Archive for the ‘1960s’ Tag

Dementia 13 (1963) Revisited on Blu-ray   3 comments

I wrote a review of Dementia 13 a while back, but that was based on seeing a fairly grainy version on YouTube. Last fall, the lovely people at Film Detective sent me a Blu-ray of the fun horror gem. I had some dumb technical issues so I’m just watching it now. Sorry, Film Detective. I didn’t forget you.


“People get so dramatic when they’re not invited to the wedding.”

Dementia 13 was made in 1963, in black and white, for $40,000. Francis Ford Coppola filmed it, with Roger Corman’s blessing, around the set of The Young Racers, also starring William Campbell and Luana Anders. It’s just 75 minutes long and it’s a terrific little thriller. It’s not a perfect film, but it moves along and the acting is good, especially from Patrick Magee, who plays—surprise—a sinister doctor.


“Oh hi.”

Since I first watched and wrote about this film, I’ve seen it a few times, but it’s never looked this good. The Blu-ray version is crisp and clear and I managed to see more details of Dementia 13 in this viewing than I ever have. It’s a real treat to see a film you like in the best possible way. Director of photography, Charles Hanawalt, uses a lot of natural and dim lighting. That makes sense considering the modern Gothic setting. It also means that in the past, I’ve had to strain to catch details. Not this time.

I enjoyed actually seeing Dementia 13 after all this time. If you’re a fan, the Blu-ray is a must.

Psst…below is my review of Dementia 13, with a few additions.

borg

Fishy fishy in the brook
Daddy’s caught you on a hook
-Nursery rhyme

As John Haloran rows across the lake on his family’s Irish estate, he teases his wife Louise (Luana Anders). If he drops dead, Louise will inherit none of the Haloran wealth. Pro tip: Never annoy your wife in a rowboat…if you have a bad heart. The always resourceful Louise dumps John overboard, packs his suitcase, and tells the family he went to New York on business. She’ll stay at the Haloran castle and get to know them while John’s away. Psst…it’ll be a while. It doesn’t take long for Louise to see just how nutty the Halorans are. Richard (William Campbell) solders bad art and scowls. Billy (Bart Patton) walks around in a fog telling people about his dreams. Lady Haloran, fixated on death and grief, holds funerals to commemorate a funeral. Creepy Doctor Caleb (Patrick Magee) tells everyone they’re doing it wrong in a ‘Get into my van. I have candy.’ kind of way.

creepy
“…and then I crushed its head.”

They’re a fun bunch.

funeral
Weeeeee!

Louise, ever the multitasker, figures she’ll push the already dotty Lady Haloran over the edge using a few props from the nursery while insinuating herself into the family and the will. Her simple plan runs into a snag, however and then the fun really starts.

monkey
If you see this you have gone too far.

Francis Ford Coppola (yes that one), wrote and directed Dementia 13 with some tweaks by Jack Hill (The Bees, Coffy). Coppola gives the film a creepy quality by using odd camera angles and off-kilter close-ups and filming so much of it at night. The look reminded me of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). Even the dim day shots look dismal and give the black and white film an eerie atmosphere.

spy
Eavesdropping on the funeral.

What’s missing is dialogue and character development. What dialogue there is works, but the characters need more to say to help us get to know them. More realistic conversations might also decrease the tendency toward exposition. Also, for a film set in Ireland, I found the lack of Irish accents from almost all the lead characters somewhat baffling. According to articles on the making of Dementia 13, producer Roger Corman assigned Coppola to make a gory version of Psycho on the cheap so he dashed off a script and went into production. In spite of this and the fact that this marked Coppola’s non-porn directorial debut, it’s a good gothic horror film with a creative plot and some genuinely scary moments. The nifty chamber music by Ronald Stein enhanced the mood as well. I understand why this has become such a cult favorite and I’m glad I finally saw it.

Thanks again to the folks at Film Detective.

Fun fact: Early on in the film, Louise discusses Richard’s girlfriend saying, “You can tell she’s an American girl, raised on promises.” Sound familiar? It’s pretty close to the first lines of the Tom Petty tune, “American Girl”, released in 1976. I can’t find definitive information to link the song lyrics to the film, but it’s a neat tidbit.

quality
A sure sign of quality

shame

Check out cinemashame.wordpress.com for more horrific reviews and @cinemashame on twitter.

