Friday, September 30, 2011

ROSEMARY'S BABY 1968

“Cinematically speaking, if stressful social times trigger in our culture the need for escapism as a coping mechanism, then such conditions must equally inspire the necessity of what can be best described as a shrouded emotional outlet: an avenue, concealed to the psyche, through which the fears and uncertainties of the times can be safely vented. In this manner the horror film has always been socially revealing.”   - 


Rosemary's Baby: Child of the '60s:
Rosemary’s Baby was released in June of 1968. And as social climates go, one couldn't find a year more defined by stress, fear, and uncertainty than America in 1968. This was the year that saw: Richard Nixon elected to the office of President; the assassination of two American symbols of hope (Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy); U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam escalating; and big cities and college campuses across the nation wracked by violent civil rights protests and heated anti-war demonstrations. Observed Los Angeles Times journalist Bettuane Levine: “It was a very bad year. Strikes, sit-ins, and bloody riots dotted the land, as various groups sought their share of the pie. The result was a country in crisis, our cities in tatters, our dislocated lives punctuated by assassination, Cold War threats, nuclear terrors, and a general feeling that nothing would ever be the same again.”
The real-life Time Magazine cover, dated April 8, 1966 poses the unasked
question augured by Rosemary's Baby's unsettlingly ambiguous ending 

The seemingly insurmountable hurdle faced by anyone endeavoring to make a horror film in the tumultuous atmosphere of the late-'60s lie in determining what could possibly frighten an audience that, on a nightly basis, had beamed into their homes the violence and real-life terrors of war and protest confrontations escalated by the police and military. Audiences who, via photojournalism periodicals like Life and Look, regularly confronted graphic evidence of a nation growing increasingly chaotic. What fictional creature or imagined narrative could compete with the real-life horror that was modern America?   
Enter, Rosemary's Baby. Ira Levin's cannily-plotted 1967 bestseller was a contemporary horror story about modern-day witchcraft. Classic gothic horror conventions were revitalized by reimagining them through the prism of an emerging new worldview. A world in which drafty castles, thunderstorms, cobwebs, bats, and creaky doorways had long ceased being viable mechanisms of fear. A world of reason and logic that had moved (or so it thought) beyond the primitive influences of superstition and myth. Rosemary's Baby proposed that even in a world in which God and religion were deemed obsolete, there remained unexplained (and unimaginable) things that never died, and evil that was impervious to time. 
Mia Farrow as Rosemary Woodhouse
John Cassavetes as Guy Woodhouse
Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevet
Sidney Blackmer as Roman Castevet

Roman Polanski's uncommonly faithful film adaptation took Ira Levin's narrative one step further by removing the unequivocal (the novel takes the existence of Satan as a reality and presents the coven, its intentions, and Guy's recruitment as elements of fact) and replacing it with ambiguity.  
Polanski threads the tale of a young bride's mounting certainty that a coven of witches has evil designs on her unborn child, with both cultural subtext (it subtly proposes that the dawning of the year "One" [1966] and the birth of the Antichrist on earth are the explanation for 1968's real-life horrors), and a sense that many of Rosemary's anxieties are the product of her imagination. Polanski initially filmed, and later deleted, several scenes that distinctly confirmed Guy's involvement with the coven, and purposely gave all of Rosemary's fantastic fears rational alternatives. An avowed atheist, Polanski wanted to make an occult horror film about witchcraft and Satanism that would play just as well as a psychological thriller about a pregnant woman suffering a severe paranoid breakdown. No matter how the film is viewed, in Polanski's deft hands, Rosemary’s Baby is an intense and atmospheric slow-boil horror experience that also works as an overwhelmingly persuasive allegory about the durability of evil. 
Maurice Evans as Edward "Hutch" Hutchins
Ralph Bellamy as Dr. Abraham Sapirstein

