A FILM TO REMEMBER: “ROSEMARY’S BABY” (1968)

Photograph of film poster with a display of scene images from “Rosemary’s Baby”.

Before I get into this, I want to make mention “A FILM TO REMEMBER” will be a series about films that have reached a milestone anniversary since their origin. The articles will contain the film’s plot outline, director, cast, a compilation of trivialities, various photos, movie trailer, critical reception and more. So, let’s start:

We are here to mark the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby”. Let’s take an inside look at the film:

PLOT OUTLINE:

A young couple moves in to an apartment only to be surrounded by peculiar neighbors and occurrences. When the wife becomes mysteriously pregnant, paranoia over the safety of her unborn child begins to control her life.

Still image of filmmaker Roman Polanski.

STUDIO:

Paramount Pictures

DIRECTOR:

Roman Polanski

CAST:

  • Mia Farrow … Rosemary Woodhouse
  • John Cassavetes … Guy Woodhouse
  • Ruth Gordon … Minnie Castevet
  • Sidney Blackmer … Roman Castevet
  • Maurice Evans … Hutch
  • Ralph Bellamy … Dr. Abraham Sapirstein
  • Charles Grodin … Dr. Hill
  • Patsy Kelly … Laura-Louise
  • Angela Dorian … Terry Gionoffrio
  • Elisha Cook … Mr. Nicklas
  • Emmaline Henry … Elise Dunstan
  • Hanna Landy … Grace Cardiff
  • Philip Leeds … Dr. Shand
  • Hope Summers … Mrs. Gilmore
  • D’Urville Martin … Diego
  • Marianne Gordon … Rosemary’s Girlfriend
  • Wendy Wagner … Rosemary’s Girlfriend
  • Clay Tanner … Devil (uncredited)
  • Tony Curtis … Donald Baumgart (voice) (uncredited)

GENRE(S):

Drama | Horror

TAGLINE:

Pray for Rosemary’s Baby.

Still image of Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes in “Rosemary’s Baby”.

The film is known for being Polish director Roman Polanski’s first American film, bringing his brand of paranoid horror to the Hollywood mainstream in rousing success with a top-rate ensemble cast and fixated performances led by Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes and Ruth Gordon, taking this realistic basis and building upon it with supernatural metaphors that make pregnancy a rich and strange condition in making it one of the most powerful and sophisticated films ever made about Devil worship. The film is based from Ira Levin’s novel of the same name, it earned almost universal acclaim as it has become a bona fide, spellbinding, terrifyingly slow-burn thriller of a quintessential horror classic.

Here’s what some of the critical receptions have been for the film over the years:

Andrew Sarris from Observer says: “Having escaped the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust in Poland by the skin of his teeth, Mr. Polanski was well equipped psychologically to re-imagine what was, before ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ a B-picture genre into an A-picture genre.”

Variety Staff from Variety says: “Several exhilarating milestones are achieved in ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ an excellent film version of Ira Levin’s diabolical chiller novel.”

Renata Adler from New York Times says: “The movie — although it is pleasant — doesn’t seem to work on any of its dark or powerful terms. I think this is because it is almost too extremely plausible. The quality of the young people’s lives seems the quality of lives that one knows, even to the point of finding old people next door to avoid and lean on. One gets very annoyed that they don’t catch on sooner.”

Mark Harris from Entertainment Weekly says: “Roman Polanski worked with an elegant restraint that less talented filmmakers have been trying to mimic ever since.”

Ed Park from Village Voice says: “Superbly acted [especially by bone-thin Farrow and Ruth Gordon as the ultimate neighbor from hell], it’s a Satan-tango in the land of Is-this-real-or-am-I-crazy? With a luridly literal ending that doesn’t negate the previous, more interior terrors.”

Still image of Mia Farrow in ‘Rosemary’s Baby”.

As you can tell by the critical reactions, the film has garnered consensually universal critical praise with only nitpicking criticisms that very few claim either about it’s themes not being effective enough or it being mundanely dull but be that as it may, it is a masterwork of paranoid tension about evil lurking from within, spun from Polanski’s primal images and a first-rate cast of captivating performances from Farrow, Cassavetes and Gordon. But the film’s most startling accomplishment is ultimately twisting something as natural as maternal instinct into something horrifying, if not downright fiendishly morbid in this terrorizing and engaging social satire of a nightmarishly chilling, manifestly hair-raising, Satanist paradigmatic thriller. But I’ll let you decide…


So, to get a better look at the film, here’s a link to the movie trailer of Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby”:


Here I have provided 12 interesting and intriguing trivia facts (I wanted to keep it limited) about “Rosemary’s Baby”:

