Played by Jack Nicholson
A quiet, hard-boiled detective and the movie’s protagonist. An intelligent man who alternates between crass jokes and politeness, Jake possesses an inherent honesty that leaves him unable to comprehend the full scope of other people’s treachery. He is a former cop whose involvement in the Mulwray case echoes a tragic but largely unexplained incident he was involved in when he worked the Chinatown beat as a police officer.
Played by Faye Dunaway
The wife of Hollis Mulwray, daughter of Noah Cross, and major foil for Jake Gittes. A wealthy, elegant woman, Evelyn’s cool exterior hides an all-consuming desperation to protect her daughter, Katherine Cross, and hide the truth about Katherine’s birth. Evelyn cares for Jake but not enough to tell him the truth.
Played by John Huston
The father of Evelyn and Katherine and the major antagonist of the movie. A wealthy, well-known man, Cross’s affable front masks a sociopath who believes that no law, either legal or moral, applies to him. His crimes range from incest to land fraud to murder, all of which he commits without compunction or remorse.
Played by Darrell Zwerling
The thin, serious chief engineer of the Los Angeles Water and Power Company. Once Noah Cross’s partner, Hollis is concerned about the city’s well being and, despite heavy pressure, refuses to build another dam that could injure people. He wants to do what is right, taking care of both Evelyn and Katherine and attempting to unravel the land fraud.
Played by Belinda Palmer
The daughter of Noah Cross and Evelyn Cross Mulwray. Katherine is a fragile creature long protected from the outside world. As Evelyn’s secret, she is seen only at a distance for most of the movie.
Played by John Hillerman
Hollis Mulwray’s chief deputy engineer. A short, respectable-looking man, Yelburton plays a definite but unspecified role in both the land fraud and Hollis’s murder.
Played by Perry Lopez
A lieutenant in the Los Angeles Police Department. Lou once worked with Jake in Chinatown and was involved in the tragic incident there that haunts Jake throughout the movie. He fails either to believe or to do anything about the full scope of the corruption Jake uncovers.
Played by Roy Jenson
A large, sloppily dressed man who works as Yelburton and Cross’s hired muscle. Mulvihill was once the sheriff of Ventura County, outside of Los Angeles. Jake is convinced that Mulvihill is and was corrupt and insults him at every opportunity.
Played by Diane Ladd
A red-haired, slightly worn-looking actress hired by Noah Cross to pose as Mrs. Mulwray. Ida is practical-minded and possessed of a strong self-interest. Cross has her killed when the police get too close to her.
Played by Dick Bakalyan
Lieutenant Escobar’s partner. A short, slender man who regularly defers to Escobar, Loach dislikes Jake and seems to know something about Escobar and Jake’s past in Chinatown.
Played by Roman Polanski
The short, jumpy hoodlum who slices Jake’s nose. The character’s name is often seen as an allusion to Polanski’s first feature film, Knife in the Water.
Played by Joe Mantell
An older, bespectacled man working as an associate of Jake’s. A careful and thorough detective, Walsh makes few assumptions and in the process often catches details and bits of information that Jake misses.
Played by James Hong
Evelyn Mulwray’s butler. A stern-looking Chinese man, Kahn watches over Katherine at the safe house and attempts to help Evelyn and Katherine hide out in Chinatown.
Played by Charles Knapp
A rotund, jovial coroner with a persistent cough. Even when presented with contrary evidence, Morty is willing to accept without question that the drowning deaths were accidental.
Played by Bruce Glover
Another associate of Jake’s. An average-faced man often seen in a hat, Duffy does legwork on the case but has few speaking lines.
Played by Burt Young
A fisherman who hires Jack for an earlier, unrelated case. Curly is an easily influenced man who is losing his hair early. Jake asks Curly late in the film to help smuggle Evelyn and Katherine out of the city.
Played by Fritzi Burr
An older, pinch-lipped woman. Mulwray’s secretary is highly disapproving of Jake throughout the movie.
Played by Nandu Hinds
Jake’s young, attractive, and efficient secretary. Sophie’s calmness in dealing with both the cases and Jake himself suggests a significant degree of tolerance for the less savory aspects of life.