I’m @echidnabot on twitter.

October 2, 2014

Army of Shadows (1969)   5 comments

poster army

Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), a prisoner of the Vichy French travels, in manacles, to a French POW camp. Stoic and confident, Gerbier says little and observes much. It’s clear from his demeanor and his treatment by the camp’s commandant that he’s more than a simple smuggler. After an audacious escape from Gestapo custody, Gerbier meets up with his comrades in the French Underground and we begin to understand his importance. We meet the members of Gerbier’s underground cell after his escape as they gather to assassinate the turncoat who ratted him out.

escort

It’s a tense series of scenes in which a group of civilized men are forced by war to perform uncivilized acts. These acts and the missions they accomplish daily have formed the group into a de facto family, with Gerbier at its head. The men, along with Mathilde (Simone Signoret) work well together. They carry out their orders efficiently and without question. They’re accustomed to taking risks. Clandestine meetings, signals to their comrades, and smuggling supplies are the norm. A scene in which Mathilde smuggles a radio in her bag under some fruit reminded me of something Bob Crane would do in Hogan’s Heroes. That doesn’t mean the scenes were dull or ordinary. Insightful direction by Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Cercle Rouge, Bob Le Flambeur) keeps the pace brisk, but he knows when to linger on a scene or on a character’s face. We even get to see the characters relax a bit.

simone wave

When Gerbier goes to London via submarine with the leader of their organization to get funds and supplies, he tours the city with his friend. They even see a film. After a screening of Gone with the Wind, Luc (Paul Meurisse) says, “The war will be over for the French when they can see this wonderful movie.” It’s a small moment, but one I watched a few times because it said so much.
With its narration and onscreen date and location stamps, Army of Shadows feels like a documentary. Under the guise of a procedural, a story takes shape. The story Melville presents is one of suspense, bravery, sacrifice, and love. The Resistance members risk everything to save their country from evil. They respect and even love each other and go to great lengths to protect one another. That sounds heavy and ponderous, but it’s not. Melville lets us know enough about the characters to care about them so when they face danger, we feel it. Army of Shadows is an account of one group of resistance fighters and how they interact. It’s a patriotic WWII film. It’s an action movie with some real weight. Joseph Kessel wrote the novel and co-wrote the screenplay with Melville. The story has enough twists to make it interesting and the acting is superb. I had never seen Lino Ventura before this film. He was a perfect choice. His quiet authority gave him the look of a natural leader. Simone Signoret is always wonderful and I wish Jean-Pierre Cassel had a bigger part. Eric DeMarsan’s music fit. The jangly piano he added to a few scenes gave the music a crazy quality I liked. This film kept me on the edge of my seat. After seeing Army of Shadows, I look forward to seeing Melville’s other films.

shoot

I wrote this for Tyson Carter’s wonderful film blog http://headinavice.com/ and his Recommended By blogathon. Really fun idea, Tyson! Jay from http://www.007hertzrumble.com/ , a cool blog mostly, but not entirely devoted to James Bond musings and music, recommended Army of Shadows and the rest of Jean-Pierre Melville’s films to me and I’m glad he did. Thanks, Jay! Great stuff!
Tyson is also on twitter @Tysoncarter as is Jay @007hertzrumble and me @echidnabot

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Victim (1961)   5 comments

opening

Boy Barrett (Peter McEnery) sees a police car pulling up to his job as a clerk on a construction site and runs. Desperate, he goes from friend to friend trying to borrow money or a car to leave London. Boy embezzled money and the police are on his trail. His friends console him and try to help, but Boy gets picked up at a roadside diner and police bring him to headquarters. There, sympathetic Detective Inspector Harris (John Barrie) and his assistant Bridie (John Cairney) attempt to convince Boy to talk to them. During their investigation into the missing funds, the detectives discover that despite his windfall, Boy lives simply and has no cash at his tiny flat. To the police, that means one thing: blackmail. That blackmail and those affected by it on both sides of the law are the focus of director Basil Dearden’s taut drama.

