A woman identifying herself as Evelyn Mulwray (Ladd) hires private investigator J.J. “Jake” Gittes (Nicholson) to perform surveillance on her husband Hollis I. Mulwray (Zwerling), the chief engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Gittes tails him, hears him publicly oppose the creation of a new reservoir, and shoots photographs of him with a young woman (Palmer) that are published on the front page of the following day’s paper. Upon his return to his office, Gittes is confronted by a beautiful woman who, after establishing that the two of them have never met, irately informs him she is Evelyn Mulwray (Dunaway) and that he can expect a lawsuit. [Gittes realizes he’s been set up and sets out to investigate what is really going on with this case.]
*It is my belief you can’t “spoil” a movie that is nearly forty years old. But just in case you disagree with me, I’m only slightly vague and end up a little spoilery.
I really like Jack Nicholson in this role. Seeing as he won many awards for his portrayal of the private eye Gittes, this comes as no surprise. I think he slowly built the emotional element to his character which added to the mystery of the story. I like the film noir feel and the crime solving aspect of this movie. I felt like the audience slowly put the pieces together along with Gittes and that we discovered what was really going on as he did. I didn’t figure anything out before he did and that was kind of fun. Perhaps his questioning of Evelyn Mulwray was rather unnecessarily violent, and by perhaps, I mean it was, that poor woman. I understand his frustration at that point, but yah, unnecessary violence on a woman definitely. I think it fits with the era of the piece, but I got a little annoyed. Dunaway does an excellent job as the stressed out Evelyn Mulwray, if a little over dramatic in the way of some film noir.
The father was a creep, in many ways, and I really think he should have died. I’m not sure why he gets to live and gets what he wants. I guess I prefer happy endings, or at least justified endings and that doesn’t happen in this movie. Plus, it’s a little frustrating that the woman who is sexual dies instead. I know the movie is from the early 70’s and set in 1937, but it’s always disappointing to me when storytellers punish the sexual woman. Overall a gripping tale of water rights, family incest, and one man’s quest to discover the truth.