Watching Rosemary's Baby, it's difficult not to find yourself succumbing to the darkly-comic overtones of its somewhat audaciously clever plot: The living Devil born in a creepy Manhattan apartment building (the notorious Bramford, portrayed externally by the equally notorious Dakota, site of the tragic 1980 shooting death of John Lennon) to an ordinary woman. Indeed, a lapsed Catholic of wavering, undefined faith, who's used as a vessel by a coven of septuagenarian Satanists to herald the end of  God's hegemony and the beginning of new, Satanic world order. 
Charles Grodin as Dr. C.C. Hill
Sixties audiences responded (perhaps more subliminally than consciously) to what the horror of Rosemary's Baby represented: it offered a timely and relevant "explanation" as to why the world of 1968 was such a hellscape. The son of Satan was born on earth in 1966, ushering in an era that the uncharacteristically impassioned Roman Castevet promised would- "Redeem the despised and wreak vengeance in the name of the burned and tortured." 
So, Levin's perverse reversal of Christian myth provided a kind of cathartic release for '60s audiences, for in offering an "explanation" for the chaos of the times...even a horrifically unimaginable one...order felt temporarily restored.
Minnie: "Sometimes I wonder how you're the leader of anything!"
The outwardly ineffectual Roman casts his steely and deadly gaze on Rosemary's friend Hutch, who proves to be too curious about that tannis root charm for his own good


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
Rosemary's Baby truly excels in its dramatization of the banality of evil. Though played for darkly comic effect, it's really rather jarring that the monsters in this contemporary horror film are harmless-looking little old ladies and men. Just the kind of colorless, ordinary people we as a society are so quick to dismiss. Imagine how this detail played to audiences in the "Don't trust anyone over 30" climate of the '60s, and you get a taste of just how subversively eerie Rosemary's Baby seemed when it hit the screens. Audiences accustomed to horror films as low-budget, B-movie double-feature fare were disquieted when this major motion picture (which was intentionally shot to look as though it were a Doris Day comedy) with an art-house director and an A-list cast dared to make a horror film that took itself seriously enough to be truly frightening. 
Guy's First Betrayal
Polanski's use of a low camera angle allows Guy to shield his face from Rosemary
(and the audience) the first time he lies to conceal his seduction by the coven

Obfuscation and the barely-seen detail luring around the corner are among the tolls Polanski employs in his depiction of a world morally turned on its axis. In keeping so many of the film's horrors unseen or unsubstantiated, Polanski orchestrates a gradual, nightmarish transformation of all that is perceived as safe and familiar into the potentially dangerous and sinister. As a cleverly constructed parable of '60s unease, Rosemary's Baby captured the imagination of the country and became a major boxoffice hit. 

The gradual dismantling of the safe structures of Rosemary's world has a destabilizing effect on the viewer, making us empathize with her isolation and vulnerability. 
Any security or safety Rosemary finds in her marriage is an illusion.
Rosemary responds to father figures. Her friend Hutch is unsuccessful in
protecting her from the superficially paternal Dr. Sapierstein, who betrays her
Rosemary's body is under assault from within and without


PERFORMANCES
Although the consistently underrated Mia Farrow contributed many outstanding performances to the films she made with Woody Allen (Broadway Danny Rose being a particular favorite), no performance of hers has ever got to me like her Rosemary Woodhouse. From the moment she appears onscreen she exhibits a credible vulnerability and appeal that anchors the film in the kind of emotional reality necessary to make this horror fantasy work. The character from the novel comes to life in Farrow's fully-inhabited personification of a modern woman with a traditional streak (beyond home and family, there's no indication that she has any other ambitions) and a nagging guilt about her backsliding Catholicism. Best of all, her actions propel the plot. Her mistakes, strengths, vulnerabilities, and values determining how the coven's plans for her will play out.
At every turn, the actions and behavior of Farrow's Rosemary are rooted in something psychologically authentic. She's so good that no one else is imaginable in the role despite how well suited they were to Polanski's initial vision (he sought Jane Fonda or Tuesday Weld). I think Mia Farrow's Rosemary ranks with Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde and Jane Fonda in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? as one of the best performances by an American actress in the '60s.


THE STUFF OF FANTASY
As he demonstrated with his psychosexual thriller Repulsion (1965), Roman Polanski is an adept translator of the strange "reality" of the unreal world of dreams. The dissociated sounds, the dissipated images, the disconnected logic...Polanski captures all of these shifting subconscious impressions to great effect in crafting Rosemary's Baby's centerpiece moment--the dream/nightmare sequence. It's an eerie, atmospheric classic that's so effective that no two people see the events of Rosemary's dream in the same way.  Like a real dream, its interpretation is ambiguous as it is subjective.
As you might imagine, this sequence was particularly disturbing to me as an 11-year-old. As a Catholic School kid, I wasn't aware of having harbored any set thoughts one way or another as to the possibility of a real Satan or the Devil. This scene kinda forced the issue in a nightmarishly literal way.


THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Rosemary's Baby wasn't the first film I ever saw, it just feels that way. At 11 years old, it was the first film to ever make an indelible impression on me. I never forgot it. Part of this was due to the fact that it was absolutely THE most frightening film I had ever seen to date and was responsible for innumerable bad dreams and a reluctance to enter dark rooms for months thereafter. Revisiting it over the years in revival theaters and special Anniversary screenings (memorably, one with producer Robert Evans in a Q & A at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences) only solidifies what I intuited back in 1968; Rosemary's Baby was and is a small masterpiece.
The scene that gave me a goosebump chill the first time I saw it

A horror film that plays fast and loose with the conventions of the genre, blending elements of the psychological thriller and paranoid social drama. Beautifully shot, well-written, superbly acted, and above all, smart as a whip. At no time during Rosemary's Baby do you ever lose the feeling that you are in the hands of a man who knows exactly what he's doing and eliciting from you precisely the response he wants you to have.
It is a film of solid assurance in every aspect.


BONUS MATERIAL:
D'Urville Martin, who portrayed Diego, the elevator man (who makes a reappearance in Rosemary's dream as the gruff sailor on Kennedy's yacht) went on to be a prolific producer, actor, and director in the Black Film explosion of the early '70s. In addition to appearing in films like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), Black Ceasar (1973), and being cast as the original Lionel Jefferson in TV's All in the Family, Martin directed and played the villain in the Rudy Ray Moore cult classic Dolemite (1975). 
In Eddie Murphy's 2019 Dolemite is My Name, Martin was portrayed by Wesley Snipes.

In 2014 Rosemary's Baby was made into a monumentally misguided TV miniseries starring Zoe Saldana. My thoughts on the matter - The Devil is in the Details: Adapting Rosemary's Baby for the Big and Small Screen.


AUTOGRAPH FILES:
My sister (my family are the only ones to call me Kenny) got John Cassavetes to autograph this receipt when she saw him at a restaurant on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles in 1979. She knew I would get a kick out of it and I did, indeed.

"It's Vidal Sassoon. It's very in."
The $5000 haircut
On August 14, 1967, a week before production began on Rosemary's Baby, legendary hairstylist Vidal Sassoon was flown to Hollywood to give Mia Farrow's already short haircut a "trim" as a publicity stunt. I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Sassoon in 2003. An incredibly nice and gracious man.


Copyright © Ken Anderson   2009 -2011

26 comments:

  1. i have avoided this movie for quite some time - so of course, when i saw your post, i thought i would give it a try.... but i chickened out and watched 'kiss of the spider woman' for the millionth time again. i get nightmares easily (and i'm 32!!) so it may take me a while to watch this. polanski is a master of frightful, anxiety-ridden tales, so after 'chinatown', 'repulsion' and 'cul-de-sac', i'm not brave enough!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I empathize. Movies are such a powerful medium that I find it difficult to subject myself to films that might offer imagery and themes I can't "unsee." A friend once remarked about not wanting to see the film "Beloved" because of some of the painful imagery it contained, stating that she didn't want those images in her head. I have a short list of films that I've never seen, not because I think they'll give me nightmares, but because I don't think I want the images (usually involving some kind of cruelty or brutality) stuck in my head. (By the way, you've brought up yet another film I've never seen: "Kiss of the Spider Woman").

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was 11 as well!
    My mother made me turn around when Rosemary was lying on the mattress.
    I had read her copy of the book and knew that it faithful...but, she KNEW I loved horror films, so, when it was playing at a theater, two years later, she bought my ticket and told the manager that I had her permission to view it.
    I enjoyed the movie even more and a year later it was playing again and we both went to see it.
    She was even MORE impressed and KNEW I was.
    It IS sad that I must reveal that the rape scene was the first sex scene in a movie I ever saw!
    Did it warp me?
    No, I was a mature kid and even though I was still a virgin, I
    knew that it was, in fact, a RAPE scene that SEEMED like sex.
    Rosemary kind-of enjoyed it, thinking it was Guy, who COULD have been the human vessel for the Spirit of Evil.
    We DO see him transforming...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for sharing your pre-adolescent exposure to "Rosemary's Baby." Kids are sort of naturally drawn to horror movies and "Rosemary's Baby" was just one of the earliest explicit examples to treat its subject seriously. It doesn't sound like it warped you. :-)

      I don't know if I was too young or not, but I'm always grateful that I saw it at such an early age because it was perhaps the last year I could have seen such a film with such innocent, believing eyes. To see "Rosemary's Baby" at an age when one still young enough to believe in the concept of the devil is an AMAZING experience I would never trade. Scary as hell.