  • Paramount executive Robert Evans admired Roman Polanski’s European films and hoped he could persuade him to make his American debut with “Rosemary’s Baby”. Evans knew Polanski was a ski buff who was eager to make a film with the sport as its basis, so he sent him the script for “Downhill Racer” (1969) along with the galleys for “Rosemary’s Baby”. Polanski read the latter book non-stop through the night and called Evans the following morning to tell him he thought, “Rosemary’s Baby” was the more interesting project, and would like the opportunity to write as well as direct it.
  • According to Mia Farrow, the scenes where Rosemary walks in front of traffic were spontaneous and genuine. Farrow who was reluctant to shoot 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.
  • Mia Farrow actually ate raw liver for a scene in the movie despite being a vegetarian at the time.
  • Before the filming of the scene of Rosemary calling Donald Baumgart (the actor in the story who mysteriously goes blind), Mia Farrow did not know who would be speaking the lines. It was that of Tony Curtis, and in the scene, Farrow shows slight confusion, unable to place the voice. This confusion was exactly the effect director Roman Polanski hoped to capture by having Curtis read the lines.
  • According to John Parker’s recent biography of Jack Nicholson, Robert Evans suggested Nicholson to Roman Polanski but, after their meeting, the director stated that “for all his talent, his slightly sinister appearance ruled him out”. The two would work together a few years later on “Chinatown” (1974).
  • Roman Polanski, whose pregnant wife and actress Sharon Tate was murdered in 1969 by the followers of Charles Manson, who titled their death spree “Helter Skelter” after the 1968 song by The Beatles. John Lennon, one of the members of The Beatles would one day live (and in 1980 be murdered) in the Manhattan apartment building called The Dakota — where this film had been filmed. Curiously enough, Lennon had written “Dear Prudence” for Mia’s sister Prudence Farrow after the pair had spent some time with The Beatles in India at a Transcendental Meditation seminar hosted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (February 1968).
Still image of Ruth Gordon in “Rosemary’s Baby”.
  • 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 Woodhouse (played by John Cassavetes) 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 to Polanski that he had made it up.
  • Robert Redford was the first choice for the role of Guy Woodhouse, but he turned down the offer. The role would be eventually cast with John Cassavetes taking the part.
  • Roman Polanski envisioned Rosemary as a robust, full-figured, girl-next-door type, and he wanted Tuesday Weld or his own then-fiancée Sharon Tate for the lead role. Since the book had not reached bestseller status yet, Evans was unsure the title alone would guarantee an audience for the film, and he felt a bigger name was needed for the lead. Mia Farrow — with only a supporting role in “Guns at Batasi” (1964) and the then-unreleased A “Dandy in Aspic” (1968) as her only feature film credits — had an unproven box office track record, but her role as Allison MacKenzie in the popular television series “Peyton Place” (1964–1969) and her unexpected marriage to Frank Sinatra had made her a household name.
  • Roman Polanski wanted to cast Hollywood old-timers as the coven members but did not know any by name. Polanski drew sketches of how he envisioned each character, and they were used to fill the roles. In every instance, the actor cast strongly resembled Polanski’s drawing. They included Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly, Elisha Cook, Jr., Phil Leeds and Hope Summers.
  • According to Roman Polanski, working with John Cassavetes was not his “best experience”. Polanski claims “John was not very comfortable with the role”. According to Mia Farrow, Cassavetes resented Polanski’s highly structured method of shooting scenes, saying he preferred to improvise and a more freewheeling approach. Eventually the tensions grew between the two because of their conflicting approaches to film. In an interview featured on the Criterion Collection, Polanski states Cassavetes was a “pain in the ass”.
  • William Castle was convinced there was a Rosemary’s Baby curse. He thought the Sharon Tate murders and a urinary tract infection and various other maladies and illnesses he suffered during this period were evidence of that. Ironically, the producers of “The Exorcist” (1973) and “The Omen” (1976) also thought their movies were cursed. Castle was so scared that the Devil was out to get him during this period he remained in seclusion for several years.
Still image of Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby”.

To conclude, Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” is a frightening tale that deals with themes to Satanism, paranoia, women’s liberation, Christianity (Catholicism) and the occult — that is even more disturbing than it sounds thanks to Roman Polanski being less interested in terror and shock than in creating an atmospheric mood of excessive suspicion and instability, finding the eerie in the mundane through a primitive construct and convincingly committed performances from Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes and Ruth Gordon. The film with it’s weird obstetricians, mysterious night noises and even Farrow’s improvised stroll into actual oncoming traffic add up to a bustling nightmare of a contaminated satanic canal that spawns a mounting sense of paranoia, maternal repugnance, a Devilishly chilling and menacing manifestation of a cinematic horror masterpiece.