The film score for CHINATOWN is as famous for the conditions under which it was written as it is for the music itself. Shortly before the film was to debut, producer Robert Evans discarded the score written by composer Phillip Lambro and handed the project to Jerry Goldsmith, a composer then best known for his work on such television series as The Waltons, Barnaby Jones, and Room 222.
Goldsmith had ten days to both write and record a new score before CHINATOWN debuted. The resulting score was extremely sparse, making use of several songs popular during the 1930s and resting upon a single original theme--but it proved the perfect additive to the film, and it is extremely difficult to image CHINATOWN without it.
CHINATOWN is one of a wave late 1960s-early 1970s films noted as much for substance as for style, and more than a quarter of a century later it continues to be regarded as one of the great artistic triumphs of the era. Directed by Roman Polanski from a remarkable script by Robert Towne, the film paints an ultimately pitch-black portrait of greed, corruption, and evil in 1930s Los Angeles. The primary theme blends several idioms, opening first with a shimmering, metallic-like chord from harp and the rising with other strings to create a oddly American, oddly Asian tone; it then glides into a slightly plaintive trumpet solo that seems to blend both 1930s and 1970s music styles. The overall effect is inviting yet mysterious--and mingles elements of romance and danger.
Gary F. Taylor "GFT" (Biloxi, MS USA)