Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Perry Lopez, John Hillerman, Darrell Zwerling, Diane Ladd, Roy Jenson, Roman Polanski, Richard Bakalyan, Joe Mantell, Bruce Glover, Nandu Hinds, James O’Rear, James Hong, Beulah Quo, Jerry Fujikawa, Belinda Palmer, Roy Roberts, Noble Willingham, Elliott Montgomery, Rance Howard, George Justin, Doc Erickson, Fritzi Burr, Charles Knapp
Jake Gittes (Nicholson) is a private detective and former policeman in 1930’s Los Angeles who handles cases involving marital infidelity. Jake’s secretary, Sophie (Hinds), announces a new client, a lady (Ladd) wishing to determine whether her husband, Hollis Mulwray, is seeing another woman. Jake visits City Hall and observes a City Council meeting where Mulwray (Zwerling), the Chief Engineer of the Water and Power Department, joins a debate over the construction of a new dam. Jake follows Mulwray as he inspects a desolate riverbed outside the city and then as he drives to the coast and climbs down to the beach. The next day Jake’s associates, Walsh (Mantell) and Duffy (Glover), report that Mulwray continued his visits to water-related places, this time reservoirs, and had an argument with an older man outside a restaurant. Later the shadowing pays off when Mulwray is observed and photographed in the company of a young woman, Katherine (Palmer). Somehow, details of Jake’s inquiry into Mulwray’s activities are leaked to the newspapers. The real Mrs. Mulwray (Dunaway) confronts Jake and tells him she’s taking legal action for his unauthorized involvement in Hollis Mulwray’s affairs. Jake realizes that he has been duped into incriminating Mulwray. He tries to track down Mulwray, but can’t find him. Jake then visits Mulwray’s home and talks again to the wife, Evelyn Mulwray. She agrees to drop her lawsuit, and Jake tells her someone has put a lot of effort into causing trouble for her husband and has embarrassed him as well. He wants to find out what’s going on. Jake finally tracks down Mulwray at one of his favorite reservoirs, but the Police are already there and Mulwray is dead, apparently the victim of an accident. Jake’s investigation into the Mulwray case uncovers a conspiracy involving political machinations and thousands of gallons of water being wasted during a drought. He learns that the man seen arguing with Hollis Mulwray a few days before is Evelyn’s father, Noah Cross. Jake has a remarkable meeting with Noah (Huston) at the Albacore Club. Jake’s cautious cynicism is well matched by the older man’s air of power and ruthlessness. Evelyn appears to want Jake to resolve the mystery surrounding her husband’s death, but as the investigation progresses he discovers that she is not telling everything she knows and has something to hide. The two fall in love and develop a relationship despite a looming sense of ominous danger made greater by the suspicions of Police Lieutenant Lou Escobar (Lopez), Jake’s former colleague in Chinatown. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. Screenplay by Robert Towne.