a perfect picture of the era. This image leaves no room for thought about a crime-mystery drama not set in the 1930s.

The acting in Chinatown is superb. Nicholson portrays the gritty, cynical detective with a hole in his heart perfectly. Interestingly enough, the screenwriter, Robert Towne, had actually written the part for Nicholson before he was ever cast. Faye Dunaway on the other hand, was a last-minute choice as the leading lady by the makers of the film, but she was perfect nonetheless. No one else could have played her character, Evelyn Mulray, better. You laugh with her, cry with her, and you understand her woman’s perspective with her. She acts not only with her lines but her body too, and the symbolism that is sometimes depicted, thanks to her body language, is astounding.

After watching Chinatown, I actually realize how many cartoon cultural references I have been missing throughout the years. After the opening scene I realized it was a spitting real-life image of Who Framed Roger Rabbit from 1988. After some research, apparently Jake Gittes and Chinatown were supposed to be a part of a trilogy, but the final installment, which was going to be based on a new highway development, was never made. Turns out the plot was later used for Roger Rabbit. Remarkably, that movie’s private eye, Eddie Valient, is a near replica of the classic Gittes.

Roger Rabbit, Eddie Valiant, & Jessica Rabbit

Roger Rabbit, Eddie Valiant, & Jessica Rabbit

The more recent Rango (2011) not only replicates a few classic character motifs and scenes from Chinatown, but also recreates the entire “lack of water” plotline into a more family-friendly animation. If you watch Rango before or after Chinatown you will continuously have an open gape as a mouth during your viewing. I honestly thought that Rango was a family-friendly version of Chinatown for nearly half the movie. Either way, all three films are not only magnificent but also a personal favorite of mine.

Chinatown is a brilliant movie that has aged graciously throughout the years. It holds plenty of mystery and awe for any new-found adult whom is also a fan of Rango and Roger Rabbit. 

A shot from Rango with a familiar character in a wheel chair.

A shot from Rango with a familiar character in a wheel chair.

For those interested, Rango and Chinatown are currently (4/18/13) available on Netflix.

5 comments on “Chinatown: the Backbone of Many Animated Crime Mysteries

  1. I really love this movie!
    It was pretty simple at first sight, but it is getting more and more complicated and intriguing later, which drove me to do research.
    I don’t really care what they say about Chinatown, even though many of our classmates thought it is a predictable plot, but I am still obsessed with it.
    Also, I am a big fan of Roger Rabbit, too!
    Love your review!

  2. I’m glad you liked it too! I didn’t think it was too predictable, I enjoyed the ride of the movie. And You’ve seen Roger Rabbit? One of my favorite childhood favorites.

  3. I love that you made the connections with Roger Rabbit and Rango. I had no idea that Chinatown spured two sequels. I have seen “The Two Jakes” was surprised they used the plot from the third one to make Roger Rabbit

    • Oh yeah, after I watched Chinatown I went and read all the trivia on I do that a lot with movies that have been out for about 5 years. You can learn so much from that trivia page.

  4. Pingback: Repulsion (Day 09 of 100) | Reel Thoughts of Jacki K, Jacki Krumnow, Jacqueline Krumnow

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