Chinatown, 1974, USA, Director Roman Polanski


Jake Gittes liked to live off the fat of the land, you know.  He had the fancy office, good suits and all of that.  And it was okay when he was making money which to be fair to the man most of the time we did.  Los Angeles worked out well for us.  Two things about this town, mister, you should know.  The rich and not just the movie stars like to screw around, and the aggrieved always expect to be paid in cash for their hurt.  Divorce was and still is popular in LA because it helped and helps a lot of women settle in the hills with their divorce settlements.  You get my meaning?  We were good at divorce work.  Jake, Duffy and me gave it a professional gloss. Jake more than Duffy and me. 

In the early days Jake was not that much of a drinker.  Even later no one worried about Jake and his drinking. The booze hasn’t done him any harm, added a few wrinkles and pounds maybe.  Sure I remember.  Jake was working as a private eye before 1930 arrived.  He dragged Duffy and me into his business in ‘32.  Sophie arrived as the secretary in ‘35.  I liked Sophie.  She was a real sweet kid, for a while at least. 

wp-1595498482434..jpg Jake Gittes was a good cop and heading places one time.  It went all wrong.  I don’t know all the details.  Jake hated talking about it.  What I know is this, and I got most of it from Duffy.  Back in 1927 this guy with more than two names was bumped off in Chinatown.  I remember the moniker, Theodore David Weaver.  Theo was rich and liked to play.  The guy did more than play around with the ladies.  He was partial to cocaine and opium.  Mrs Weaver did nothing to discourage Theo from the dope which was good news for the dope dealers.  One night poor Theo was found dead in his bedroom with a bullet trapped somewhere near the top of his brain.  It must have been a ricochet because the other bullet went right through one ear and out the other.  That kind of thing will make anyone blink.  

There were a few suspects but Cindy Pickens was the popular choice.  Theo liked Hollywood attractions.  You must remember Mrs Weaver.  She was the movie star Maude Robson.  Maude was not a big star but she was what the studios call box office.  Cindy Pickens, the girl that Theo was playing around with, she was pretty but she’d only made a couple of pictures, no more.  Maude not only approved of her husband spending cash in Chinatown on dope she dished out some of the stuff amongst the other movie stars.  Jack reckoned Theo had been killed by Maude Robson.  He picked up gossip about her fights with her husband and heard Theo wanted a divorce so he could hitch up with young Cindy Pickens. 

wp-1595498504571.jpg Maude was not a popular choice as the suspect.  Fuji the Chinese dope dealer was well known by the guys who worked Chinatown.  Fuji liked Maude being around to take his cocaine and opium back to Hollywood.  The DA had a thing going with the younger sister of Maude and he himself was treading a thin line.  He didn’t want no trouble from Maude Robson.  And because Robson was the big player and Pickens no more than a face around the studios the movie boss Zukor reckoned it would be best for all concerned if Cindy Pickens took the fall.  Jake Gittes had a yen for Cindy.  She was a looker and young and, according to Jake, a little innocent.  And If you can’t have a yen for someone in Chinatown, where can you?  

All this was back in 1927.  Jake was 27 years old and, like the century in which he arrived at the beginning of, he was going places.  Jake was a good cop and rated by LAPD.  He could read people, and for Jake the written exam was a breeze.  LAPD like their cops to take exams before they promote them.  Me and Duffy were not so good at the exams which was one of the reasons why we joined Jake.  This one night in ‘27, Jake got the call from Fuji the dope guy.  He said he had Maude Robson in a room and the dame was ready to blabber.  Fuji had pictures of Maude and the dope.  Fuji also had the gun Maude had used to kill Theo Weaver.  He told Jake to come over but with no cops because they were trying to set up Cindy Pickens.  Fuji asked Jake to bring Cindy along because he wanted to make an apology and because he had something for Cindy that she could use to prove her innocence.  Fuji said he didn’t want to hand it over to a cop who might have second thoughts about his responsibilities and his boss.


