ChinaTown, directed by Roman Polanski, is a non-traditional hard-nosed detective film made in the 70's. The typical elements of character type are there; J.J. Gittes (a private detective in LA) played by Jack Nicholson is the central character, sharing the spotlight is Fay Dunaway playing the femme fatale Evelyn Mulwray. This film breaks all types of norms when compared to the hard-nosed detective films it is modeled after. The film is filled with allusions to the Big Sleep, especially taken from scenes of Marlowe and Vivian. Chinatown has formal elements indicative that it is going to be in the style of traditional Film Noir hardboiled detective, until you examine the characters' personalities next to the story content.
The end of the ChinaTown has a major change from films like the Big Sleep or even the Maltese Falcon. J.J. Gittes ends up with nothing. He loses the girl he loves to a bullet; he loses the girl he is trying to protect to the sinister villain Noah Cross. The last shot of the film leaves the audience with no hope for the future. Gettis is back in ChinaTown, the place he has an obvious contempt for, the city that took his ex wife's life. As the camera cranes upward opening the frame, and the crowd of Chinese people surrounds the scene, Gettis is escorted away, moving to the background. We are left with the impression of watching the retreat of someone who has just been bested and is going home alone in defeat with nothing but pain. This is a very dark ending, there is no hero getting the girl, or the split of emotions when the hero has to let the girl go to jail to uphold his code of honor for the murder of his partner. The audience is just left with a mostly empty frame.
Gettis is similar to Marlowe from the Big Sleep at first glance. Like Marlowe he once worked for the District Attorney and now is a private detective. Gettis also falls in love with the femme fatale character Evelyn, like Marlowe does for Vivian. Here is where most of the similarity between the characters stops. The hardboiled detective as a formal type is indicative of a protagonist
with sharp social skills, congeniality and a flawless demeanor. Gettis destroys this ritual. Gettis has moments when he is smooth; by in large he is a far cry from Bogart's portrayal of Marlowe. In one instance he hears a joke at the barbershop about a man learning how chinamen "Do" their wives. In the next scene Gettis is all excited to tell his associates the joke he just heard. While he tells the off color joke is the real Evelyn Mulwray , standing behind him waiting with her lawyer.
This would have never happened to Marlowe. Gattis looked like a fool.
Gettis couldn't get a one-liner right if his nose depended on it. Throughout the film Gettis is screwing up jokes or lines that were meant to be sharp and humorous. In opposition to Gettis, Marlowe is socially smooth and rather witty. You could almost say Gettis is clumsy and crass. The impression we are left with about Gettis is normalizing. Gettis loses the stature that comes with a protagonist filled with bravado. He comes off kind of plain, almost corny, a regular guy.
As a detective Gettis has done very well by himself. He has Venetian blinds in his office, wears a well-tailored white suit and seems to be wealthy from his trade. In contrast, Marlowe from the Big Sleep is barely getting by with P.I. work. It is implied that he isn't materialistic and it wouldn't out of character for him to do work
Pro bono. Gettis is a P.I. known mostly for divorce work (catching adultery) and spying on the unsuspecting. As a protagonist he doesn't come off very ethical. Polanski didn't make a character the audience would love right off the bat. Supplying Curly with pictures of his wife's adultery in the opening scene doesn't paint Gettis into a picture of the model for ethics.
Eveylyn Mulwray is no Vivian in the Big Sleep. Although Eveylyn plays the dark women like Vivian, is lying to protect her family like Vivian and is striking to look at like Vivian, there is little else akin between them. Evelyn for the most part does not possess the shear will and fire that Vivian has. She is almost weak in comparison, and a terrible liar. When Vivian gets caught in a lie, she acts as if she is insulted that Marlowe even questioned her. Evelyn on the