Rosemary's Baby

Even in a still shot, you can sense the menace.
The 1968 suspense, Rosemary's Baby was a seminal film for expatriate Polish director, Roman Polanski - what could have been another pedestrian schlock/horror turned out to be a corker of a film, notable for a number of reasons.

Stylistically, Rosemary's Baby was a departure from the stilted, campy horror films of the era and at the time of its release melded the hip contemporary with off-centre horror in a perfectly seamless merging. Polanski once remarked: "For as far back as I can remember, the line between fantasy and reality has been hopelessly blurred"...and that's pretty much the effect he achieves in the film.

Nor was the film burdened with the usual quota of blood, gore and heavy panting typical of horror; rather, it relies on suggestion and innuendo. Polanski's insertion of contemporary cultural references, such as Mia Farrow's funky Vidal Sassoon urchin cut part way through the film, somehow helped supply the storyline with a strange credibility.

 Although the entire cast did a sterling job, the  stand-out performance was that of Ruth Roman as the nosey, gregarious, Satan-worshipping neighbour Minnie Castavet, backed up admirably by Sydney Blackmer as her sultry screen husband Roman Castavet. The Castavets colourful presence gives the film its tangy, off beat flavour and provide a menacing foil for the young, modern couple in the apartment across the way. . In the tile role, Mia Farrow projects just the right amount of fragile, appealing innocence and John Cassavettes' naturalistic performance, as her convivial but ambitious husband, works for me, though some critics have been less than enthusiastic about his performance.

Guy and Rosemary

 Beware of Neighbours Bearing Herbal Drinks

There's something strange about the Castavets and it's not just Minnie's bold makeup and Roman's pierced ear (an exotic sight on an elderly man in 1968) - everything about this couple hints of a mysterious past and bizarre agendas beneath the surface. Minnie and Roman are compelling to watch and fascinatingly rich as characters, with their half friendly/half threatening presence. Polanski doesn't keep us in the dark for too long and suspense and tension is built more upon what we do know than what we don't.

Based on the Ira Levin novel, which featured a plot thick with witches and demons, Polanski actually makes the film's premise almost believable, within its own framework at least.  The plot revolves around young couple,  Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, who are elated to be moving into an old apartment building, dripping with 19th century Gothic period atmosphere. Early on, the viewer forms a suspicion that dark forces are down the hall and when Rosemary falls pregnant after a particularly vivid dream (blame the chocolate 'mouse') where she is ravaged by a creature with luminous, demonic eyes, the suspicion moves closer to certainty.

The Casavetes presence absorbs more and more of Guy and Rosemarys lives - they take over the pregnancy, Rosemary's prenatal care and Guy's time and when Minnie starts arriving with a daily glass of 'tonic', we're already convinced she should toss it down the sink.

The Bramford Apartment building (The r/life Dakota)
 Titbits from the Making Of..
Roman Polanski in the 1960s
  • In his 1984 biography, Roman, Polanski wrote that he wanted to make the apartment building the "star of the film" and apart from the real-life exterior shots, the interior set of both the Castavet and Woodhouse apartments, designed by Dick Sylbert and built on the Paramount lot,  created the perfect ambiance for the action.
  • Although Ruth Roman departed from Ira Levin's vision of Minnie Castavet as 'big and jolly', Polanski was impressed with her abilities and rightly noted that "Ruth proved extraordinarily effective in as a small, bird-like, quintessential New Yorker". 
  • According to the director, British actor Laurence Harvey badly wanted the role but lacked the all-American clean cut looks necessary for the part. Polanski gave the script to Warren Beatty but he procrastinated and in the end rejected the role because it was 'not important enough'. ..though he did throw out the parting shot, "Hey, can I play Rosemary?" Robert Redford was first choice but at the time was in a battle with Paramount. Finally Polanski approached John Cassavettes, whom he considered a 'cerebral actor', as an 'acceptable compromise' and he was given the role.
  • Several actresses were put forward for the role of Rosemary, however Polanski hired Mia farrow without an audition because he was impressed with her acting ability, even though, like Ruth Roman, she didn't precisely fit Levin's description of the character.
  • For the supporting cast Polanski had a Paramount artist draw up character sketches of ideas he had in his head, which were then matched to veteran actors such as  Ralph Bellamy and Sydney Blackmer.
  • When filming started, Cassavettes, true to his reputation, was 'difficult' on the set but the director enjoyed a  'marvellous' rapport with his leading lady, Mia Farrow. Three quarters of the way through shooting Mia's then husband Frank Sinatra had a flunky send surprise divorce papers to her dressing room on the set - a move which didn't endear Sinatra to the director.