I've been going through another of my ever-present 1970's phases, watching all the usual suspects (THE EXCORCIST, TAXI DRIVER, JAWS, et al.), and have been trying to stretch my wings a bit, with the help of my FANTASTIC local library. I saw one that I've avoided since it first came out, the completely perfect KRAMER VS KRAMER, and also things like the pulse-poundingly well-done ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (Dustin Hoffman incredible once more, and Robert Redford proving that shockingly handsome actors can still be tops in the skills dept.). So I was scraping at (what I perceived to be) the bottom of the library's collection, and there it was. Chinatown, from 1974. OK...done.
One of the main things that originally put me off was the casting of Jack Nicholson. I came to Jack in his later career, After he'd sunk into the pit of self-parody, with a very public personal life that just put me WAY off anything that he might have done. I mean, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST was marginally tolerable at the time because of the subject matter and the brutally unapologetic writing (I LOVE it now), but I had no time for his legendary snarky vibe and the ugly, over-wrought expressions. Not here, I'm happy so say! Jack's "Jake" Gittes, is dry but fiery, a little world-weary, but not to embarrassing excess (it's a vibe that can go so wrong, wot?), and he seems to just sit back and observe people with a critical eye, while rolling from one clever mess to another. He was so good. At a time when they were getting guys like Elliott Gould and Wayne Rogers to do nostalgia-noir (the 70's were not generally kind to the concept of the 30's and forties in either film or music), Jack, at that time in his career, was just the thing. Unsentimental and jaded, but with humanity in spades.
Faye Dunaway, another actor who has long flown under my radar, has become one of my new fave beauties, while also kicking out killer performances. In 3 DAYS OF THE CONDOR she was fan-tastic, and in a recent watching of films like THE TOWERING INFERNO and the amazing LITTLE BIG MAN, I'm a mystified by her lack of presence in my younger movie days. It really could be an age thing. I'm 48, and she really is the type of classy, mature woman that a man who has lived a little life can appreciate. She's such a looker, and her figure is to die for; add prodigious acting skills and smarts, tagged onto her natural grace, it probably isn't a wonder than my dumb young self had no clue. As sexy as any woman in the history of women.
About John Huston I need say little...genius needs no words.
If you haven't seen it for any reason, including those that I've mentioned, I commend it to you with the greatest urgency. After all, you may die before you do, and I promise you that that would be a tragedy!
You know how I mentioned the stuff about the faux-noir, with all the phony costumes, being worn by overly popular actors trying to be Jimmy Cagney? This had all of that in spades. Yucko. I mean jeez...although most of the supporting cast was actually from the original, newbies like Madeline Stowe, and even the slightly cheesy addition of the slightly cheesy Harvey Keitel (who I generally like pretty well, if not as well as Hollywood seems to want me to), it just didn't have the stones to pull off what the original did. The original was uncompromising. It threw life in your face, and didn't care if it broke your nose....THE TWO JAKES, on the other hand, threw up on my shoes metaphorically, and I really should have expected that.