Chinatown Movie (1974) | Summary, Review, Cast & Plot

Chinatown Movie (1974) | Summary, Review, Cast & Plot
© Paramount Pictures


Chinatown Movie Summary

A private detective, Jake Gittes, hired to investigate a case involving adultery, discovers a plot of murder based on incest and privatization of water by state and municipal corruption, land use and real estate.  In case he doesn't drop the case, he will face threats by legal authorities, but he pursues it anyway uncovering a huge conspiracy.  

Chinatown Movie Review

Chinatown is a puzzle that all mysteries are made from.  A detective set up to have an image of a bunch finds himself in way over his mind when he finds a plot involving the water source. Jack Nicholson brings home an Oscar for his beat cop portrayal.  The twists are shocking and the puzzle is profound. 


Chinatown Movie Cast

  • Jack Nicholson as J.J. "Jake" Gittes
  • Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Cross Mulwray
  • John Huston as Noah Cross
  • Perry Lopez as Lieutenant Lou Escobar
  • John Hillerman as Russ Yelburton
  • Darrell Zwerling as Hollis I. Mulwray
  • Diane Ladd as Ida Sessions
  • Roy Jenson as Claude Mulvihill
  • Roman Polanski as Man with Knife
  • Dick Bakalyan as Detective Loach
  • Joe Mantell as Lawrence Walsh
  • Bruce Glover as Duffy
  • Nandu Hinds as Sophie
  • James Hong as Kahn
  • Beulah Quo as Maid
  • Belinda Palmer as Katherine Cross
  • Burt Young as Curly
  • Jerry Fujikawa as Gardener

  • Roman Polanski

  • Robert Evans
  • Written by
  • Robert Towne

  • Jerry Goldsmith

  • John A. Alonzo

Edited by
  • Sam O'Steen

Production Company
  • Penthouse
  • Long Road Productions
  • Robert Evans Company

  • Paramount Pictures

Release date
  • June 20, 1974

Official Trailer

Chinatown Movie Plot 

In 1937, a woman identifying herself as Evelyn Mulwray hires detective agency J. J."Jake" Gittes to follow her husband, Hollis Mulwray, chief engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.  Gittes tails him, hears him openly refuse to create a fresh reservoir that will be unsafe, and shoots photographs of him with a woman, which are published on the front page of the day's paper.

Back in his office, a lady who tells him she is your true Evelyn Mulwray and he can get a suit confronts Gittes. Realizing he had been set up, Gittes supposes that Hollis Mulwray is the target.  Before he could question him, Lieutenant Lou Escobar fishes Mr. Mulwray, drowned, from a reservoir.

Under retainer to Mrs. Mulwray, Gittes investigates his suspicions of murder and notices that although there's a drought, huge amounts of water are being discharged from the reservoir nightly.  Gittes is cautioned off with Water Department Security Chief Claude Mulvihill and a henchman who slashes at certainly one of Gittes' nostrils.

Back in his office, Gittes receives a telephone from Ida Sessions, who identifies herself as the imposter Mrs. Mulwray.  She's fearful to spot her employer however, informs Gittes to confirm your day's obituaries.

Gittes learns that Mulwray was once the firm partner of Evelyn father, Noah Cross.  Over dinner in his private club, Cross warns Gittes he will not understand the forces at work and will be offering to dual Gittes' fee to search for the overlooking mistress of Mulwray.

At the hall of records, Gittes discovers that much of this Northwest Valley has changed ownership.  Investigating the valley, he is attacked by mad landowners who believe he's a representative by sabotaging their own water supply of this water section attempting to force them out.

After his thugs and fleeing Mulvihill, Evelyn and Gittes conceal at Evelyn's home and sleep.  During the night, Evelyn gets a phone call and has to leave suddenly; she warns Gittes that her daddy is harmful.  Evelyn's car is followed by Gittes to a house, where he spies her Katherine, through the windows comforting Mulwray's mistress.  He accuses of holding the girl against her will Evelyn, however, she says Katherine is her sister 

The next day, an anonymous call draws Gittes to Ida Sessions' apartment, where he finds her murdered and Escobar waiting for Gittes' arrival. Escobar tells him the coroner's report found saltwater in Mulwray's lungs, indicating that he did not drown in the freshwater of the reservoir. Escobar suspects Evelyn of the murder and tells Gittes to produce her quickly.

At Evelyn's mansion, Gittes finds her servants packing her things. He realizes her garden pond is saltwater and discovers a pair of bifocals in it. He confronts Evelyn about Katherine, whom Evelyn now claims is her daughter. After Gittes slaps her, she tells him that Katherine is her sister and her daughter; her father raped her when she was 15. She says that the glasses are not Mulwray's, as he did not wear bifocals.

Gittes arranges for the women to flee to Mexico and instructs Evelyn to meet him at her butler's home in Chinatown. He summons Cross to the Mulwray home to settle their deal. Cross admits his intention to annex the Northwest Valley into the City of Los Angeles, then irrigate and develop it. Gittes accuses Cross of murdering Mulwray.

Cross has Mulvihill take the bifocals at gunpoint, and they force Gittes to drive them to the women. When they reach the Chinatown address, the police are already there and detain Gittes. When Cross approaches Katherine, Evelyn shoots him in the arm and starts to drive away with Katherine.

The police open fire, killing Evelyn. Cross clutches Katherine and leads her away, while Escobar orders Gittes released. Lawrence Walsh, one of Gittes's associates, tells him: "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."

The movie is based on real events waging California Water Wars.