“In this town I’m the leper with the most fingers.”


Directed by Jack Nicholson . 1989


People kept staring at me as I strolled along La Croisette in Cannes.  Naturally, I checked my fly – no problem  They still stared.  Well, if not at me, I reasoned, something  – someone – behind me.  I turned and there, Raybans glinting in the noon-day sun was Jack Nicholson.  I slowed, waiting for him to reach me… and introduced myself. We were  close, too close, to his hotel, for anything beyond a single question.  I had micro-seconds to work out what that should be.

When are you going to direct again? 

His perfectly-Jack reply came  out with the same intensity as “Between your knees” or “You  can’t handle the truth.”

“When,” he rasped, “they let me.”

This is when.

Not that it started out that way…

The long awaited (oh really?) Chinatown sequel, The Two Jakes came about because of of The Two Bobs.  Producer Robert Evans and  scenarist and director wannabe Robert Towne. He wrote the new tale of private eye Jack Gittes (Towne had always called Nicholson, Jake; just as Jack called Bob Rafelson, Curly, and Warren Beatty, Pro) and then moved on to Greystoke, assuming he would direct both,  to follow his (far from)  Personal Best helming debut in 1981.

You can’t assume anything in Hollywood. (Or elsewhere).  

In fact, Towne had planned a Gittes trilogy, across eleven-year intervals, covering the decline of southern California due to  rapacious developers and tycoons. Chinatown was about water rights, Two Jakes about oil and Gittes vs Gittes (Jake was getting divorced in the 50s) covered the pollution caused by the building of freeways – not a standard launch-pad for a Hollywood thriller!

So here we are in 1948,…  eleven years after the events of the circa 1937 Chinatown. JJ Gittes now runs Gittes Investigations, drives a fancy Hudson Brougham Super Convertible, belongs to a country club, has a fiancee and has put on weight and postwar gloom. The second Jake  –  Jake Berman – is one of those rapacious developers moving in on the petrol found in the San Fernando valley.

Gittes: Well, I was accusing you of murder, Mr. Berman.

Berman: Call me Jake.

To make ghe sequel their way, Nicholson joined his pals in Ten Productions – T for Towne, E for  Evans,  N for  Nicholson.


The Two Bobs loved Raging Bull and wanted two Bulls in the cast:Jake (!) La Motta’s screen wife and brother –  Cathy Moriarty and Joe Pesci (as a possible Berman).  Robert Towne began by making tests of  Moriarty and Kelly McGillis opposite his producer, Bob Evans. Actually, Towne was mainly (quietly) testing Evans –  and he just, well, stank as Jake Berman.  Evans hadn’t acted since 1959. And it showed. Hardly a surprise considering he’d never been much more than  a pretty face in the first place with  such 50s dross  as The Sun Also Rises and The Fiend Who Walked The West.


On the set, McGillis, for one,  was reported to be  “openly giggling” at his  “pathetic acting.” Not to mention his (new) looks.


Once upon an earlier time, Evans had fitted Towne’s scripted version of Jake  Berman. Now he had Faye Dunaway mannerisms and resembled “a Jewish Chinaman” after a new face from his pal  Alain Delon’s plastic surgeon in Tahiti.  Factoids insist Evans went to the surgeon with photos of cats he wanted to resemble.


The first Bob said it was impossible to work with the other Bob. They had a vicious fight. Nicholson apparently agreed with Towne but  stuck by the wrong pal.  (“Don’t fuck with me Robert, I’m the movie star here”). Friendship was more important than money, said Nicholson, and if Evans was out, then so was he. Which didn’t say a helluyva lot about  Jack’s friendship with Towne. (After Evans sold his mansion to   pay off his debts,  Nicholson proved his friendship by buying it and giving it back to him).


“Robert didn’t want me and Jack did,” reported  Evans. “We all held firm.  Sad, because we were three close friends.”


When Jack Nicholson refused to sign a deal holding the Ten  partners  liable for over-runs, Paramount  pulled the plug on Towne directing his Chinatown sequel after two days in l985.  Nicholson was invited to take over, but without sufficient  time to prepare.  His Chinatown villain (and all but father-in-law), John Huston, also passed.

The film fell apart,  reported the New York Times.

A million dollars’ worth of sets were torn down,

and the lawsuits commenced.

As the only one who was mega-rich, Nicholson took the brunt of ensuing lawsuits. “It bored me to death, ” he told the New York paper. “When I work, I don’t  just step in and learn my lines. I have to plan a year in advance. And I had to work my schedule around the lawsuits.”  

Moriarty was distraught…  “I lost all this weight, cut my hair, dyed it blonde, went to work. And on the second day, they shut it down. I was like: You don’t understand. I’ve waited three years to do this movie!”

It was Nicholson, “who mended the project, patiently cementing the pieces back together” for the new 88 Production company and finally directed it, himself,  in 1989 – his first such gig  since 1978’s Goin’ South in 1978.   Evans remained producer  but was far from the set –  in  the LA  Municipal Court, testifying in “The Cotton  Club Murder Case”  –  a drug-world hit connected with  his  last  failure  as  a producer. 

Poor Towne had moved on to writer-directing Tequlia Sunrise (which would have worked better with Jack rather  than Kurt Russell)  and then split to Bora Bora to write Days of Thunder.  Jack wanted a new title –  “You can’t make a movie called Fucking Karma and not be pretentious.” He was displeased  about how his modifying of  the ’85 script was re-modified by Jack.  (Towne felt the same about how UK director Hugh Hudson had “adapted” Greystoke and changed his credit  to his dog’s name, PH Zazak).

JJ Gittes . At one point, Towne thought of trying it with  a different Jake  – Harrison  Ford or Roy Scheider.  They knew better.

Jake Berman . Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Hopper, Joe Pesci  were in the frame before Harvey Keitel (first contacted to replace Evans  in ’85).

Kitty Berman .  The female lead was the sister-daughter of Chinatown’s Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunway) and became a battle between Kelly McGillis and Cathy Moriarty.  When played by Meg Tilley, she is the wandering wife of Jake Berman.  He suspects her of messing around with his partner… Bang-bang, the partner is suddenly dead. And his wife insist  adultery had nothing to do with it… (McGillis may have been simply axed by Nicholson for being scornful of  Evans in his screentest).

Also cast were Jack’s daughter, Jennifer, in the art department,  and a certain  Rebecca Broussard  in the zero role of  Gittes’ secretary, Gladys. Broussard was Nicholson’s fairly secret lover of the hour and mother-to-be of his next daughter, Lorraine (April 16, 1990) and son, Raymond (February 20, 1992).

The film was never  as good as I had wanted it to be.  Boring, even.  And I never expected Nicholson to become a producer of  ennui. Maybe I missed something.  Or, expected too much  (like everyone else?) because Roger Ebert,  the celebrated Chicago Sun-Times critic, plainly adored it.

“It turns out to be such a focused and concentrated film that every scene falls into place like clockwork; there’s no feeling that it was a problem picture… It’s an exquisite short story about a mood, and a time, and a couple of guys who are blind-sided by love… written with meticulous care, to show how good and evil are never as simple as they seem, and to demonstrate that even the motives of a villain may emerge from a goodness of heart. Jack Nicholson directed… in the same spirit… The performances are dark and gloomy, too, especially Nicholson’s.  He tones down his characteristic ebullience and makes Gittes older and wiser and more easily disillusioned. The movie really is about the values that people have, and about the things that mean more to them than life and freedom. It’s a deep movie, and a thoughtful one, and when it’s over you can’t easily put it out of your mind.”