The Two Jakes
It’s sad what happened to this one. I suspect that any film that tried to follow up on Chinatown would be destined to fall short, but this one could have been better than it is. At the same time, I think it’s been somewhat unfairly maligned precisely because it invites comparisons to Chinatown.
Part of the problem is that the director, Jack Nicholson, is no Roman Polanski. He doesn’t have the eye for angle and composition, but most deadly of all, he doesn’t have the chops to make the actors get on with it. This film drags badly in places, worst of all in the climactic scene between Jake Gittes and Kathryn Mulwray, which should somehow have had the power of the famous scene between Jake and Evelyn Mulwray, her mother. But it’s not every day you can write a scene like “She’s my sister, she’s my daughter, she’s my sister … and my daughter.” In fact, it’s not every decade you can access that kind of raw emotion. Robert Towne, who wrote both movies, has delivered a workmanlike script here, not a masterpiece like its predecessor.
The look of the film is very good. I have to mention that Jake drives a 1948 Hudson Commodore convertible. We were a Hudson family when I was growing up. We had three of them over the years, all reliable workhorses that would astonish you if you had tried to drag race with me from a stop light. I shut down many a Ford and Chevy. I still think fondly of those old cars. Just had to throw that in.
It was originally intended that this be a trilogy. The movies would be set about ten years apart, in 1938, ’48, and ’58, and deal with the political skullduggery behind three great influences on the growth and destiny of Los Angeles: water, oil, and freeways. The third movie was to be called Cloverleaf, and my guess is that it would have dealt not only with the construction of the freeways, but the thing that made them necessary, which was the murder of the Los Angeles streetcar system by General Motors. Jack Nicholson was, technically, about 5 years too old to play Jake Gittes in 1948, and he’d be 15 years too old to play him again in Cloverleaf, but I think he could handle it. I’d still like to see that third film, but it appears that no one is interested.