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Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Happy Halloween, Everybody! Let's talk about scary stuff, like devil-worshipping old people and misogynist obstetricians.
There's a lot going on in Rosemary's Baby, even if Roman Polanski didn't realize it. The film is Polanski's adaptation of Ira Levin's best-selling horror novel of the same name, and by all accounts (I've never read it), sticks remarkably close to it. It's the story of a young couple, struggling actor Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) and his wife Rosemary (Mia Farrow), who luck into a palatial apartment in the West 70s on the Park called The Bramford* when one of its many elderly residents suddenly dies.
The Woodhouses are instantly glommed onto by the eccentric couple next door, Roman Castavet (Sidney Blackmer) and his wife Minnie (Ruth Gordon). Rosemary befriends what looks like the only other person under 70 living in the building, an ex-drug addict named Terry, whom the Castavets have taken in. Within a day or two, Terry is found outside the building, an apparent suicide from having jumped out the Castavets' apartment window. Minnie gives Rosemary a special good-luck charm; the same charm that Terry wore before, well, her luck ran out.
Soon Rosemary becomes the object of Minnie's charming, but constant attention and Guy develops a friendly attachment to the Castavets, running next door every time he gets a piece of good news. Like when the actor who got the career-making part Guy had hoped for suddenly goes blind and Guy is given the role after all. That kind of news.
Now that Guy is on the way up, he finally agrees to start the family Rosemary has apparently been pestering him for, so they start planning the right time to conceive. On Baby-Making Night, the Woodhouses have a romantic dinner, complete with candlelight, barrels of wine, and some homemade mousse from Minnie next door. Rosemary finds her dessert to be a bit chalky to the taste and doesn't finish it. A bit later, she starts feeling a little woozy, passes out, and has this horrible, but very realistic dream that she is being raped by a demon surrounded by a bunch of septuagenarian nudists, one of whom looks remarkably like Aunt Bee's best friend from the Andy Griffith Show.**
The next morning, she wakes up with scratches all down her back and Guy tells her, yeah, I went ahead and did it with you anyway, what can I tell you, we were both hammered. Rosemary does one of several "wait, WHAT?" moments that pepper this film, but is quickly dismissed and walked out on. Which also happens a lot.
I don't know what's scarier, being roofied then raped by the devil or having the kind of husband who says he had sex with you while you were unconscious by way of covering it up. Seriously. Guy is an unbelievably narcissistic d-bag all the way through this picture: he's dismissive, short-tempered, and whiny -- just the kind of person the devil likes to make a contract with.
Rosemary becomes pregnant and starts seeing a Dr. Hill (Charles Grodin) on the recommendation of a friend. Minnie won't have any of that no-name-OB nonsense and arranges for the famous Dr. Sapirstein (my pal, Ralph Bellamy) to take over Rosemary's care. Of course, this guy is so famous that no one dares question him, even when Rosemary starts to feel terrible pain, loses weight (and it's Mia Farrow, for Pete's sake, not a lot to work with there), and is miserable for months. "It'll pass" says Dr. Sapirstein, for weeks at a time, "I'll tell you when you have pain." When Rosemary breaks down and confides in some of her girlfriends that this hotshot doctor isn't helping her, they are appalled and insist she go back to Dr. Hill. Guy, of course, shouts at her, refusing to let her see Dr. Hill on the grounds that 1) Sapirstein will be insulted ("wait, WHAT?!"), 2) she's just being hysterical (geh), and 3) it'll be too expensive.***
Meanwhile, Rosemary's dear old friend, Hutch (Maurice Evans), is also concerned about her obvious ill health, and digs up some information about the unusual charm, the herb it contains, and the people who gave it to her. On the day he plans to meet with Rosemary to discuss his findings, he lapses into a mysterious coma and eventually dies. But not before arranging to send Rosemary a book all about witches, with a particular passage underlined -- a clue to the real identity of Roman Castavet. Turns out the Castavets run a coven, which includes Dr. Sapirstein and recent addition, Guy, whom Rosemary rightly surmises has made a pact with them: career advancement for their baby, to use as a sacrifice or whatever.
Now to me, what happens next is the most frightening part of the film. Rosemary, desperate to save her baby, grabs all the cash she can find (it's the Sixties: she probably doesn't have access to her own money), throws a few extra things in her hospital suitcase, and high-tails it to Dr. Hill's office. She tells him about the weird neighbors, the crazy "vitamin" drinks, the fact that Roman comes from Satan worshippers (it's in a book, look it up), and Dr. Hill is actually sympathetic on account of there being all kinds of weirdos in New York, until she gets to the part where she mentions that Dr. Sapirstein is her OB. At that point it is 100% clear that Dr. Hill is too afraid to undermine an influential colleague to take any action except to call BOTH Dr. Sapirstein and her husband, Guy. And that's the doctor who ISN'T evil.
Turns out that scary dream was real, but it wasn't just any old demon, it was Satan, who, as Minnie says "chose you out of all the women in the whole world," arranged things so she could have his child, which, compared with Guy, is kind of a step up.
Mia Farrow is truly good in this movie. Sure she's wispy, but she's quite believable as a woman in love, amused but annoyed by meddling old neighbors, baffled by men who don't believe her own experiences are true. During the making of this film Frank Sinatra, the very recent husband of Mia Farrow, had her served with divorce papers -- on the set, in front of cast and crew -- because no wife of his was going to work, Baby. Maybe she drew on that experience a bit.
I like this film a lot. It's instructive and stylish and quite funny in places. Patsy Kelly is the pleasantest surprise, in my humble opinion, and Cassavetes the weakest. Plus Phil Leeds as a member of an Upper West Side coven is kind of a stroke of genius.
*In reality, the famous Dakota, but only the exterior. Residents refused to let Polanski shoot inside the building.
** Because it is (Hope Summers).
*** Such a tool.
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The excellent 1990 spoof by French & Saunders.
I'll do just about anything a movie tells me to do. Unless it tells me wrong...
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