grilling

Early in the film we learn the reason behind the blackmail is Boy’s homosexuality and his desire to shield another from both blackmailers and police who could still arrest gays until 1967. When Harris finds clippings about a prominent barrister in a scrapbook Boy attempted to destroy, he summons subject Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde) to the station to learn if Farr knew of the plot. When he hears of the police’s theory and the consequences, Farr decides to root out the cowardly criminals even if it means the ruin of his own highly successful marriage and career. We see Farr as a man of great integrity who lives by his principles. He has a lovely wife, Laura, played with restraint by Sylvia Syms (The World of Suzie Wong), a wide circle of friends, and a tremendous future in the law. His investigation threatens all that and yet he continues, trying to help others ensnared by the thieves without implicating them. As Farr learns more about the crimes, he sees many of the men victimized by the blackmailers and their reasons for paying off without seeking help from police. An older shop owner tells Farr he’s already been in jail three times and couldn’t bear it a fourth. A colleague of Farr’s must keep his activities under wraps or lose his career. A well-known stage actor, placed by Dennis Price (Kind Hearts and Coronets) just wants the whole thing to go away.
The film shows us the attitudes of those on the periphery as well. During Boy’s early attempt to flee, he meets friends who obviously care for him and one who find his sexual orientation loathsome. One of his true friends jokes “Well, it used to be witches. At least they don’t burn you.” One friend promises to send him money and another begs him to go to the police and offers to accompany him. In the pub where many of Boy’s friends congregate, we see knowing glances and rolled eyes along with sympathy and indifference. The two policemen on the case feel differently too. In response to Bridie’s negative comment about homosexuals Harris says “I see you’re a true puritan, Bridie, eh?”
Bridie: “There’s nothing wrong with that, sir.”
Harris: “Of course not. There was a time when that was against the law you know.” Farr’s family and close associates differ in their attitudes as well. His wife knows her husband’s history but trusts him. Laura’s heartbreak is based more on a feeling of betrayal and less about who Farr may have betrayed her with. Her brother, who shows disgust about Farr’s homosexuality makes a salient point. If Farr stays outside the law in his investigation of the blackmailers, he becomes as dishonest as those who would hurt him. These moral ambiguities make Victim a deeper, more satisfying watch.

wife

Written by Janet Green and John McCormick to call attention to a law the authors hated, Victim’s strength is that it shows homosexuals as people, and not stereotypes. The victims of the nasty blackmailers have families, friends, jobs, and feelings. They’re not portrayed as predators or corruptors of the young, but men who love other men, a fact which leaves them at the mercy of unscrupulous criminals. Characters in the film mention the law against homosexuality quite a bit. One of the victims says “Consenting males in private should not be pillaried by an antiquated law.” Later Detective Inspector Harris tells Farr “Someone once called this law against homosexuality the blackmailer’s charter.”
Farr: “Is that how you feel about it?”
Harris: “I’m a policeman, sir. I don’t have feelings.”

thought

Basil Dearden and director of photography Otto Heller shot Victim in glorious black and white and the Criterion version looks crisp and gorgeous. Phillip Green’s spare music with piano punctuation blends seamlessly with the action on screen. The acting by the entire ensemble of veteran stars and character actors including Norman Bird, Derren Nesbitt, and even an uncredited Frank Thornton (Are You Being Served) looks natural and never over the top. Dirk Bogarde plays Farr brilliantly. He is stoic, but not unfeeling. The calm, subtle way he speaks with his wife, the police, and his fellow victims belies knowledge of the tragic turn he expects his life to take. Bogarde as Farr shows great strength of character and his resignation makes you believe him. As Farr says to Laura when they discuss his uncertain future, “My friends are going to lower their eyes and my enemies will say they always guessed.” I love this film. A decent man risks everything to fight something he knows is wrong. It doesn’t get much better.