      Delete
    2. I first saw this movie when I was just 7. It was at a drive-in and I was supposed to be asleep in the back but I wasn't. I didn't make a sound because I wanted to watch it. I was glued. Like you, this was the first film I remember seeing and it nearly traumatized me. I agree with your insights about the age factor. I wouldn't trade either. You had another poster below who found the ending anticlimactic. I always liked the ending and saw the ending as the triumph of a mother's love over evil, a comforting thought after all that horror. Also I think that since Mia Farrow is that kind of woman in real life, it may be why she played her so well.

      Delete
    3. Wow!...7 years old! I think I would have wound up sleeping in my parents room until I was 18 if I'd seen this at such a young age!
      It must have been such a shocker (unhappy endings always feel like such a threat to a child's idea of safety), but it sounds as though you are happy to have experienced this remarkable movie from a place of such easy-to-suspend-disbelief innocence.
      I like your take on the ending, and I agree that Farrow's real-life maternal instincts feel as though they inform her acting.
      Thanks for sharing with us how you first came to see Rosemary's Baby. I hope it has remained a favorite!

      Delete
  4. Hi Ken,

    Just discovered your blog a few hours ago and haven't stopped reading it since then. Started out with Joan Crawford's "Queen Bee," visited "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Show Girls," and somehow ended up at "Rosemary's Baby," and enjoyed all throughout.

    I watched "Rosemary's" for the first time about ten years ago. I remember being both thrilled and scared out of my wits by the way the story was told, but I seem to remember being bummed out by the ending. It seemed anti-climactic to me. But your review has prompted me to watch it again. In addition to the main cast, I'll enjoy seeing Maurice Evans and Ralph Bellamy in supporting roles. (And thanks for posting the pic of John C's. John Henry on the restaurant slip. What a sweet and touching bit of memorabila to have.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Tay,
      Ha! What a nice way to start a comment! I'm very flattered and happy that you found one of my posts interesting enough to lead you to another.
      It intrigues me to know you watched "Rosemary's Baby" for the first time so recently. I often wonder how I would respond the the film today.

      The ending was controversial even in the year it came out (when the vernacular of the time led many a critic to call it a cop-out). Every time my mind goes to a different ending for the film in my imagination, i always think that that is the gift Polanski's vague ending affords: it allows you to imagine all manner of outcomes (even the outcome that there is really nothing wrong with Rosemary's baby, and that it has all been a psychotic incident on Rosemary's part.
      I hope you enjoy seeing it again. As you note, the supporting cast is wonderful, and who knows, that anti-climatic ending may even seem a tad more provocative the second time around. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for the very kind words!

      Delete
  5. Ken, what a brilliant article on one of my all-time-favorite movies. I love the way you put the film in a historical context...this is absolutely a film that could only have been made in the tumultuous post-JFK assassination era of the late 1960s...and in the same year as the twin horrors of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy's murders. The world, and in particularly the USA, had lost its innocence and begun to look deeply at the dark underside of life.

    I love how you liken the film's opening atmosphere as akin to a Doris Day movie, with Mia sporting Sydney Guilaroff hairdos and Rudi Gernreich high fashion wardrobe, and the sunny views of beautiful New York City...very Marlo Thomas in That Girl, too, when you come to think of it!

    Roman Polanski is simply a genius, both at creating suspense and directing his actors into the best performances of their careers. He is a master storyteller, having the savvy to adapt Ira Levin's novel so faithfully, beat by beat--most director/writers do not have that sixth sense when it comes to bringing novels to the big screen. I love all of Polanski's films, but this one is my favorite.

    I find it ironic that this dark, suspenseful and startling film fared so poorly at the 1968 Oscars (thank God they recognized Ruth Gordon's brilliance as Minnie Castevet, though)--the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was severely behind the times when they voted Oliver! as Best Picture of the year. And I still marvel that Mia Farrow was not nominated as Best Actress that year. She may not have won the gold against Barbra and Kate, but then again, maybe she would have. Farrow's Rosemary is definitely an Oscar-worthy performance.

    The movie still makes me uneasy, every time I watch it. But watch it I do, at least once or twice a year, because it is filmmaking at its very best. You said it best - the Citizen Kane of horror films.

