A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1974 – Chinatown
The lazy choice here is to go with Godfather Part II. But I already put Godfather there, so why double dip? Especially when we have a film that’s just as good in Chinatown?
And honestly, I’d even argue that Godfather II wasn’t the most representative film of 1974. It’s just the biggest and best remembered. The real films that represented 1974 are probably either Blazing Saddles/Young Frankenstein or something like The Towering Inferno. Since Mel Brooks just dominated 1974, film-wise, and box office-wise, and big budget disaster movies were all the craze in the 70s.
But, instead, I just felt class should win out, and I went with Chinatown. Since the movie just feels like the 70s. And I’m sticking with that as my reasoning.
Oh, and it’s Chinatown. That’s also pretty good reasoning.
There’s actually a great story behind this one. Robert Evans asked Robert Towne to write the script for The Great Gatsby (which Coppola ended up writing), and was going to pay him $175,000. And Towne said, “I’ll take $25,000, and let me write this story called Chinatown.” And then he wrote it for Nicholson, who showed it to Polanski, as they were looking for something to do together. And Polanski was the one who pushed for the ending to be as it was. And the final scene got written days before they shot it.
The score for this movie was written and recorded in only ten days. Ten days. And it’s considered one of the greatest film scores of all time.
The movie is perfect, by the way. The writing, the filmmaking – everything about this movie is perfect, and it’s just one of those movies you put on a shelf and keep there, showing it to people and bringing it down to admire all the time, but never changing anything about it or trying to do it again.
Oh, here’s a good story: Nicholson told a story once about how, one day, he’s on the set of this movie, rehearsing with John Huston. And they’re rehearsing the moment when Huston says, “Mr. Gittes, are you sleeping with my daughter?” Meanwhile, at that moment, up the set starts coming Anjelica Huston, whom Nicholson had started sleeping with just a few weeks prior. That must have been a fun day, I’m sure.
But anyway, it’s Chinatown, and while it wasn’t one of the top five grossers of the year, the film is a masterpiece, has had a lasting cultural impact, is one of the greatest movies of all time, and just works when you think about the general idea of what films in 1974 were about.