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All Of Them Witches

August 22nd, 2010 · 2 Comments

Rosemary's Baby 1968 Mia Farrow

Roman Polanski was born August 18, 1933 in Paris. The sordid details of his flight from the United States in 1978 have often overshadowed discussion of the director’s work, which at the age of 77, includes one of the best films of 2010. Is he a world class filmmaker? In the month of August, I take a look at ten directed by Roman Polanski.

Rosemary's Baby poster A Rosemary's Baby poster B

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Directed by Roman Polanski
Screenplay by Roman Polanski, based on the novel by Ira Levin
Produced by William Castle
136 minutes

Crafted with elegance and wit so assured that its style is nearly invisible, Rosemary’s Baby has earned its spot in discussions of the scariest film ever made. Ira Levin — whose debut novel A Kiss Before Dying was published to acclaim in 1953 — found inspiration in his wife’s pregnancy for a second novel in 1967. Film rights were obtained by William Castle, the director whose in-theater gimmicks for movies like House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler involved rubber skeletons flying over the audience or electrified seats. Unable to raise financing for Rosemary’s Baby, Castle partnered with Paramount Pictures, whose production chief Robert Evans agreed to split the profits with Castle, but refused to let the shlockmeister direct. Castle accepted the role of producer as Evans convinced Roman Polanski to adapt and direct Rosemary’s Baby.

One of Polanski’s few revisions to the novel was a brilliant one: embracing psychological horror and leaving it to the viewer decide whether Rosemary was the victim of witchcraft or her own prenatal paranoia. Richly designed by Richard Sylbert, the film was shot in 14 weeks: two weeks in New York for exterior shooting around the Dakota Hotel were followed by 12 weeks of interiors on the Paramount lot in Los Angeles. Urban legends supported by Castle that the picture was cursed neglect how gripping Rosemary’s Baby ultimately is without using elaborate special effects to generate unease. The dream sequences are effective because like the film, they unlock irrational fears we keep locked in our subconscious. Skillfully adapted and wonderfully cast, the ending ranks among the most gloriously black of all time.

Rosemary's Baby 1968 title card

Looking for an apartment to rent, Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) and her struggling actor husband Guy (John Cassavetes) follow a leasing agent (Elisha Cook) up to a 7th floor unit of the “Bramford Building” in New York. The couple ignores the stories their erudite friend “Hutch” (Maurice Evans) shares about the building’s “unpleasant reputation around the turn of the century”, including tenants whose preoccupation with witchcraft earned it the name “Black Bramford”. Rosemary and Guy hear their new neighbors — bickering through the thin partition wall — before they see them. In the basement laundry room, Rosemary meets reformed junkie Terry Gionoffrio  (Angela Dorian) who was taken in by Rosemary’s neighbors and given a new lease on life. Not long after, Terry is found on the sidewalk, dead from an apparent suicide.

Rosemary finally meets her elderly neighbors Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer) when the couple invite her and Guy to dinner. While her husband is quickly won over by the magnetic Castevets, Rosemary is suspicious of the strange potables and desserts Minnie pushes on her. Good fortune finds Guy when another actor suddenly goes blind, landing him the leading role in a play. With his career taking off, he suggests they have a baby. The night they conceive, Rosemary feels faint and experiences a strange dream. At the urging of the Castevets, she leaves her obstetrician for one the Castevets recommend, Dr. Saperstein (Ralph Bellamy). Alarmed by her weight loss and abdominal pain, Hutch delivers Rosemary a book that leads her to suspect those closest to her belong to a coven of witches who are keenly interested in her baby.

Rosemary's Baby 1968 John Cassavetes Mia Farrow

Rosemary's Baby 1968 Mia Farrow

Rosemary's Baby 1968 Ruth Gordon Sidney Blackmer

Rosemary's Baby 1968

Rosemary's Baby 1968 John Cassavetes Mia Farrow

Rosemary's Baby 1968 Mia Farrow

Rosemary's Baby 1968

Rosemary's Baby 1968 Ralph Bellamy

Rosemary's Baby 1968 Ruth Gordon

Rosemary's Baby 1968 Mia Farrow

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average 26,945 users: 83% for Rosemary’s Baby

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

What do you say?

Tags: Based on novel · Dreams and visions · Drunk scene · End of the world · Paranoia · Psychoanalysis · Supernatural · Woman in jeopardy

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Steve W // Aug 24, 2010 at 9:58 am

    A near-perfect, deeply funny thriller in my book. In its sheer craftsmanship and mix of comedy and scares I think it shows how a director could take Hitchcock’s style and sensibility into a new era, and points the way for De Palma (“Carrie”), Spielberg (“Jaws”), and Kaufman (“Invasion of the Body Snatchers”).

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Aug 24, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Steve: Your comment expertly sums up why Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite movies — it doesn’t barrel down one any genre. Not enough thrillers have a sense of humor and not enough comedies are this dark. It’s renowned as a horror movie, yet we never see much blood, never see a baby. It wrote a blueprint that so many other movies have tried to imitate with diminishing returns. Thanks for commenting!

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