    I love your work, Ken, and your thought-provoking insights!! I love the feeling that you are sitting right beside me when I watch films that we both admire.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's an awfully nice thing to say, Chris. I so much appreciate it.
      I'm glad this film is a favorite of yours as well (the That Girl reference is so apt). It is amazing how well it holds up! Horror trends come and go, but this film remains a solid piece of work that new generations keep discovering.

      In speaking of this film being so overlooked at the Oscars, time often reveals the Academy Awards to be a better reflection of the age, fears, and mentality of its voting members than any reflection on the quality of a particular film.
      The very OLD Academy voters of 1968 were still all those industry dinosaurs wanting to reward old-fashioned entertainments, I think.

      Time always has the final word on these things, and it makes me happy to know that Rosemary's Baby is proving to stand the test of time. I watch this film at least once a year, too!
      Once again, thanks for sharing your thoughts on another film we both enjoy, and I'm flattered if any of my words pass through your head as you watch a film you know we both have found to be of value. That's the best compliment I can think of!

      Delete
  6. A remake of "Rosemary's Baby"...as a mini-series? What in the world are they thinking?

    I can see this going over like a lead balloon. Wow, they're moving the story to Paris. That'll work--just like it did when they made a sequel to "An American Werewolf in London"!

    I read your comments at Moviepilot, Ken. I absolutely agree with you--instead of rehashing a classic story, why don't these numbskulls who work for the networks realise that the reason WHY the original was and is so great is because someone broke new ground, took chances and dared to be creative?

    When I think of the most challenging, original films of the past five years, none of them were Hollywood creations--they have all been either US indy flicks or foreign language movies!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Every once in a blue moon a remake is justified, but when there is a rare film that does everything just right, it seems crass, low, and moronic to go the remake route ("Psycho" comes to mind). It always feels like Hollywood has no respect for it's own minor miracles.

      Delete
    2. I've been dreading a remake since the 1970s, I KNEW there are people in Hollywood obsessed with the urge to outclass Roman Polanski (or Hitchcock or Kubrick for that matter), and now it is here and it's the worst crime Hollywood ever committed. What's next? A Clockwork Orange remake set in the Bronx? A Baz Luhrmann upgrade of Don't Look Now with a dancing and singing Gwyneth Paltrow?
      Rosemary's Baby is my absolute number One movie, period. It's most controversial, it's technically flawless, nothing jars, everything fits and the tempo is just right up to the second. Tay finds the ending anti-climactic? It's the icing on the cake! Polanski urges me - atheist - to sympathize with the God=Dead & Hail Satan idea (Roman actually converted me to agnosticism, LOL). But seeing Rosemary 'simply' as a victim of her own severe pre-natal depression is also very plausible. That's the beauty of Polanski's ending. While closely following the novel's storyline, he really outdid Ira Levin.

      For some reason a writer, a producer and director met at just the right time and in the right place. Praise Paramount's Bob Evans who had the sense to put William Castle out of the directional game and go for Polanski. Komeda crafted a beautiful and effective score. The casting was a stroke of genius.
      All seasoned actors. But Mia Farrow? She was mediocre at the time, just a rich wistful hippie teen trying on a Hollywood career like her mother. So why her? It can't have been exclusively for her frailty and the virginal nativity in her eyes, can it? Why was Polanski, who initially set his eyes on Tuesday Weld and Sharon Tate for the role, won over to take Farrow on? According to Ira Levin himself he was among a few people who tipped her off to Roman. But wouldn't the choice for Sandy Dennis have been a better one? She was both the vulnerable type, and a better experienced actress. The problem with Dennis however is that every moviegoer would have said 'Rosemary has clearly psychiatric issues' right from the start. Farrow was the perfect mix of the mental vulnerability and strong-willed sanity Polanski desired.
      She did a great job, but I'm convinced that with any other director, young Mia wouldn't have had it in her. Polanski touched the right button with her and she turned out brilliant. Just once so. After RB she returned to career mediocrity and she and Roman may have become life long friends, but he never asked her to appear in his movies again, not even for an uncredited cameo. Aside of that, very few of Polanski's later movies have managed to rise to the level of his Rosemary's Baby. For me, none did.

      For the last 14 years I have been trying to come to terms with Levin's sequel Son of Rosemary. I laughed out loud at the end, I couldn't believe how it ended. Is the finale ridiculous? A too easy way out? Brilliant? I can reread the book till I'm blue in the face but I think I'll never know. I can at least hope that no one will ever lay his hands on the filmrights.

