Chinatown: Polanski’s Definitive Noir Critique

Film noir frequently explores the extremes of the American character, illuminating its dark and treacherous capabilities but also its capacity for decency and truth. Although many critics agree that the quintessential period for noirs occurred during the 1940’s and 1950’s, Roman Polanski’s 1974 film Chinatown re-invokes the tradition, functioning “both as a homage to and a critique of classic noirs” (Graydon 41). Like Raymond Chandler before him, Polanski utilizes the rapidly expanding Los Angeles climate to play out his vision of the ultimate noir: by employing the tradition of the justice-seeking detective who must navigate through the corrupt city and past the femme fatale’s dishonest advances, Polanski highlights the brutality of noir while still providing a modern take on the classic genre.

Like so many of the 1940’s and 1950’s film noirs which were set in either Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco, Chinatown takes place in L.A. in 1937. The city of Los Angeles itself has been an integral component of the genre, especially to the works of Chandler whose detective Phillip Marlowe can often be found on the hunt throughout various parts of the town (Hausladen 49). The urban sprawl has even been described as a “labyrinth”...

Join Now to View Premium Content

GradeSaver provides access to 931 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 7480 literature essays, 2115 sample college application essays, 310 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.

Join Now

Already a member? Log in