Wednesday, March 30, 2011

#236. Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Directed By: Roman Polanski

Starring: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon

Tag line: "Pray for Rosemary's Baby"

Trivia:  It was on the set of this film that Mia Farrow received divorce papers from then-husband Frank Sinatra.

We watch from the end of a long hallway as a couple moves into their new apartment. The electricity hasn't been turned on yet, so they must transport their belongings in total darkness. 

There's also very little sound, save the echo of their own footsteps or the occasional rustling of a few paper bags. Then, suddenly, a harsh voice is heard from the apartment next door, that of an elderly woman calling for her husband to bring her a root beer.

And with this simple opening scene, one of the most thrilling pictures of the 1960's is set in motion!

Struggling actor Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) and his wife Rosemary (Mia Farrow) have just moved into the Bramford, a posh New York apartment building. Because the Bramford caters almost exclusively to the elderly, Guy and Rosemary feel a bit out of place, but new neighbors Roman and Minnie Castavet (Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon) do what they can to make the young couple feel at home. 

In fact, it isn't long after meeting the Castavets that things start going extraordinarily well for Guy; he lands the lead in an upcoming play... after the original actor is mysteriously stricken blind! 

Over time, Guy and the Castavets become close friends, whereas Rosemary can’t shake the uneasy feeling she gets whenever their overly-friendly neighbors are around. 

Shortly after having a nightmare in which she’s raped by a wild beast, Rosemary discovers that she’s pregnant. What's more, the Castavets have taken a keen interest in her pregnancy, and Rosemary wants to know why.

Director Roman Polanski sets an ominous tone right from the get-go in Rosemary's Baby, clueing the audience in on the fact that Guy's and Rosemary’s new home may not be the safe haven they were hoping for. One evening, while preparing for bed, they hear Minnie's voice bellowing from next door. Then, quite unexpectedly, it's replaced by the sound of chanting, as if a religious ceremony had just started. 

The first time we meet the Castavets, they are walking (or should I say marching) down the street, heading home after a night on the town. Once they arrive at the Bramford, the two are greeted by the police. It seems a young woman named Terry (Angela Dorian), who was living with the Castavets, has just committed suicide, jumping from their apartment to the sidewalk below. 

Polanski masterfully squeezes all of this information into the film's first 20 minutes, yet even with such advanced warning that something sinister is at play, it’s impossible to fully brace oneself for the insanity that's soon to follow.

From its fast start to its startling conclusion, Rosemary’s Baby flows along effortlessly, aided in large part by Ruth Gordon’s Oscar-winning performance as Minnie, the batty old lady whose humorous mannerisms seem more ominous as the story plays out. Yet, ultimately, the credit for the film’s success must be given to Polanski: the director’s pacing never once falters, building such a vivid, fascinating world that our eyes remain glued to the screen throughout.


Klaus said...

Rosemary's Baby - what a creepfest! I hadn't seen this film until relatively recently and was surprised at how well it stood up. It must have been pretty terrifying for its time.

My only disappointment was its depiction of witchcraft and satanism as somehow complementary practices. While I may be over analyzing a bit, a "real witch" doesn't recognize Christianity, and thus would have no interest in "Satan’s spawn".

DVD Infatuation said...

@Klaus: I agree that the film holds up pretty well, considering it's over 40 years old.

Not being familiar with either Witches or Satanists, it's interesting to hear the differences. Thanks for that.

SJHoneywell said...

This is a film that modern horror directors should watch at least once every week during filming. It's a constant reminder that less is more--that letting the audience decide for itself what something is or looks like is often far more terrifying (provided we've had a good build-up) than showing us a rubber monster. The Haunting pulled this off. Few movies (and fewer directors) have the cojones to try it.

DVD Infatuation said...

@Steve: Very well put! I couldn't have said it better.