      Delete
    3. Hello Willem
      Those options you posted for possible Hollywood remakes are hilarious (and, sadly, not too far from the kind of thinking that goes into remakes).
      It was quite enjoyable reading your comments about "Rosemary's Baby" as it is clear you are at least as big a fan of this marvelous film as I am. Wonderful insights on casting and relaying to us why the film works for you.

      A flawless film is a rarity, but I think "Rosemary's Baby" just might qualify. As you say, it was a lucky confluence of an amazing array of talents at the right time.
      And please don't get me started on Ira Levin's "Son of Rosemary"...clearly the Devil made him do it. Nice to hear from you again, Willem!

      Delete
    4. Hi Ken,

      Still gleefully working my way through your terrific "rabbit hole" of a blog and having a blast! Reading this post on Rosemary's Baby prompted me to suggest to the husband that it be our last night's entertainment, and to my great surprise he jumped at it. (I am a devout horror fan -- he most decidedly is not.) Perhaps the fact that we're attending a friend's holiday party in the Dakota in a few days worked in my favor. In discussing the film afterward, he said he didn't really think of it as a horror film, just a brilliantly cast, acted and directed movie, and we both agree that the running time of 2 hrs 16 min feels like 90.

      I particularly enjoyed your placing the film in it's contemporary context. By the time I first caught it (with commercials, alas) it was several years old, and I had perhaps diluted my response by reading the book (which I loved) and apparently memorizing the spot-on MAD Magazine parody, which continues to take up valuable real estate in my brain. ("He has his father's eyes." "Who's his father, Dean Martin?!" "We're painting your body with Satanic symbols." "You call that painting?" "You call that a body?")

      I'm always surprised to see William Castle's credit at the top. Because I associate him with (often highly enjoyable) schlock, seeing his name in connection with a film this good always startles. And that opening pan of Central Park down to the Dakota (now distressingly white, due to a recent sandblast cleaning) accompanied by that haunting lullaby just screams that you're in for a wonderful ride.

      I have to agree with a previous poster's assessment of Farrow -- she's absolute perfection, but I believe all credit goes to Polanski -- never before and never since has she approached the level of her work here. (Though I was surprised a few years ago to find what a good stage actress she's become, when I saw her as Honey in a reading of Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf, opposite the estimable Uta Hagen and Jonathan Price, and a painfully inadequate, out-of-his-depth Matthew Broderick.) And the "making of" feature on the DVD reveals her to have been (at the time) a fairly ditzy "flower child," seemingly uncontaminated by anything approaching an intellect.

      That said, she is the chief reason the film works for me -- she makes me care about Rosemary. The combination of fragility and steel is incredibly effective, and when she falls after leaping from the elevator I just wanna run and help her up. That moment still makes me gasp even after umpteen viewings.

      The entire film so is beautifully cast down to the smallest role, that Patsy Kelly's and Elisha Cook Jr.'s brief, against type, performances often go unheralded, but they contribute so much to my enjoyment of the film. (And septuagenarian Ruth Gordon's Oscar acceptance line, "I can't tell ya how encouragin' sumthin' like this is," may be the best EVER.) Rosemary's Baby also stands alongside John Huston's The Maltese Falcon as a lesson in "the less you mess with the source material, the better the result."

      Thank you for another fantastic post -- your blog is like a big ol' box o' chocolates!

      Delete
    5. P.S. Neglected to mention Tony Curtis's unbilled audio cameo, a wonderful stroke, as is producer Castle's visual cameo lurking outside the phone booth.

      And here's something I noticed for the first time watching the film last night; the ticking of the bedroom clock is used to great effect in several places, most strikingly in Rosemary's "dreams." But when Rosemary demands Guy show her his shoulders, to see if he's been "marked" by the coven, we cut back to Rosemary in the bed, and can see quite clearly the electric cord attached to the back of the clock. Electric clocks don't tick!

      Delete
    6. Hello Neely
      If I haven't already said so before, please let me say a huge Thank You for your kind words about my bog. It really pleases me to know that you've returned to read other posts. You're really very kind.
      I agree with all of your observations on this, my absolute favorite film of all time. If indeed your husband has never seen the film before, it's quite a testament to Polanski's skill that the film holds up so well after so many years.
      I love your bringing up the Mad Magazine parody. I remember it from my youth and got a copy off Ebay some time back, but your recollection of the lines made me smile.
      On my last visit to New York I was sorry to see the eerie blackness of the Dakota (as if its dark history began to permeate the very stones of its facade) were so cleaned up. However, I envy your having the opportunity to actually go inside.
      I'm with you in finding Mia Farrow's performance to have been the work of Polanski. I think she has developed into a fine actress over the years, but as you state, none of her other work from that period comes near the perfection of her Rosemary Woodhouse.

