The book I’ve been chipping away at this semester is “The Big Goodbye: China and the Last Years of Hollywood”. It’s a historical look back at the 1974 noir film, Chinatown. It was one of the last films in the golden age of Hollywood, and the final line “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown” remains one of the most iconic lines in all of cinema. It’s also a film that launched the career of Jack Nicholson into stardom. The book details the process of casting Nicholson, a tough choice as “Jack had had his share of big roles in small movies and small roles in big movies, but he never played a big part” says author Sam Wasson. The studio took a chance on Nicholson similarly to the way Paramount took a chance on Al Pacino in “The Godfather” just a couple of years before “Chinatown” released. Suffice to say, the risk paid off.
Another thing the book covers is the story of Roman Polanski. The legendary director had a rough stretch after his 1968 hit, “Rosemary’s Baby”. His wife, Sharon Tate, was unfortunately killed which cast quite a shadow on the filmmaker. His resilience to continue making the film that became “Chinatown” is all the more impressive after reading this in-depth look at that period of Polanski’s life.
What makes ‘The Big Goodbye” different from other film books is that it gives you a full history on the important people who had a role in the making of Chinatown. Sam Wasson is able to capture a moment in a time of the world of film that we are so far away from with the rise of franchises. I highly recommend ‘The Big Goodbye” to anyone interested in the history of films.