[box cover]

Rosemary's Baby

Paramount Home Video

Starring Mia Farrow and Ruth Gordon

Written by Roman Polanski
Based on the novel by Ira Levin

Directed by Roman Polanski

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You don't want to live next door to Roman Polanski. You especially don't want to share an apartment with him. You're likely to end up flying from the highest window to the hard pavement below. In movies from Repulsion to The Tenant, Polanski has chronicled the horrors of apartment-dwelling. And almost all the rest of his films show intense people battling for supremacy in confined spaces, be it a chateau or a small boat.

In Rosemary's Baby, the Roman next door is Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer). He and his wife Minnie (Ruth Gordon) live in the lavish, rambling old apartment building The Bramford (i.e., The Dakota) in Manhattan. Their new neighbors are Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse. Guy (John Cassavetes) is an actor, but he's an ethnic-looking actor, so work isn't so easy to come by. In fact, Guy ends up making a lot of commercials. Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is a nice little housewife with a normal interest in sex. In any case, somehow the couple obtain an apartment in the exclusive-seeming Bramford. Their predecessor, an old lady, died, and one of Rosemary's new friends, Terry Gionoffrio (Victoria Vetri), a homeless drug-addict taken in by the Castevets, makes remarks about her situation that alert the viewer's suspicions. When Terry ends up flinging herself from the Castevet's apartment window, it's pretty clear that something is up.

Rosemary's Baby, one of the first of Hollywood's now-commonplace Satanic thrillers, is an unusual horror film. Almost nothing horrific happens in it. Hardly anything terrible is seen. Polanski, as is his wont, takes Ira Levin's bestseller, and turns it into a slow-paced, creepy chamber-drama, a film of looks, of suspicions, of complex relationships, and of subtle wit, creating a great, funny, disturbing, and unpredictable film.

For those who haven't seen it, spoiling the plot would be unfair. Suffice it to say that the neighborly Castevets and their eccentric friends are not what they seem. One of Polanski's wry jokes is to take a coven of Satan worshipers and make them crude and vulgar in the extreme. They seem more like Miami tourists than people dedicated to bring the heir of Satan to fruition. Polanski cleverly casts this coven with a corps of old-time movie actors from Patsy Kelly to Ralph Bellamy, whose cozy, familiar features mask dire intentions. Polanski, adapting Levin's novel himself, is also very good at delineating human weakness, at the compromises that ambition brings. The real tragedy of the film is the stake driven into the heart of Guy and Rosemary's marriage by his own drive, which tempts him to more or less sell off his wife to the highest bidder. And he has created, or adapted some great dialogue from the book ("Pregnant women are supposed to gain, not lose weight!"; "No pope ever visits a city where the newspapers are on strike.").

Upon its theatrical release, Rosemary's Baby made a lot of money, garnered Gordon an Oscar for best supporting actress, and became a byword for horror, with many imitators or inspired successors in its wake, including The Exorcist and It's Alive. Paramount has done a fine job releasing this film to DVD (and improving on the Laserdisc). The source print for the transfer is slightly faded (though Polanski also probably instructed DP William Fraker to use muted colors), and there are some scratches and other blemishes visible on occasion, particularly around reel changes. Otherwise, the image is a solid anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital audio in the original mono. The extras here are good and informative, with a 16-minute section of interviews with Polanski, producer Robert Evans, and production designer Richard Sylbert, which were made for this DVD release. It's good to see these people still active and thoughtful. Also on board is a 20-minute "making-of" feature shot in 1968, and in both Polanski reveals that his first choice for Rosemary was someone more robust, but that Evans convinced him Farrow — who was a celebrity thanks to the television show Peyton Place — would work and give the film star cachet. In the more recent interview segment, we learn that Polanski originally envisioned Robert Redford and Tuesday Weld for Guy and Rosemary. Combined, the tidbits contained in these two extra features do credit to Rosemary's Baby, enhancing our appreciation of a film that remains compelling to this day.

— D.K. Holm

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