About thirty minutes into Chinatown, Jack Nicholson’s JJ Gittes questions Mrs. Mulwray about the death of her husband; specifically, her seemingly blasé attitude towards the event. As a detective pressing for answers, Gittes’ look fits him to a T— three-piece suit, top hat, and a cigarette perched between his fingers. Everything is in its right place, until he utters: “Look. I do matrimonial work. It’s my métier.” Métier? As Roger Ebert also wonders in his Great Movie essay for the film, what is this hard-boiled detective doing with a word like métier? Humphrey Bogart’s Phillip Marlowe wouldn’t be caught dead tossing around a word like that.
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