Speaking as an old-time journalist acquaintance of Robert Towne, whom I occasionally visited and spoke to during the early to late ’90s, I felt a bit jarred by a 2.12 N.Y. Times review of Sam Wasson‘s “The Big Goodbye.” Specifically by a statement written by Mark Horowitz, to wit: “No Polanski, no Chinatown.”
The thought is that Towne’s screenplay of Chinatown (of which there were many, many drafts) would have stayed a screenplay without Polanski’s input. He and Towne collaborated for several weeks, during which time Polanski insisted on cutting away much of the sprawl and specificity of Towne’s 1937 detective yarn, as well as using as a dark, downbeat ending.
As Chinatown production designer Richard Sylbert once remarked, “The point is the girl dies…that’s [Roman’s] whole life.” Horowitz writes that Sylbert might have added, “And the monsters win.” In Towne’s original Chinatown drafts Evelyn Mulwray doesn’t die and in fact kills her father, the evil tycoon Noah Cross.
I called Towne a short while ago to ask if he has anything to add or qualify or dispute. He said a few things but under the cloak of privacy. It’s obviously Towne’s call to speak out or be silent, but I were in his shoes I would send a response to the N.Y. Times. I can at least state that from his perspective the “no Polanski, no Chinatown” equation is a less than fully comprehensive summary, but I hope Towne chooses to post his recollections in some specific, chapter-and-verse fashion before too long.