I wrote this review as part of the British Invaders Blogathon hosted by Terence Towles Canote on his site A Shroud of Thoughts http://mercurie.blogspot.com/
I write a blog called Prowler Needs a Jump: Films of Every Stripe prowlerneedsajump.wordpress.com
You can talk to me on twitter too @echidnabot

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Color Me Blood Red (1965)   Leave a comment

bloodposter

Nasty, selfish artist Adam Sorg (Gordon Oas-Heim) scolds his girlfriend, yells at critics, and insults patrons of the prestigious Farnsworth Gallery. Everyone agrees Sorg could use a personality transplant, but they put up with his petulance because of his enormous talent. Yep. Despite his obvious painting chops, Sorg can’t sell a painting. Why? According to the beret-clad art critic who intelligently sits in a chair facing away from the art, Sorg uses color wrong or doesn’t use enough color or something with color. After a weird water bike chase with his girl because they had two water bikes and director Herschell Gordon Lewis needed a tax deduction on them or something, Sorg agrees with his critics and realizes he needs a new color.

waterbike

His girlfriend (Elyn Warner) accidentally cuts her hand and bleeds on some discarded canvas et voilá! Sorg has it! He’ll use Gigi’s blood to liven up his latest painting. He squeezes Gigi’s cut finger onto the canvas until she tells him to use his own damn blood and takes off. Gigi returns to find Sorg passed out on the couch covered in his own blood. Since he can’t keep cutting himself and painting until he loses consciousness, he simplifies things and kills Gigi and uses her head as a paintbrush. Problem solved. He buries her on the beach directly in front of his house under about six inches of sand because he’s an artistic genius, but not exactly a criminal mastermind. He brings the Gigi-spattered painting to the gallery and, wait for it, everyone loves it! Yay! The gallery’s one customer offers to buy it, but Sorg refuses and rushes out.

art
I may not know art, but I know what I like.

Sorg kills more people. A couple take his water bikes for a joy ride which doesn’t end well and there’s a fascinating scene in which he squeezes his victim’s entrails into a bowl for later use.

waste
What a waste of paint.

As the body count rises, so does Sorg’s status in the art world. Offers for his paintings reach dizzying heights. The Customer offers $15,000 for Sorg’s chef-d’oeuvre, a painting with a lot of red in it. He declines to sell once again which puzzles the Customer and the critic, who apparently lives in the chair at the gallery and never changed his clothes.

monsters
You’re a monster, Sorg.

Soon we meet the Customer’s daughter, April, her boyfriend, Vanilla Guy, and this couple they’re friends with who wear matching clothes and are wacky and fun and you want to kill almost immediately. After some stilted dialogue, April, Vanilla Guy, and the Obnoxious Twins go to the beach. Sorg sees April and can tell by looking at her that her blood has the Pantone seal of approval so he lures her to his studio by DA DA DUM…asking her to come over. April, whose hairstyle deserves separate billing, and her bathing suit by Depends, visit the elegant, wood-paneled studio/living room of our hero. Sorg then puts April in a series of poses involving ropes and pulleys as he sketches her and handles his axe. Get your minds out of the gutter. Anyway, the Obnoxious Twins discover Gigi’s crab-covered body on the beach.
“Dig that crazy driftwood.”
Really. They remember they came with a fourth so Vanilla Guy goes into Sorg’s house which is about three feet away. He walks in to find his girlfriend tied to the ceiling wearing a bathing suit with her back turned to a man wielding an axe.

tableau
Just stand there so I can kill you.

He does what any red-blooded American 34, ah 21 year-old guy would do. He stands completely still and asks where the phone is.

whattt
“Do I have to dial 9 first?”

Words are exchanged and stuff happens and then it’s over but not before the female Obnoxious Twin says, “ I guess I won’t take up painting for a while.”
Herschell Gordon Lewis wrote and directed Color Me Blood Red along with the other two films in his Blood Trilogy; Blood Feast (1963) and Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964). The sound quality never quite achieves junior high AV club quality and one can assume the actors were hired because of some blackmail plot. I still enjoyed the film as a whole. I didn’t know exactly what would happen and I got to see Sorg squeeze guts, emote, and ride a water bike. Similar to A Bucket of Blood, but without the production quality and sympathetic hero, Color Me Blood Red strikes me as more of an outsider’s film. HGL didn’t care if you liked his hero. He wanted to tell his twisted tale so he did. He had water bikes so he threw them in. He thought up this screwy couple so he threw them in too. Aquanet was cheap so he used it…a lot of it…on April. He had his hero use a woman’s head as a paint brush. Need I say more? I think not.

yipes
“It stinks.”

