Study Guide

Chinatown Manipulation

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BAGBY: Gentlemen, today you can walk out that door, turn right, hop on a streetcar and in twenty-five minutes end up smack in the Pacific Ocean. Now you can swim in it, you can fish in it, you can sail in it—but you can't drink it, you can't water your lawns with it, you can't irrigate an orange grove with it. Remember—we live next door to the ocean but we also live on the edge of the desert. Los Angeles is a desert community. Beneath this building, beneath every street there's a desert. Without water the dust will rise up and cover us as though we'd never existed! The Alto Vallejo can save us from that, and I respectfully suggest that eight and a half million dollars is a fair price to pay to keep the desert from our streets—and not on top of them.

The mayor makes a good argument, but he's in on Noah's scam. The dam won't actually divert water to L.A. but to Noah's private land, where the city will have to purchase it from him. This speech's insincerity makes it frightening.

GITTES: I'm not in business to be loved, but I am in business. And believe me, Mrs. Mulwray, whoever set your husband up set me up. LA's a small town, people talk. I'm just trying to make a living. I don't want to become a local joke.

EVELYN: Mr. Gittes. You talked me into it. I'll drop the lawsuit.


Evelyn misplays her hand here. She makes Jake curious by agreeing to drop the lawsuit so quickly. Jake suspects that something is up, and that she didn't really care about the lawsuit very intensely in the first place.

GITTES: Sorry. Look. You sue me. Your husband dies. You drop the lawsuit like a hot potato all of it quicker than the wind from a duck's ass. Excuse me. Then you ask me to lie to the police.

Jake is rightly confused. Later, he thinks Evelyn might've killed Hollis—but the truth is that she's trying to cover up the truth so people won't know about her daughter/sister.

YELBURTON: Wait—please sit down, Mr. Gittes. We're... well, we're not anxious for this to get around, but we have been diverting a little water to irrigate orange groves in the northwest valley. As you know, the farmers there have no legal right to our water, and since the drought we've had to cut them off—the city comes first, naturally. But, well, we've been trying to help some of them out, keep them from going under. Naturally when you divert water—you get a little runoff.

Like Bagby's speech, this is something that sounds perfectly reasonable and compassionate. But it's empty rhetoric masking the truth, which is that they're actually stealing the water and terrorizing the farmers—not irrigating their land.

GITTES: A memorial service was held at the Mar Vista Inn today for Jasper Lamar Crabb. He passed away two weeks ago.

EVELYN: Why is that unusual?

GITTES: He passed away two weeks ago and one week ago he bought the land. That's unusual.

Jake discovers that Noah's been covering his tracks by purchasing land under the names of retirement home residents and dead people, and moving the water there. It's pure manipulation.

CROSS: Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water.

GITTES: How you gonna do that?

CROSS: By incorporating the valley into the city. Simple as that.

Cross originally owned the water company until it was made public. Now, he reverses that state of affairs, stealing the water and bringing it onto his own lands so he can then sell it back to the city.

GITTES: Evelyn, put that gun away. Let the police handle this.

EVELYN: He owns the police!

Is Evelyn being paranoid? Or is she simply correct? As far as we know, some of the police might really be in Noah's pocket. Still, she probably should've put the gun away, given that she ends up getting killed.

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