The Original Ending of Chinatown

Spoiler alert, circa 1974: “[Robert] Towne is legendary and I think that both Shampoo and Chinatown were brilliantly written. Towne tells me his ending to Chinatown, which would have made it a much bigger movie… Instead of Faye Dunaway buying it at the end they get away–via a stretch of Mulholland that affords the Valley view, filled with orange groves. Their car passes out of frame and the camera freezes over the background. Towne tells me that he has collected seventeen stills, all approximately from the same POV, which cover the intervening years from then to the present. They show the death of the orange groves and the birth of the San Fernando Valley with all the overdeveloped living spaces for humans, trapped in the basin of the mountains. The last couple of stills, he says, were the most damning, because you couldn’t even see the ugliness of the development, because the smog obliterated everything. I tell him I love his ending. ‘Yeah, well, Roman had some things to work out,’ re replies in a long-suffering tone. He has told this story a lot of times, but I don’t blame him– it is so much better an ending.”

You’ll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again, Julia Phillips, Random House, 1991.