Rosemary’s Baby (1968)   6 comments

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Location Location Location.

A young, upwardly mobile couple move into an apartment building with a reputation. Over the years, the Bramford has hosted child killers, Dr. Mengele wannabes, and devil worshippers. That history does not dissuade Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse from taking the apartment, of course. They’re modern and immune to local folklore. Guy (John Cassavetes), a self-centered actor, waits for that one part to lift him out of supporting roles and commercials. Rosemary (Mia Farrow), a midwestern housewife, longs for children and a happy family life. Moving into the über fashionable Bramford (New York City’s Dakota) is step one for both of them. While Rosemary changes shelf paper and orders furniture, Guy auditions unsuccessfully for a part that could jumpstart his career. Feeling low and put upon, Guy gets an offer he can’t refuse. That offer and its source make up the central plot point of Rosemary’s Baby. The audience learns of the offer and its maker early on. We have a feeling about where we’re headed. The fun in Rosemary’s Baby is the journey and the characters we meet along the way.
Great character actors Maurice Evans, Sidney Blackmer, Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly, Elisha Cook, Jr., and Charles Grodin elevate Rosemary’s Baby above B-horror movie status, but it’s Ruth Gordon who hits it out of the park. Nosy and gauche, with her bangles and charm bracelets clanking with every movement, Gordon steals every scene. Whether she’s asking the price of their furniture or bringing the couple her specialty dessert, the comically mispronounced chocolate mouse, Gordon commands your attention. The tacky old lady next door lacks the social graces of the up and coming Woodhouses so it’s easy for them to underestimate her. That’s a big mistake as both Rosemary and the audience come to find out.

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Rosemary’s Baby, along with Shadow of a Doubt, Blue Velvet, and The Stepford Wives helps make up the ‘seamy underbelly’ category of film. These films show that under the veneer of small town innocence or big city sophistication lurks something sinister. As Hamlet put it “the devil hath power t’ assume a pleasing shape.”
Paranoia and misogyny play a big part in the film as well. Rosemary’s pregnancy makes her more easily victimized and more protective of her unborn child. Is her fear and suspicion justified or is she another silly, hormone crazed mother-to-be? Will she discover the threats against her and her child in time or will her claims be dismissed by outsiders as the ramblings of an unhinged woman? Writer Ira Levin and director Roman Polanski ramp up the suspense throughout Rosemary’s Baby. We know who the baddies are and root for Rosemary as she slowly comes to understand the danger she faces. The real mystery is the true nature of that danger. Polanski infuses the film with religious imagery, modern cynicism, and Catholic guilt
Filled with quirky characters, wonderful performances, and a frightening concept, Rosemary’s Baby entertains and alarms. The haunting score by Krzysztof Komeda and sung by Mia Farrow sets the tone for this atmospheric film even as the beginning credits roll. I love this film. It’s a horror film made, not in a dark dungeon, but in a chic Manhattan apartment building in broad daylight. That makes it all the more chilling.

Look and listen for cameos by producer William Castle and Tony Curtis.

I watched this on the Criterion DVD which looked phenomenal. It’s worth every penny.

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6 responses to “Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

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  1. “Seemy underbelly” … so true! I’m constantly amazed by how many people know of this movie but haven’t actually watched it. Ruth Gordon and Maurice Evans are alone worth the time. The creep factor is on full alert through the entire film, and I find it to be a terrific movie watching experience. Nice review

    • Thank you! I agree. The sense that she’s trapped, not in some root cellar, but in a sparkling apartment in the middle of bustling NYC is creepy. Gordon and Evans are terrific. Bellamy too. I haven’t read the book but I probably should.

  2. Great review, Kerry! I hold this film in very high regard and the craftsmanship, story, performances plus the air of mood and atmosphere is through the roof. The nuances and dynamic between all of the actors, the setting and Polanski’s vision is astounding to watch unfold. I can go on and on about this film. It is one movie that I don’t think I could ever review because it would be a love-fest, lol.

    Great job! Keep em Coming, Kerry!

  3. I actually watched the last 2/3 of the film today. I prefer movies to books, but I feel a need to keep my brain from turning into slush so occasionally I challenge myself to read a book and read Rosemary’s Baby a while ago but was kind of disappointed when I watched the film. for the first third of the film, it’s easy to forget that we’re following around a character who is essentially a bored housewife with an uneventful life.

    The book handles the slow passages better than the film does and I still think that’s true.
    Today, though, I decided to finish the film. I normally don’t take a lot of feminist readings of films, but I do agree there was quite a bit of weird misogyny in this film. It’s mostly just dated views about women’s places in the home.

    As for the religious imagery, I’ll admit I missed that too.
    I think it works best as a suspense story.

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