|Directed by||Roman Polanski|
|Cinematography||William A. Fraker|
Rosemary’s Baby is a 1968 American psychological horror film written and directed by the Polish director Roman Polanski, based on the bestselling 1967 novel of the same name by Ira Levin. The cast features Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Ralph Bellamy, Maurice Evans, Sidney Blackmer, and Charles Grodin. The film chronicles the story of a pregnant woman who deals with the problem of her body changing to carry an unknown baby.
In Rosemary’s Baby: A Retrospective, a featurette on the DVD release of the film, screenwriter/director Roman Polanski, Paramount Pictures executive Robert Evans, and production designer Richard Sylbert reminisce at length about the production. Evans recalled William Castle brought him the galley proofs of the book and asked him to purchase the film rights even before Random House released the publication. The studio head recognized the commercial potential of the project and agreed with the stipulation that Castle, who had a reputation for low-budget horror films, could produce but not direct the film adaptation. He makes a cameo appearance as the man at the phone booth waiting for Mia Farrow to finish her call.
Evans admired Polanski’s European films and hoped he could convince him to make his American debut with Rosemary’s Baby. He knew the director was a ski buff who was anxious to make a film with the sport as its basis, so he sent him the script for Downhill Racer along with the galleys for Rosemary. Polanski read the latter book non-stop through the night and called Evans the following morning to tell him he thought Rosemary was the more interesting project, and would like the opportunity to write as well as direct it.
The script was modeled very closely on the original novel and incorporated large sections of the novel’s dialogue and details, so much so that nearly every line of dialogue was taken from the novel’s text. Author Ira Levin claimed that during a scene in which Guy mentions wanting to buy a particular shirt advertised in The New Yorker, Polanski was unable to find the specific issue with the shirt advertised and phoned Levin for help. Levin, who had assumed while writing that any given issue of The New Yorker would contain an ad for men’s shirts, admitted that he had made it up
When Farrow was reluctant to film a scene that depicted a dazed and preoccupied Rosemary wandering into the middle of a Manhattan street into oncoming traffic, Polanski pointed to her pregnancy padding and reassured her, “no one’s going to hit a pregnant woman”. The scene was successfully shot with Farrow walking into real traffic and Polanski following, operating the hand-held camera since he was the only one willing to do it.
“Awful things happen in every apartment house”
Rosemary’s Baby was originally proposed as a project to Alfred Hitchcock. He turned it down, and instead it fell to the up-and-coming Polish director Roman Polanski. It’s hard to imagine what the master of suspense would have made out of this tale of devil worship and Catholic guilt, even though there is some Hitchockian psychology and mystery at work. As it was however, it proved to be right up the young Polanski’s street, taking his career to new heights, and spawning a run of occult horrors in the late 60s and early 70s, of which this is still one of the few greats.
Polanski had already established himself as a director most comfortable with the confinement of interiors in films like Repulsion (1965). Here he draws us right into the claustrophobic feel of the upstairs apartment, often placing the camera in a room adjacent to the action, with the characters viewed through a doorway.
The camera movement is mostly restricted to pans. It rarely tracks or dollys, as if it were trapped in a corner. Even in the exterior scenes the sky is often sandwiched or blotted out altogether between the buildings rising on either side. The actors often appear uncomfortably close to the camera, but not in individual close-up shots. Instead, they come in that close as they move around the set and the camera pans back and forth. Not only does this add to the cramped, awkward atmosphere, but this constantly changing distancing of actors within a single shots makes the audience feel as if they are actually standing there.
Rosemary’s Baby may come across as very slow to some viewers. 140 minutes certainly is a long time in the horror genre. There do also appear to be a lot of unnecessary details in the dialogue – we get to find out far more about Rosemary’s background than is normal for a character in cinema. But for one thing, Polanski was not interested in making a shock-and-gore horror – Rosemary’s Baby is all about the eerie atmosphere, the tension and the mystery. He holds our attention by regularly dropping in clues that something sinister is afoot. Furthermore, all the detail and depth has its significance in the finished product – like the references to Rosemary’s Catholic upbringing or the background of the Castavets.
