Quote 2

Noah Cross:   “’Course I’m respectable. I’m old. Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

Though Noah Cross is talking about himself during his lunch with Jake at the Albacore Club, the line also pertains to everyone who holds a position of power in the film. The Albacore Club serves as a perfect example. Though the club is a front for large-scale corruption, the public sees only a gentlemen’s social club of long standing that gives generously to those in need.. Similarly, the Water Department, which is actually engineering the drought it is supposed to be fighting, is seen as an organization that has helped Los Angeles grow from the desert into the city it is today. The district attorney in Chinatown, a pawn of shadowy organizations who teaches the police to ignore the crimes they’re supposed to protect the people from, has become firmly entrenched in a position of power and respect.

This line also addresses the public’s willingness to give respect and admiration to organizations simply because they’ve become used to them. Given enough time and regular exposure, people will let even the most shocking deeds become a part of their landscape, allowing those who practice such activities total freedom from interference. Neither the death of her first boss nor a detective coming to question her second boss makes Russ Yelburton’s secretary doubt the practices of a venerable institution like the Water Department. In the final scene, the police immediately believe the older, well-established Noah Cross over the younger, less successful Jake. Even Lieutenant Escobar, a basically honest man, ignores the corruption. He treats power with reverence, not questioning Cross and instead warning Jake to leave for his own good because Escobar knows that corruption has been going on too long for anyone to put an end to it.