03 December 2008

One-Scene Performances: Chinatown

My next Great One-Scene Performance is actually two performances, since I couldn’t decide on who should get this prestigious honor from one of my favorite movies of all time:

Allan Warnick as Hall of Records Clerk and Roman Polanski as Guy with Knife in Chinatown
You know that snotty prick who works in a government office and never seems like he wants to actually help you, and acts as if by even asking him to do his job, you’re intruding on him? That’s the character Allan Warnick plays—all of them, packed into one short scene where Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) goes to check on land purchases in the Valley. This little jerk is intolerable almost from his first word, and even if Gittes is somewhat an abrasive personality, Warnick’s responses show that his character treats everybody who comes into the office with the same utter disdain. Warnick would return in the sequel, The Two Jakes, essentially playing the same character with a big promotion. In fact, I believe it’s meant to be the same character, and he’s still an unhelpful jerk.

I’m not sure what a knife-wielding Polish gangster dressed like a giggolo is doing walking around 1930s Los Angeles reservoirs, but that’s part of the charm of Polanski’s director-cameo in Chinatown. He’s just random and odd, this force that steps out of nowhere and inflicts one of the most memorable moments of violence in screen history when he ventilates Jack Nicholson’s nose. It’s the greatest director cameo ever—even if you have no idea this short sadist (“Where’d you get the midget?” Gittes smirks) actually is the director, it’s an impossible scene to forget. You know what happens to nosey fellows? Huh? No? Want to guess?