A clever twist on the old film noir detective thrillers from the 1940s, Chinatown is a spellbinding mystery wrapped within a mystery. The screenplay was developed by Robert Towne, who became intrigued with the hidden and archaic disputes over southern California water at the beginning of the 20th century. Much of the historical jockeying concerned the securing of water rights in the Owens Valley, a dusty enclave near Bishop, California.
Very often, the most satisfying motion pictures involve classic elements of drama: conflict, a quest, resolution and occasional bit of humor. A tough mix to pull off in an engaging and believable manner. Your correspondent is reminded of Huddie Ledbetter, also known as Leadbelly. This oft neglected blues master once noted that there are three uses for the knife: “You take a knife, you use it to cut the bread, so you’ll have straight to work; you use it to shave, so you’ll look nice for your lover; on discovering her with another, you use it to cut out her lying heart.”
Imagine a movie initially conceived as a romantic drama that becomes fast-tracked to hit theaters as a highly stylized assault on fascism and repression. Rushed into release to take advantage of the publicity surrounding the Allied invasion of North Africa in November of 1942, the Warner Bros. feature Casablanca has come to be regarded as one of the most revered motion pictures of all time. The film was a solid, if unspectacular success in its initial run. Shot entirely on Warner Bros’ Burbank lot (except for one key sequence showing the arrival of Major Strasser) the entire production budget for Casablanca was about $1,000,000.
Today that would barely cover catering!