Although the 1974 CHINATOWN was deemed a classic by many, it is almost an unknown to the majority of present-day moviegoers. Now, 16 years later, the story continues with THE TWO JAKES. Perhaps too much time has passed, for the sequel relies heavily on the original for comprehension, yet lacks the intrigue that made CHINATOWN a success.
The story of THE TWO JAKES begins 11 years after the story of CHINATOWN with matrimonial infidelity, as did CHINATOWN. It is 1948, a time of tremendous urban expansion and opportunity in Southern California. Jake Gittes, a private eye who makes a living watching infidelity, has been hired by another Jake, real-estate developer Jake Berman, to find out with whom his wife Kitty is having an affair.
Kitty Berman is, in fact, crumpling the bed sheets in the Bird of Paradise Motel with her husband’s partner, Mark Bodine, while Gittes is wiring an adjoining motel room. Suddenly, Berman breaks in on the lovers. A shot is fired, and Bodine is dead.
Police detective Lou Estabar wants the first Jake’s recorded tape as evidence against the second Jake. The second Jake’s lawyer wants the tape, too, to defend his client. An underworld boss, wanting to keep his “business” involvement with Berman hidden, also desires the tape. Finally, oil baron and wealthy tycoon Earl Rawney doesn’t care what happens, so long as his secret oil-drilling on Berman’s property stays that way.
Kitty and Jake Berman also have a secret to keep, namely that Kitty is actually Katherine Mulwray, the long-lost daughter of Evelyn Mulwray (the Faye Dunaway character from CHINATOWN). Having never gotten over his love for Evelyn, Jake is compelled to protect Kitty at any cost.
However, when Jake learns that Kitty and the second Jake schemed to murder Bodine, thereby inheriting his assets to the partnership, the first Jake is faced with a dilemma. Should he reveal the truth of Kitty’s identity and turn them in, or edit key evidence on the tape to protect Kitty?
Jake chooses the latter, and, when he discovers that the second Jake is dying anyway of an incurable disease, he deems that to be a just and fitting sentence for his deed. Kitty is thereby not implicated, and Jake fulfills his promise to Kitty’s beloved mother to protect Katherine as long as he lives.
A rather slow and complicated film, THE TWO JAKES would be more appreciated if it were scripted without reference to CHINATOWN. Still, Jack Nicholson reprises his role successfully. He also turns in an admirable performance in directing a very intricate story — a story that relies more on a creatively-written plot to produce a mildly entertaining mystery, but without an abundance of violence or foul language.
Not that the film is not without its faults. Jake’s decision to protect Evelyn’s daughter from prosecution on a murder charge is morally wrong. So is his tampering with evidence. It compromises a judicial system that’s designed to arrive at the truth, which Jake deceives for his own selfish reasons.
Yet, Jake gets away with it. That this type of action won’t hurt society is a sad commentary on how some movies serve to undermine the criminal justice system. As if this weren’t enough, the second Jake is acquitted, and, aware of his imminent death, arranges a fraudulent suicide death so that his “beloved” adulterous wife Kitty can collect the insurance.
Apparently, this “sacrifice” on the part of the second Jake is glorified as a noble thing to do. Well, murder, deceit, theft, and adultery are never glorified in God’s eyes, and God help the society that believes there is no retribution for such evil behavior. Though Jake and Kitty seemingly live happily ever after, God’s judgment for their actions is certain. The premise that rewards come to shrewd and devious people is truly horrifying.
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Mr. Frank G. Mancuso
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Los Angeles, CA 90038-3197
A few obscenities; murder; adultery; deception and theft.