      Really loved reading all the things you noticed and appreciated about the film, And I'm VERY impressed at your electric clock catch! that's one for the trivia books (or at least IMDB)!
      Thanks for contributing. I'm sure other readers will get as much a kick out of your comments as I did.

      Delete
  7. Hi Ken, I just saw revisited "Rosemary" recently...and re-read your take on it.

    Aside from all the things you articulated, I enjoy movies that are a snapshot of a place and time. Here, it's NYC in the late '60s.

    Although I think wispy Mia is still a bit miscast as Rosemary, you make a strong case for her merits in the role. I do think John Cassavettes is definitely miscast as Rosemary's rotten husband. He was nearly 40 and looked it, at odds with his role of a struggling young actor. Plus, his dark severe looks give his sinister character away. I read Robert Redford turned the part down (RR also famously turned down "The Graduate" and Nick in "Virginia Woolf" ...wtf?)--how perfect his bland good looks would have been. It would have been hilarious if Redford and Jane Fonda would have been reunited from Big Apple newlyweds in "Barefoot in the Park" to NYC unhappily weds in "Rosemary's Baby"...what a great future double bill!

    "Rosemary" and "Chinatown" are my two favorite Polanski movies, great storytelling and acting!

    PS, you probably know Joan Crawford was slated for a walk-on in "Rosemary," right? No, not as a witch ; ) As herself, with Van Johnson, leaving a performance of "The Fantasticks" that Rosemary and a girlfriend were also seeing... Apparently the scene was scrapped when Farrow was running late to the set. And do you know who has told this anecdote? Rutunya Alda, who was Farrow's double on "Rosemary." Alda, of course, was the long-suffering Carol Ann in "Mommie Dearest"...so at least she got to see the real Joan Crawford before the Dunaway demolition!

    Cheers,
    Rico

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Rick
      Nice to hear this is a favorite of yours as well. As a thoughtful film fan, I suspect you might feel as i do about casting. It's always interesting to know who was a first choice for a role or who turned a role down, principally because if the person considered is at all good, what we are left to imagine is a totally different film.
      For "Rosemary's Baby" I think Farrow's somewhat neurotic vibe gives the film something entirely different than what an essentially solid woman like Jane Fonda would have brought to the role. And Tuesday Weld...she's a bit of both.
      And while I too would have loved to have seen what darkness Polanski could have unearthed in Redford, I've grown too keen on Cassavetes' pent-up frustration.
      Along with Streisand and her damned nails (never wishing to cut them no matter how out of character they were), I've always been annoyed by Redford's dogged protection of his image. That same blow-dried hairdo he wore no matter the era, his always needing to convey a likability. I'm embarrassed for them when they go on about their "acting"...when image comes before character, they always remain just stars to me.
      Thanks for sharing the info about Crawford and Johnson, by the way. I don't think a lot of readers would have known that. Several years ago I got to interview some members of the supporting cast of "Rosemary's Baby" (one actor, the husband of "Mame"'s Jane Connell, cast as Guy's agent, was in the scene you refer to) and they told me about the Crawford/Johnson appearance. Since then I've been able to find a few behind the scenes press shots of Polanski and William Castle posing with them.
      Fascinating stuff, huh?
      Speaking of Rutanya Alda, i understand there is a kind of unofficial race to the publishers between her and Dunaway in getting out a book about the making of "Mommie Dearest". From what I've seen on YouTube, Alda pulls no punches. I can't imagine Dunaway writing anything but "this wasn't all my fault" stuff.

      Delete
    2. Hi Ken--I think Alda's book will be far more honest...and fun! Though it will be interesting to see what Lady Faye has to say ; )

      This crossed my mind and made me smile: The slimy cad to gets good girl Diane Baker pregnant in "The Best of Everything" was wannabe actor Robert Evans...producer of "Rosemary's Baby!" Six degrees of separation!

