Robert Towne Criticism - Essay

Pauline Kael (review date 11 February 1974)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Nicholson's High," in The New Yorker, Vol. XLIX, No. 51, February 11, 1974, pp. 95-6.

[Kael is one of the foremost film critics in the United States. In the following mixed review of The Last Detail, she argues that despite Towne's improvements on the novel by Darryl Ponicsan, the film remains calculatingly sentimental.]

In The Last Detail, you can see the kid who hasn't grown up in Nicholson's grin, and that grin has the same tickle it had when he played the giddy, drunken Southern lawyer in Easy Rider, but now it belongs to the ravaged face of an aging sailor. The role of Buddusky, the tattooed signalman, first class, is the best...

(The entire section is 1468 words.)

Stanley Kauffmann (review date 23 February 1974)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Last Detail, in The New Republic, Vol. 170, No. 8, February 23, 1974, pp. 22, 33-4.

[Kauffmann, one of the most respected and well-known film critics in the United States, has reviewed movies for The New Republic for many years. In the following positive review of The Last Detail, he notes a number of Towne's improvements to the novel upon which the film is based.]

There's a kind of film that reveals its entire shape very early, with a cleverness that makes us both interested and wary. During such a picture the main question isn't "What happens next?" It's "Are they going to muff it?" Some examples, differently successful:...

(The entire section is 1358 words.)

Martin Kasindorf (essay date 14 October 1974)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Hot Writer," in Newsweek, Vol. LXXXIV, No. 16, October 14, 1974, pp. 114-114B.

[In the following, Kasindorf discusses Towne's approach to screenwriting and his experiences working on Chinatown.]

The Hollywood star system is back stronger than ever. Once again it's an age of the hot performer, the hot director—and now the hot screenwriter. Where for years studios were reluctant to take chances on original screen-plays, preferring adaptations of "sure-fire" hit plays and books, now the bidding for original scripts is fierce. The success of originals like David S. Ward's Oscar-winning The Sting, William Goldman's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid...

(The entire section is 1031 words.)

Charles Michener (review date 10 February 1975)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Don Juan in Beverly Hills," in Newsweek, Vol. LXXXV, No. 6, February 10, 1975, p. 51.

[In the following excerpt, Michener favorably reviews Towne's collaboration with Warren Beatty on Shampoo, suggesting that "many people will view Shampoo as 'Warren Beatty's film,' not just because he is listed as producer, co-author and star, but because his public persona is … in many ways its central subject and joke."]

Warren Beatty, a rich, complicated man with a reputation as Hollywood's most active Don Juan, has made a rich, complicated comedy about the perils of Don Juan-ing called Shampoo. To imply that Beatty alone is responsible for its...

(The entire section is 780 words.)

Robert Towne with John Brady (interview date 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An interview in The Craft of the Screenwriter: Interviews with Six Celebrated Screenwriters, Simon and Schuster, 1981, pp. 366-432.

[Brady is an American nonfiction writer, interviewer, and critic. In the following excerpt, Towne discusses his screenwriting career, focusing on his scripts for Chinatown and Shampoo, and describes his "script-doctoring" work on such films as The Godfather and Bonnie and Clyde.]

[Brady]: When did you start writing for movies?

[Towne]: About 1960. It was on and off. I started with Roger Corman doing horror and science fiction films—almost the same time that Jack Nicholson started...

(The entire section is 11347 words.)

Jack Kroll (review date 8 February 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Chariots of Desire," in Newsweek, Vol. XCIX, No. 6, February 8, 1982, p. 60.

[In the following review, Kroll favorably discusses Personal Best, contending that it not only "takes the world of track and field as a microcosm for the ecstacies and pains of self-striving," but also explores lesbianism as "a paradigm of authentic human intimacy."]

Robert Towne's splendid film Personal Best opens at the 1976 Olympic track tryouts at Eugene, Ore. In the first shot you're looking at a screen filled with blurred, sungold images. Then, slowly, the profiled face of Mariel Hemingway drops into the frame in sharp focus, two beads of sweat glistening at the...

(The entire section is 1017 words.)

Laurie Stone (review date 16 March 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Personal Best: What's New in Towne," in The Village Voice, Vol. XXVII, No. 11, March 16, 1982, pp. 52-3.

[In the following review, Stone discusses Towne's treatment of women's sports and lesbian sex in Personal Best, contending that "the themes are entwined in a startlingly innovative way."]

Nervous sweat drips off Mariel Hemingway's face as she sets up for a sprint in Personal Best, and real life bursts through decades of movie convention. We've seen sport as background to romance in the charming caprice, Pat and Mike. We've seen the athlete as manipulated beauty: Susan Anton in Golden Girl. But we've never before seen the...

(The entire section is 2418 words.)

Michael Sragow (essay date January-February 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Darkness at the Edge of Towne," in American Film, Vol. XIV, No. 4, January-February, 1989, pp. 40-61.

[In the following excerpt, Sragow surveys Towne's career, focusing on Chinatown, Tequila Sunrise, and his reputation in Hollywood.]

"… Nobody wants me to quit. 'Don't quit, don't get caught, stay on top long enough for us to knock you off.' That's the motto around here. Nobody wants me to quit. The cops wanna bust me, the Colombians want my connections, my wife wants my money, her lawyer agrees and mine likes getting paid to argue with them. Nobody wants me to quit—hey, I haven't even mentioned my customers. You know they don't...

(The entire section is 5149 words.)

Mark Horowitz (essay date November-December 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Fault Lines," in Film Comment, Vol. 26, No. 6, November-December, 1990, pp. 52-5, 57-8.

[In the following essay, Horowitz analyzes Towne's career through The Two Jakes and reassesses the significance of Chinatown as "the lens through which all of his other films are judged."]

Sixteen years have gone by since we first met Chinatown's Jake Gittes, the Los Angeles private eye who specialized in divorce cases, though he preferred the more delicate term "matrimonial work." By whatever name, Gittes' métier was still the sleazy but lucrative snooping on adulterers that his closest professional rival, Philip Marlowe, fastidiously eschewed. It has...

(The entire section is 4321 words.)

David Ansen (review date 24 October 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "An Old Affair Revisited," Newsweek, Vol. CXXIV, No. 17, October 24, 1994, p. 76.

[In the following mixed review of Towne's Love Affair, Ansen asks: "Why do another remake of the sentimental classics Love Affair and An Affair to Remember … if you're not prepared to wallow in four-hankie heaven?"]

Like every movie Warren Beatty has produced, Love Affair is made with skill, the participation of topnotch talents and considerable taste. There are times, however, when good taste can get in your way. Why do another remake of the sentimental classics Love Affair and An Affair to Remember (both directed by Leo McCarey, in...

(The entire section is 335 words.)