IMDB #193 Rosemary's Baby

If you're of my generation (the too-young for Generation X, too old for the annoying "Millenial" monicker mid-to-late-twentysomethings), then you may have reached a point in your life in which you've found a stable career, life partner, and home, and perhaps you're considering having a child.

But before you move the dusty treadmill and paint your new nursery a soothing yellow, Roman Polanski has a message you might want to consider first, and it's not just that men like Roman Polanski exist (boom!).

That's right, it's 1968's Rosemary's Baby!

The Key Players:

Roman Polanski is the Oscar winning director of The Pianist, Chinatown, Repulsion, and Tess. His dark, unsettling filmography is all but overshadowed by his dark, unsettling personal life, notably the murder of his second wife Sharon Tate by the Manson Family, and his drugging and rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977- he somehow plea-bargained six criminal charges down to statuatory rape, but then fled the country when it looked like a modicum of jail time was imminent.

Star Mia Farrow is another whose professional career is less prominent in the pop consciousness than various tabloid-fodder relationships. Before her breakout role in Rosemary's Baby, she was popular for primetime sitcom "Peyton Place" and a high-profile marriage to 29-years-her-senior Frank Sinatra. Solid work like See No Evil and The Great Gasby in the 70s gave way to a long personal and professional relationship with Woody Allen during the 80s: resulting in several acclaimed films (like The Purple Role Of Cairo and Hannah and Her Sisters) and ending in a bitter mess of custody battles/adultery with stepchildren. She's settled into a late career of bringing it all in minor roles, as in Be Kind Rewind and the remake of The Omen (as a creepy older lady, in a fun reversal).

John Cassavetes (The Dirty Dozen), Sidney Blackmer (Heidi), and Ruth Gordon (A.K.A. Maude!) appear in support.

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The Story:

A faithful adaptation of Ira Levin's bestselling horror novel, Rosemary's Baby follows young married couple Farrow and Cassavetes, housewife and struggling actor, respectively. They decide to move into the Bramford, an ancient Gothic NYC apartment building, despite the warnings of a friend that it has a history of witchcraft and suicide. Farrow reasons that "Awful things happen in every apartment house."

They're quickly set upon by nosy, loquacious neighbor Ruth Gordon, who invites them to dinner. Her husband (Blackmer) is considerably more stately and reserved, but Farrow is glad to get out of there. Cassavetes decides to return the next night, however, to talk theatre with the old man.

Soon, an actor that Cassavetes lost a key part to mysteriously goes blind- what luck! Though his newly bustling career leads to some distance between the couple, he suddenly agrees with Farrow's desire to have a child. They get all set to try, but Farrow gets dizzy after eating a dessert that Gordon had given them. Hmmm.

What follows is a disturbingly psychadelic dream (OR IS IT?) in which Farrow is undressed on a boat (maybe?) and then raped by a demonic creature.

She wakes to find scratches on her shoulders and back- Cassavetes admits with a wholly innapropriate smugness that he had his way with her after she passed out, and that "It was kinda fun in a necrophile sort of way." Ugh.

Farrow takes it in stride somehow, and soon discovers from a Dr. Hill (a super-young Charles Grodin) that she's knocked up. But her creepy elderly neighbors insist that she switch to a highly-regarded doctor friend of theirs, and that she avoid reading books about pregnancy, talking to her friends about pregnancy, and only take weird milshake-looking drinks Gordon prepares for her instead of vitamins.

At this point, our alarm bells have been ringing for a while, but Farrow is game for a while. At least until she develops a constant, sharp pain, and an acquaintance that seemed disturbed by her odd regimen and growingly gaunt appearance goes into a mysterious coma.

A few months later, he dies, but he leaves behind a book on witchcraft that he wanted her to have.

The Artistry:

I'm sure you can say this about every genre, but why don't horror films have atmosphere like this anymore? There isn't a single GOTCHA-type scare in Rosemary's Baby, yet it's a hugely unsettling film. Every moment is filled with a creeping dread, even the early happy moments.

It helps that the more fantastic elements of satanic cults and such are balanced by an even more compelling aggravating force: casual, pervasive sexism. Farrow plays Rosemary slightly naive, but it's only to make the late act shift (when no one believes the hysterical woman) hit you in the gut more.

She and Cassavetes have several of those power-trip, "well only if you really want to" conversations that seem filled with more malice than you'd expect, nicely foreshadowing his big betrayal. It's Farrow's wide-eyed earnestness and harrowed descent that really make this movie memorable.

The plot seems pretty standard, though I admire it for its restraint. One issue: can we call a moratrium on significant anagrams in movies? (Farrow discovers that Blackmer is the son of notorious occultist by scrambling his name). Maybe it wasn't a cliche in 1968, but it was the lamest part of the "big reveal" in Shutter Island. Just saying.


Anyway, it's totally a cult! The neighbors, the doctor, the other old lady from the twelth floor, everyone! They can even curse people with mental power (like the actor in Cassavetes' way, or the friend with doubts).

Rosemary pieces this mostly together, and flees to tell Dr. Hill, who of course just calls her husband. They drag her back home, where she goes into labor (did I mention it's 6/66 at this point? Subtle). They tell her the baby, her son, unfortunately died soon after the delivery, but she hears an infant crying nearby.

She finds a passage to the next apartment in the closet, where a horde of creepy smiling folks are attending something in a black crib. She looks down to find- "What have you done to it?! What have you done to its eyes?"

In a completely over-the-top declaration, Blackmer lets her know that she's delivered the spawn of the Devil, a speech he punctuates with a "Hail Satan!" here and there.

Cassavetes' tells her how much they got in return, which she greets with a spit to the face. But after some further moments of knife wielding hysteria, she goes to the crib, and comforts her wailing hellspawn. She's a mother now.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I may have expected a slightly bigger payoff- the titular baby isn't even seen, McGuffin style. It's not exactly that revelatory for the slow burning conspiracy theory to turn out...exactly right, and the film dumps a whole lot on Farrow to expect us to be happy without any payback at all.

But hey, you can't beat that insiduous, foreboding Polanski atmosphere. I say keep it in the top 200.

The Legacy:

Ruth Gordon won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance, alongside a Screenplay nomination. Farrow was launched to legitimate movie stardom amidst several other award nominations.

There was also a wonderfully titled tv sequel, "Look What's Happened To Rosemary's Baby," and a recent plan for a Michael Bay-produced remake was thankfully scrapped.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Devil costumes and possibly boat-rapes are great and all, but there might be no part creepier than the melody over the opening credits. Observe:

Leftover Thoughts:

-This has to be high of the list of "Worst Films To See When Pregnant," along with Alien.

Coming Up...

Tue, May 11th: 192. Dial M For Murder

Fri, May 14th: 191. Harvey

Tue, May 18th: 190. The Hustler

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