Chinown, directed by Roman Polanski, is a non-traditional hard-nosed detective film made in the 70's. The typical elements of character type are there; J.J. Gittes (a private detective in LA) played by Jack Nicholson is the central character, sharing the spotlight is Fay Dunaway playing the femme fatale Evelyn Mulwray. This film breaks all types of norms when compared to the hard-nosed detective films it is modeled after. The film is filled with allusions to the Big Sleep, especially taken from scenes of Marlowe and Vivian. Chinatown has formal elements indicative that it is going to be in the style of traditional Film Noir hardboiled detective, until you examine the characters' personalities next to the story content. .
The end of the Chinown has a major change from films like the Big Sleep or even the Maltese Falcon. J.J. Gittes ends up with nothing. He loses the girl he loves to a bullet; he loses the girl he is trying to protect to the sinister villain Noah Cross. The last shot of the film leaves the audience with no hope for the future. Gettis is back in Chinown, the place he has an obvious contempt for, the city that took his ex wife's life. As the camera cranes upward opening the frame, and the crowd of Chinese people surrounds the scene, Gettis is escorted away, moving to the background. We are left with the impression of watching the retreat of someone who has just been bested and is going home alone in defeat with nothing but pain. This is a very dark ending, there is no hero getting the girl, or the split of emotions when the hero has to let the girl go to jail to uphold his code of honor for the murder of his partner. The audience is just left with a mostly empty frame.
Gettis is similar to Marlowe from the Big Sleep at first glance. Like Marlowe he once worked for the District Attorney and now is a private detective. Gettis also falls in love with the femme fatale character Evelyn, like Marlowe does for Vivian.