Right until the day he retired Jake Gittes was cocksure.  That’s the word I’d use.  A less confident man wouldn’t have taken Cindy but Jake did just that.  Maybe it was something to do with Jake being in love or thinking he was.  Jake and Cindy arrive in Chinatown but there is no Maude Robson.  Before Jake sees Fuji to hear what he is going to say, someone hits Jake on the back of the head with a blackjack.  When he comes to the room is full of police and, as if it wasn’t crowded enough, there is a dead and doped up Cindy Pickens lying on the floor.  The lady has collected a bullet hole in the middle of her forehead.  The bullet came from the same gun that killed Theodore Weaver.  The police announced to the newspaper boys that Cindy Pickens had killed poor old Theo and that Cindy was loaded not just with cocaine and opium but also remorse.  Cindy killed herself, claimed the LAPD.  Jake was unlucky.  Another District Attorney in another town and another time, and Jake could have gone all the way.


Ten years later the same thing happened, well almost.  I’ve said it more than once, what the hell was Jake thinking when he took Noah Cross and Claude Mulvihull into Chinatown to meet Evelyn Mulwray and her daughter.   Jake said he had no choice, that Mulvihull had a gun and the drop on him.  Nobody likes to face the barrel of a gun but, mister, even so.  Jake should have thought of something on the drive into Chinatown.   I wondered if after what Evelyn had told him that Jake needed to see daughter and father together.  Jake didn’t want to talk about that night in Chinatown, and Duffy and me soon learnt not to mention the subject.  Noah Cross died a wealthy man, and Los Angeles spread out into the valley, some of which had been good farming land.  Cross was a crook but if it hadn’t have been him someone else would have come along and built those extra suburbs.  The few occasions Jake mentioned it, I said to Jake the same thing.  Forget it, Jake, it’s history. 


I know the dirt about Noah Cross.  Nothing ever appeared in the papers because the guys at LA Times were working with him to make the big deals.  What he did to his daughter and granddaughter was no secret.  Everyone knew or at least all the people who knew Noah Cross.  It didn’t bother him none that everyone knew, and it mustn’t have bothered his fancy friends, the people that ran LA, because they all went to the big parties.  Cross didn’t just keep it in the family.  There was a guy called Henry Hoffman here in LA.  He threw these exclusive affairs where the women were almost as expensive as the food and champagne.  Hoffman knew a lot of young girls, and there they were, waiting to be picked.  Elizabeth Short stayed in the home of Hoffman for a while, not long before she was killed and became known as the Black Dahlia.  I said to Jake why don’t we poke around and try and nail this twisted heap.  But by then Jake had got all wrapped up in the business with Jake Berman and Earl Rawley.  All that was about land as well.  It always is in Los Angeles, I reckon.  That piece of land had been owned by Evelyn Mulwray, the lady shot through the head in Chinatown in ’37.  The dispute between Berman and Rawley over the land Evelyn left was how Jake met granddaughter Kathleen Mulwray again.  I asked Jake how Kathleen was doing seeing as she’d seen her mother killed and no one would want Noah Cross as a grandfather.  Is she doing okay? I said.  Kind of, said Jake.  


I was surprised Jake walked away from Kathleen Mulwray.  She had money and she could have put a smile on your face, if you know what I mean.  But after Cindy Pickens and Evelyn Mulwray, I suppose Jake learned his lesson.  I remember him having a fling with this waitress called Mildred Pierce but Jack and Mildred happened before the dame opened a chain of restaurants and became rich and fancy.  She had a daughter that killed the second husband of Mildred.  I have to say, Jake knew how to pick them, even if he did live off the fat of the land.  You’ve had your troubles, I once said to Jake.  I have, Laurie, he said.  Looking back, though, he said, it feels like fun.  Does that include Dixon Steele? I said.  Jake shivered or pretended to.  Worst job I ever had, he said.  And he said no more. So, mister, I can’t tell you nothing about screenwriter Dixon Steele.  Something happened between the two men because after that Jake always handed out the Hollywood jobs to Duffy and me.  I didn’t mind.  The dames up there didn’t bother me none.

Howard Jackson has had ten books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism.  His latest travel book No Tall Heels To Tango is now available here.