      Delete
  8. PSS, Have you ever noticed that the title credits to "Rosemary's Baby" and the decade earlier soaper "The Best of Everything" are nearly identical? Romantic magenta pink script over the Big Apple concrete skyline? What a great mashup of plot twists those two flicks would make for a young woman facing life in NYC! Rico ; )

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi again. I never noticed it, but too a quick look on trusty YouTube and see what you mean! the script is different, but the shade of baby pink over the Manhattan skyline is the same. Good eye! I'm sure Polanski would congratulate you on taking note of exactly the kind of traditional credit sequence he desired to throw viewers off the scent of what a bizarre movie he had in store. No Bernard Herrmann screeching strings for Rosemary.
      Thank you for going through the archives and reading these posts, Rick. It's fun to revisit them and i always get a kick out of what details and nuances you take note of!

      Delete
  9. This is just an amazing film, both artistically and emotionally. It's true what you say -- the creators of this film masterfully play the audience. It's one of those few films that manage to balance the horror and comic genre. One minute you're laughing out loud at its absurdity, the next you're shivering, and the whole thing plays out like an irreversible nightmare. And Mia Farrow truly is affecting here. You really feel for her.

    I love the fact that you can take it as seriously as you like, or just have fun with it, but that the film itself takes its own mythology seriously, that "this is really happening!" And that sends it into another realm for me.

    The casting, the characterizations, the direction -- all spot on. I'm always so glad to find another fan of this movie.

    Great stuff you're doing here. Bookmarking your site -- I'll be eager to dive in deeper!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hell Marc
      Great to hear from another fan of this film, too. You're so right about there being something so perfect about the film's tone- its balancing of black comedy and non-ironic horror/suspense - that you can have fun with the film or take it seriously. That's a remarkable achievement.
      Time has been kind to it and Farrow's performance, the quirkiness of the supporting players, all mesh so ideally.
      I'm assuming you're someone who discovered the film many years after its initial release, and if so, it's heartening to a longtime fan like myself to hear that the film still holds up and has plenty to offer.
      Thank you for the enthusiastic comments and i appreciate your kind words regarding the blog! Look forward to hearing from you again.

      Delete
  10. I just stumbled onto your blog and have loved all of it, starting with A Quiet Place in the Country. I'm glad that you've provided me with so much to read.

    I also saw this movie at a very young age (a childhood where we moved to often to make friends and access to TCM was very formative in my pop culture exposure.)

    Now in 2021, after the last 4 years of orange tan fascism and the #MeToo movement, has your approach to movies like Rosemary's Baby, Repulsion, and Chinatown changed? While I still think they are amazing films, I'm always disturbed because of what I know about Polanski as a person.

    Anyways, please keep writing, your critiques have been so enjoyable while I am in isolation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Sheee-a (I apologize for the abbreviation, I don't know you well enough to resort to chumminess so soon)
      I'm glad you stumbled upon this blog and appreciate your taking the trouble to say hello and share a little about your youthful exposure to ROSEMARY'S BABY.
      What I never know about young people today coming to the film is whether or not the whole plot is already so widely known by now that there is no real surprise to it, or whether it all feels very tame.
      And I really love the question you pose about Polanski and my feelings about his films. As I'm currently writing about a Polanski film (by coincidence) I will refrain from going into my thoughts completely, but I hope you check back and see if the question is at all answered in the context of the forthcoming post.
      In the meantime, I will say that I find the information age presents an amazing challenge for the arts. Woody Allen, Polanski, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Charlie Chaplin...the list of problematic artists grows, asking us where is the line drawn (and should there even be one?) between art and artist.
      In my own life, I find I have an imprecise and frustrating sliding scale. All depending on what it is I find out about the person and if it intersects with the message and themes of their art. The cult of celebrity and the star system encourages us to like and identify with artists. But I didn’t see ROSEMARY'S BABY because I liked Polanski. I fell in love with the film not knowing anything about the director. My feelings about the film remain the same. My feelings about Polanski, yes, they have changed.

      I can als say yes, that my approach to the films has changed (or more accurately, what I know about Polanski colors my approach), but I need to devote an entire essay to what that means. The last few years of normalized fascism amidst the welcome humanity of the #MeToo and #BLM movements have left a profound mark.

      I know it seems like I skirted around your marvelous question, but I honestly have been seeking to write about that topic exclusively soon. I write about films from the 60s and 70s two very progressive yet very problematic decades in their own ways. The topic is ripe for discussion, but I'd better not attempt it in a comments section reply.
      I thank you again and hope this won't be your last visit. Cheers!

      Delete