They Saved Hitler’s Brain: It Earned 37 Green Stamps!   7 comments

combo

Filmed almost entirely at dusk, They Saved Hitler’s Brain picks up where The Madmen of Mandoras leaves off. Well, to be more accurate, it starts before The Madmen of Mandoras begins.

Madmen, originally released in 1963, clocked in at 64 minutes. At the request of the producers, director David Bradley and a handful of his UCLA students added 30 minutes to the film for television broadcast in 1968. His added footage appears at the beginning of the film and isn’t exactly seamless despite the skill of cinematographer Stanley Cortez (Night of the Hunter, Chinatown).

As the film opens, we see Dr. Bernard remove papers from a safe, go to his car, and blow up. In the briefing at CID headquarters which follows we learn that Bernard had been working with Professor Coleman on the L7 Project looking for the antidote to G gas. What is G gas, you ask? The head stiff explains that “…loss or destruction of this antidote could mean the complete annihilation of the world.” So there’s that. To prove the lethal power of G gas, Science Guy shows a filmstrip of an elephant lying down. Then, we meet Vic and Toni. Vic and Toni work as agents for the CID. Vic and Toni were not in the original film. Vic and Toni were filmed in different light wearing a completely different style of clothing from the people in the 1963 film. Vic and Toni are doomed.

victoni
Vic and Toni chat about the mission.

Anyway, Vic and Toni begin working on the case of the exploding professor. They drive around in Toni’s VW Beetle looking for clues until they’re chased by some guys in ill-fitting hats. Things go downhill from there for our intrepid duo. At this point the original film starts and it’s The Madmen of Mandoras from here on in.

The Madmen of Mandoras (1963)

Professor Coleman invents an antidote to the powerful nerve gas PAM. PAM, of course is an acronym and don’t ask me for what. It’s also a cooking spray so it’s clear ConAgra never saw this movie.

pam
All this fuss over me?

Anyway, bad guys want the formula so when they release PAM, no one gets out alive. To lure the professor into their clutches, the criminals kidnap his Valley Girl (circa 1963) daughter and take her to the South American country of Mandoras. The professor’s older, more sensible daughter and her husband hop a plane to Mandoras after a foreign guy holds them at gunpoint, then dies in their car.


“I’ll be fine.”

Down in Mandoras, the couple is reunited with their dippy sister. After a weird gunfight in a nightclub where Carmen Miranda’s less talented cousin performs, some guy we don’t know takes a bullet and the local sheriff, portrayed by local sheriff portrayer Nestor Paiva, rounds up our trio of nitwits and brings them to the hoosegow. There we meet the president, who resembles the Hispanic version of Colonel Sanders, and find out the real power behind this incredibly contrived plot. A band of Nazis holed up in the presidential palace plot to gather the rest of their evil gang, drop PAM, and take over.


Nazis have the weirdest cotton candy machines.

Once they’ve laid waste to the world as we know it, they plan to put their own guy in power. Since they’re Nazis, three guesses as to who they’ve chosen to lead them. Yup. The Big Kahuna himself, Adolph. It seems scientists collected some cells in the fabled bunker and used them to…um, grow a new Fuhrer. They didn’t exactly grow a whole Hitler, just a head. So we get some hilarious scenes with a head under glass making odd expressions, looking around curiously, and barking orders. There’s even a carrying case with handles for when the head has to ride in the back of a limo. More stuff happens but who cares? You watch this film to see Hitler’s head scream, “Mach schnell!” to his underlings from under a pastry cover.


“Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!”

According to imdb, Steve Bennet and Richard Miles wrote the screenplay for this and They Saved Hitler’s Brain and not much else. Often hard to follow, the story meanders and the audience feels just as out of it as the cast. The Madmen of Mandoras has, as Joe Bob Briggs says, “too much plot getting in the way of the story.” David Bradley directed The Madmen of Mandoras as well as They Saved Hitler’s Brain and used some scenes for both films. I guess with gold like that you want to get as much mileage as you can out of it. I’d recommend this for the weirdness quotient alone.


