Writer Robert Towne speaks onstage during the 2016 Writers Guild Awards LA Ceremony at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on February 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.

Robert Towne, the Hollywood writer whose Chinatown script is often described as the greatest screenplay ever written, has died at 89. The Oscar winner, whose credits also include The Last Detail and Shampoo, and the first two Mission: Impossible films, passed away at home in Los Angeles on Monday, July 1, his publicist Carri McClure announced.

Towne was a leading figure of the 1970s New Hollywood movement. Several classics benefited from Towne’s input, despite his name being absent from their writing credits. Most famously these included Bonnie and Clyde and The Godfather.

The former came early in Towne’s career when he was starting out as a journeyman writer for low-budget 1960s Hollywood films. Towne was dubbed a “creative consultant.”

For The Godfather, Towne received a shout-out from the Oscars stage as Francis Ford Coppola accepted the best screenplay prize for his gangster classic. Coppola offered “credit where it is due” for “the very beautiful scene between Marlon [Brando] and Al Pacino in the garden – that was Bob Towne’s scene.” That propelled Towne into the New Hollywood firmament, and remarkable success followed.

At his peak, Towne was nominated for screenplay Oscars three years in a row during the mid-1970s, winning for Chinatown. The film features Jack Nicholson as a 1930s private detective, whose investigation into a cheating husband uncovers a world of Los Angeles corruption. Its complex plot, wisecracking yet dark dialogue and daring themes mean Chinatown is held up as a perfect screenplay at film schools, even if director Roman Polanski changed the ending into something far more terrifying than Towne had envisioned.

Towne’s career never quite reached those heights again – perhaps an impossible task. His sequel The Two Jakes – with Nicholson returning to star and direct – earned mixed reviews in 1990. That same year Towne collaborated with Tom Cruise for Days of Thunder. The pair would work together again for The Firm, and the first two films of the Mission: Impossible action franchise. Later, he was a consulting producer on television’s Mad Men.

Le Monde with AP and AFP

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