Polanski has never overused flashy techniques – no fast editing, zooms or unusual angles that make for a very obvious directorial style. But there is always great complexity and meaning in the look of things – the set design, lighting, costume and so on. One of my favourite touches is Mia Farrow’s extremely short Vidal Sassoon hairdo that she has done halfway through the film. With her bony features and pale skin she more and more begins to resemble a skeleton, especially under the carefully placed lighting in the scene after the party when she realises the pain has gone. It’s simple yet significant ideas like that which make Polanski one of the best directors of his era.
There’s some great casting in this picture. Careful choice of character actors makes for some quirky supporting roles. Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes are perfect in the lead roles. The musical score – that haunting opening melody, or the atonal violin squeaks – all add to the atmosphere.
Rosemary’s Baby is a real landmark in horror. It helped keep the genre alive by pushing the occult – something fairly taboo, and not fully explored in cinema since the days of silents – to the fore. Also the restrained atmospheric horror was doubtless influential, particularly on Kubrick when he came to make The Shining. It inspired a lot, but was rarely bettered.
Author: marcosaguado from Los Angeles, USA
13 March 2004
When people talk about perfect films I don’t actually know what they mean. Perfect for whom? Perfect compared to what? I think that perfection is in the brain and heart of the beholder. “Rosemary’s baby” is a perfect film to me. Scary in a way that makes you breathless. You’re thinking and feeling throughout the film. One of the many sides of Polanski’s genius is to suggest. And what he suggest is so monstrous that we don’t want to believe it, but we do. The characters are so perfectly drawn that there is no cheating involved. John Cassavettes’s superb study in selfishness and egomaniacal frustration is so real that comes to no surprise that he could do what he does to advance his career, but we are surprised, we’re horrified.
The spectacular Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer are not Deborah Kerr and David Niven, are they? So that they turn out to be what they turn out to be is totally believable, but Polanski presents it in such a light of normality that you can’t believe it. Mia Farrow’s predicament is as classic as the boy who cried wolf tale and yet, as told by Roman Polanski in the wonderful face of Mia Farrow, is as if we’re hearing it, seeing it and living it for the first time. Every silence, every voice in the distance, every door opening. Your heart is always in your throat. There is something there that accelerates a constant state of dread. Very few movies have been able to take me to that place, most of them by Roman Polanski, what about “The Tenant” or “Repulsion”? Other movies that come to mind: David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” and Martin Donovan’s “Apartment Zero” But “Rosemary’s baby” stands alone as a terrifying masterpiece.
One of the ultimate horror classics
Author: Vince-5 from northeastern PA
2 May 2001
Every bit of acclaim that Rosemary’s Baby has earned is totally deserved. The Dakota, located at 72nd and Central Park West, is the perfect setting for the demonic events; all that rich Gothic detail in the heart of Manhattan provides the perfect atmosphere, serving as a dark fairy-tale world of its own within the modern setting. Roman Polanski knows this and utilizes it brilliantly, opening the film with stunning aerial shots of the skyline and focusing in on the ornate castle amongst the skyscrapers and tenements.
The acting is fantastic, particularly Mia Farrow, who is the only person I can envision as Rosemary. Her fine-boned fragility makes her the ideal target for terror. She goes from obliviousness to suspicion to fear to near madness without showing a seam, and we as the audience are with her all the way. And Mia is given a run for her money by the delightful Ruth Gordon, a comical yet sinister presence popping in on a deliberate schedule with pale green drinks and sandpapery advice. She’s scary because we know her–a batty old broad with a seemingly sweet nature beneath her caustic surface. That such a person could possibly be a vessel of evil is a thoroughly unnerving concept.
Unnerving is the proper adjective for the entire movie. Unnerving, eerie, and penetratingly frightening in a very subtle manner. The subtlety is key, since a more explicit treatment would’ve spoiled everything. As the tension heightens, we feel what Rosemary feels: Curiosity, then vague suspicion, then paralyzing terror at the final revelation. At all times, the movie retains its dignity, from the opening and closing shots of the building to the flourishing title script to the beautiful music. Even on TV, this picture can chill you to the bone. The best big-budget horror movie of all time.