Robert Towne wrote Chinatown, The Last Detail, Shampoo, The Parallax View and worked without credit as ghost writer on what could be literally hundreds of films. He was the key screenwriter of the 70s.
He tried directing in the 80s and wasn’t much cop to be honest. Chinatown is his masterpiece, it was his time to tell his story of LA and Jake Gittes, played by and written for, his friend Jack Nicholson.
Screenwriter’s careers are funny things, we go in and out of vogue, we’re on the tip of everybody’s tongue one day and gone the next. Towne had battles with studios over films like Greystoke, and he battled with what was apparently a prestigious drug intake.
While he was good at rewriting other writer’s work, towards the end of his career other people rewrote him. It’s not a nice business, but forget it Robert, it’s Chinatown that will be remembered as a great noir of the 1970s. Even if Polanski insisted on the tough ending you didn’t want.
Chinatown is a great film, a great script and a great story, and it lives on and grows as the years pass. Jack is great, but it’s another writer who steals the show, John Huston playing the villain Noah Cross, is simply magnificent.
Robert will be lucky not to live long enough to see it being remade.
So, 79 films to go…
Matthew Cooper has written for Emmerdale, Eastenders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs. He was winner of the first ever Lloyds Bank Channel Four Film Challenge and the Oscar Moore Screenplay Prize. His first short film starred a then unknown Ewan McGregor and was picked up by Channel Four when Matthew was 19 years old. He’s been a script writer for hire and filmmaker for hire for over 20 years.