Added observations:

It may be because I just watched Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 From Outer Space recently, but the double agent who claims to work for the CID, but is really Hitler-Under-Glass’ chauffeur looks like a cross between Bunny Breckinridge and Criswell.

chauffeur hitler
This guy. You’d agree with me if he took off his hat.

David Bradley directed Charlton Heston in the 16mm student productions of Peer Gynt and Julius Caesar while they attended Northwestern University. I thought that was pretty cool.

I wrote this piece for the Accidentally Hilarious blogathon hosted by Movies Silently. She runs a terrific blog about classic film. moviessilently.com/

Find me on Twitter. @echidnabot

bootiful
It’s beautiful!

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Where Eagles Dare (1968): Broadsword to Danny Boy   14 comments

poster where

Chock full of action, surprising plot twists, and World War II intrigue, Where Eagles Dare ticks all the adventure film boxes while adding the element of cool spy stuff to the mix. It may seem like the standard mission flick in which the brass assembles a crack team for some essential mission, but there’s a lot more to it. Major Smith (Richard Burton) leads a handful of British troops and one American (Clint Eastwood) behind enemy lines to retrieve American General Carnaby (Robert Beatty). The Germans shoot down the general’s plane and hold him prisoner in a castle high in the Bavarian mountains. The team must hurry because the general knows the plans for the allied command’s second front and, if tortured, could spill the beans. For some films, that scenario would suffice, but for Where Eagles Dare that idea serves as a mere jumping off point for a far more complex story.
After a brief introduction to the men assigned to the mission and the officers in charge, Major Smith and company board the plane for Bavaria and the Schloss Adler. They jump at night to avoid detection and hold up in a mountain cabin. There we get a look at their objective, the Schloss Adler. Accessible only by cable car, the fortress sets the scene for our heroes’ daring rescue. The team first heads into the nearby town to establish their German military identities. After all, the Alpen Corps would hardly allow a gang of British soldiers to gain access to their remote stronghold. We meet a couple new characters here too. Mary Ure, British agent and Smith’s lover, gets a job as a maid at the castle and Ingrid Pitt, long in deep cover as a bawdy bar maid, poses as Ure’s cousin and vouches for her. On the German side, we meet Major von Hapen (Derren Nesbitt) of the Gestapo. With the introductions taken care of for the most part, the main story can begin.
I won’t give a blow by blow here because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I will say the story and screenplay, both written by novelist Alistair MacLean (The Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra), combines flag waving action, red herrings, and dry wit to make for an entertaining film. Even at two and a half hours, the time flies thanks to the performances of Burton and Eastwood and the fabulous stunts choreographed and shot by Hollywood veteran Yakima Canutt and performed by Alf Joint. Burton and Eastwood have a nice rapport and make the most of the spare dialogue.

clint rich

Burton’s weary and unflappable Smith runs the show and has seen it all. Eastwood’s Schaffer is sharp and proficient even though he’s not quite sure about this mission.

clint gun

Canutt’s fights atop cable cars make for some of the most exciting action sequences I’ve seen. Similar scenes show up later in Bond films, but even 007 doesn’t do them as well as our team. I also love the use of explosives in Where Eagles Dare. Burton and Eastwood carry backpacks full of fun little bundles of dynamite attached to timers which end up all over the place and to put it mildly, stuff blows up good. They also have cool reversible uniforms so they can blend in the snow and look like official Nazis. The plot twists keep you guessing and the film abounds with double agents and moments of suspense.

cable car

Any description of Where Eagles Dare would be remiss if it left out the dynamic score by Ron Goodwin (Murder She Said, Village of the Damned). Catchy and memorable, you’ll find yourself humming it without even thinking. Brian G. Hutton (Kelly’s Heroes, Gunfight at the OK Corral) directed Where Eagles Dare as an action film with a spy story at its center. The film succeeds as both because Hutton, MacLean, Canutt, and the stellar cast elevate this film from a shoot ‘em up bang bang to a war film with spies and brains. I recommend it highly.

tnt

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Rosemary’s Baby (1968)   6 comments

rosemary title

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.

gordon rosemary

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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