ROSEMARY'S BABY: DVD
When struggling newlyweds Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) and his wife Rosemary (Mia Farrow) move into their New York apartment they are befriended by a couple of elderly neighbours, Roman and Minnie Castevet (Sidney Blackmer / Ruth Gordon). As if sparked by some sinister outside influence, Guy’s acting career suddenly takes a turn for the better and he decides that he wants to father a child. When Rosemary falls pregnant she is haunted by a disturbing dream in which she is raped by a demon…and there are mysterious scratch marks on her midriff. She begins to fear that something supernatural, something unspeakable has happened and that Guy and the Castevets are connected.
Review by Keith Lofthouse:
Roman Polanski's first Hollywood film has no explicit violence or gore but was slammed with a "C" for condemned rating from a custodial body of God-botherers once known as the Catholic Legion Of Decency. This is the same outfit which, four decades later, would wail and weep as hooks, whips, nails and thorns ripped chunks of flesh from a bloodied Jesus in The Passion Of The Christ. There were no outcries this time about exploitation posing as art; no wrath from the British censor who, before taking the knife to Polanski's Baby, protested the "elements of kinky sex associated with black magic." After a private screening of Mel Gibson's bloodbath, the Pontiff reportedly proclaimed: "it is as it was," as if imposing a C for condoned rating of his own. It was right, according to Gospel, for Satan to mock Jesus in the Garden Of Gethsemane and to jeer Him to His savage crucifixion but, dream or no dream, it was wrong, even shameful, that a make-believe Devil could ravage Rosemary on a bed surrounded by naked witches and warlocks. But weren't we taught in Sunday school that God and the Devil are everywhere?
Anyway, something sinister is at work in the Dakota, a famous Victorian apartment building overlooking New York's Central Park. This is where, the Woodhouses are warned, the notorious Adrian Marcato practiced his witchcraft and where the diabolical Trent sisters fricasseed some children before eating them. This, in fact, was the same Dakota where, 12 years later, John Lennon was shot to death as he and Yoko were returning home. His assassin, Mark David Chapman, blamed the devil for his part in it, of course.
And so this isn't the kind of place you might imagine that the kindly old souls next door are as harmless as they seem. Old Roman Castevet is a mite stuffy; his wife Minnie (Ruth Gordon who won a Best Supporting Oscar) is a daffy old duck who flaps around like a dazed moth. But she whips-up a mean mousse...and we mean mean. There's a hint of something ominous when the neighbours meet for dinner and the discussion turns to an impending visit by the Pope. "No Pope ever visits a city where the newspapers are on strike," sneers Roman, later agreeing with Guy that "all the costume and rituals; all religions" are pure "show biz."
Adapted from Ira Levin's eerie bestseller, Rosemary's Baby is widely revered as "one of the scariest" films ever made...well, perhaps more disturbing than frightening and atheists are inclined to downgrade it. But Polanski, with measured pace and polished style, achieves the very, very difficult - keeping audiences perched on the edges of their seats by creating a sense of foreboding that haunts the film to the last frame. Ultimately, we are exposed to elements of corruption and betrayal and we feel for this tormented woman on the brink of insanity. Are Rosemary's suspicions about the witchcraft that is engulfing her based on a pregnant woman's paranoia, or are they fact?
There's a sublimely telling moment when Guy (Cassavetes, chosen by Polanski over Warren Beatty and Robert Redford), touches his wife's swollen belly and reels back in horror when the baby "kicks." Rosemary doesn't notice. Gaunt and emaciated, her eyes sink into deep, dark hollows but her haggard appearance isn't all down to make-up. Farrow's husband at the time, Frank Sinatra, was putting her through hell of another kind He wanted a stay-at-home wife but Mia, having snatched the role of her life from Jane Fonda, wasn't going to surrender it for anyone. Sinatra harassed her night and day and insisted she leave the film to co-star with him in The Detective. But Mia withstood his bullying until finally, without warning he served her with divorce papers on the set. Little wonder that the waif-like Rosemary, all neurotic and jittery fades to the pallor of a corpse.
It was just as Polanski ordered, but he came to regret his support for Cassavetes, "one of those method actors who constantly scratch their ear or groin..." The DVD comes with an entertaining Collector's Booklet which alludes to some but not all the behind the scenes ructions. It wasn't a happy set and afterwards Polanski had to deal with a hostile church, incensed by the film's "mockery of religious persons and practices." Clearly, it was that crack about linking the Pope to show biz that did it, but none of this affected the box office. The climax is undeniably weak and science fiction writer Ray Bradbury was one of those disenchanted. He proposed a new ending...which, suffice to say, meant that Rosemary should snatch her baby and get the hell out of there. In the Dakota, too many of God's children had come to sticky ends.
Published November 4, 2004
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ROSEMARY'S BABY: DVD M15+
CAST: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Ralph Bellamy
DIRECTOR: Roman Polanski
SCRIPT: Roman Polanski based on the novel by Ira Levin
RUNNING TIME: 131 minutes
PRESENTATION: Widescreen Version Enhanced for 16:9 TVs ; Dolby Digital: English Mono, French Mono ; English Subtitles
SPECIAL FEATURES: Collector's booklet, with facts, figures and behind the scenes tales about the making of the film.
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
DVD RELEASE: October 7, 2004