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Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Rosemary's Baby

I can't explain why I, who has seen so many movies, have waited this long to see Rosemary's Baby, Roman Polanski's 1968 classic horror film. Previously, I was only familiar with the Mad Magazine parody, "Rosemary's Boo-Boo."

Rosemary's Baby was basically Polanski's first studio film. Robert Evans gave him the novel, and Polanski read it straight through, and said he wanted to write it as well as direct it. He wrote a 272-page script in three weeks. The result is one of the great examples of paranoia in film (well, it's not really paranoia, but we don't know that until the end).

Mia Farrow, who was famous for being in the TV series Peyton Place and marrying Frank Sinatra, played the title character. She is married to John Cassavetes, a struggling actor. They rent an apartment in a fancy building called the Bramford (the exteriors are of the Dakota, the darkly Gothic building on Central Park West where John Lennon lived). Now, this is a bad habit I have, but I always wonder about how people afford their lifestyle. We are told Cassavetes was in two plays and does a lot of TV and radio commercials. So how could he afford an apartment in one of the most expensive buildings in New York?

Once I got over that, I started enjoying how Polanski works with interiors. It reminded me of Godard's Contempt, and also of Polanski's own Repulsion, as there are many shots down hallways and through doorways, as if we were in the apartment and couldn't see everywhere. There's a famous shot of someone on the phone just out of view through a doorway, and it is said that people in the theater leaned to the side, as if they could peer around the door frame.

This increases Farrow's paranoia. She becomes pregnant, and her weird but kind neighbors (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer) subtly maneuver her into doing things against her will, such as switching doctors and drinking herbal shakes that Gordon makes. Oh, and I should mention that before she gets pregnant, she has a vivid dream of her being raped by some sort of demon.

As her pregnancy goes on, she gets more suspicious. Cassavetes gets a big part when the man who originally got it goes blind. Her friend, Maurice Evans, falls into a coma the night before he has big news for her. She eventually gets a book he meant to give her, which is about witchcraft, specifically one that details a witch who lived at the Bramford. She gets it into her head that Cassavetes has pimped her out to coven of witches to use her baby for their rituals in exchange for his success.

This movie is almost fifty years old, so I'll let you know that she indeed does have Satan's child. But we do not see the child, who is in a bassinet draped in black. ("He has his father's eyes," Blackmer eerily says.) In fact, for a horror film, Rosemary's Baby has no shocks, no gruesome moments (other that a young girl who has jumped to her death in the early part of the film). It all relies on mounting suspicion, and the way Farrow's world collapses around her.

The film was a sensation upon release and Gordon, who plays one her specialties, the batty old dame, won an Oscar. Many of the cast were familiar character actors, some who play Satan's acolytes: Phil Leeds, Ralph Bellamy, Hope Summers (who was a regular on The Andy Griffith Show) and Tony Curtis, who plays the blind actor (but only on the phone).

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