Movie Project #38: Rosemary’s Baby [1968]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Rosemary's Baby [1968]

Rosemary’s Baby [1968]
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Ira Levin (novel), Roman Polanski (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Drama/Horror/Mystery
Starring: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Ralph Bellamy
Running Time: 136 minutes

I will never look at chocolate mousse the same way again.

Rosemary’s Baby (based on the best-selling 1967 novel of the same name) tells the bizarrely horrific story of young and naive housewife, Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow). After she moves into a luxurious new NYC apartment with her husband, a TV/radio actor named Guy (John Cassavetes), the newlyweds are introduced to an elderly couple next door. These neighbors, Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer), are eccentric but also very friendly, and they immediately take an interest to the Woodhouses.

While the Castevets initially appear to be harmless, there is definitely something peculiar about them. For one, shortly after meeting them, Rosemary and Guy seem to run into an unexpected string of good luck. Guy, after failing to get a part in a major production, gets a phone call the next morning saying that the original actor was badly injured, and the part is now his. And Rosemary, eagerly wanting to start a family, becomes pregnant with relative ease.

Nevermind that on the night of conception, Rosemary has a terrifying dream that she was raped by the Devil himself. Nevermind that on that same night, she had blacked out after eating some seemingly tainted chocolate mousse from Minnie.

Rosemary's Baby [1968]

Poor, poor Rosemary. Now pregnant, she is forced to listen to advice from everyone around her. Minnie and Roman push a new doctor, Dr. Abraham Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy), a good friend of theirs, onto her, and he provides medical advice that is anything but conventional. His recommendation is to avoid pills in favor of drinking a strange herb cocktail that Minnie brings over every day. And so it goes, with the Castevets, Dr. Sapirstein and even Guy pushing a bizarre regimen onto Rosemary, who takes it all in like the submissive housewife that she is. She has her suspicions, but she is so blind in her trust to her new friends that she listens to them for far too long.

Rosemary’s Baby is effective because it excels in building the suspense while making us question just what is real and what isn’t. While there’s clearly something wrong, nothing in the film is entirely black-and-white. Perhaps Rosemary is just struggling to cope mentally with her newfound pregnancy? Hell, she’s not even sure what to believe, even as a close friend leaves behind a telling book about the occult.

Rosemary's Baby [1968]

Mia Farrow is also the perfect fit for Rosemary, as she has a childlike sensibility that makes her come across as so innocent and vulnerable. While Rosemary is clearly intelligent, she is too submissive for her own good. Her naivity is perhaps a sign of the times, but it’s a little hard to digest in today’s age. There were so many times where I just wanted to yell at her to stand up for herself — but alas, the others continued to prey on her, controlling her body and pregnancy to fit their needs.

As such, Rosemary’s Baby is a harrowing watch, and it has a masterful way of getting under your skin. It’s also darkly comic at times, especially when the Castevets are on screen. Ruth Gordon won an Oscar for her performance as Minnie, and her overbearing personality is both amusing and alarming. This film is a shining example of how to effectively craft psychological horror, even with the ineptitude of our frail young protagonist.

8.5/10

Movie Project #24 and #25: Night of the Living Dead [1968] and Double Indemnity [1944]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Night of the Living Dead [1968]
Night of the Living Dead [1968, Romero]
Starring Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman

Ah yes, the godfather of zombie films. Romero’s low budget black-and-white horror classic can be found EVERYWHERE thanks to its public domain status, yet I didn’t actually sit down to watch it until recently. This movie’s influence is massive, as the popularity of zombies has went through the roof in recent years. And to think, none of this would be possible without this 1968 film. The premise is simple: a group of survivors are holed up in a farmhouse and are trying to survive the attacking hordes of zombies (of the slow moving type). During this, the humans fight amongst each other (as expected) and struggle with their collective intelligence. The women, in particular, are a waste of bodies as they mostly just act comatose and offer little value to the group. You would think that if your house is being swarmed by zombies that you would actually make an effort to fight for your life! The men in the group suffer from testosterone issues (“I’m right!” “No, I’m right!”), but at least they try to survive.

While I was annoyed with the general ineptitude of some of the characters, I still really enjoyed the movie. Perhaps aided by the low budget, the film feels more authentic and is still genuinely frightening today. It was also refreshing to see a black lead character (Duane Jones), which was not a common occurrence during the time period. Night of the Living Dead holds up rather well, and is a fun watch some 40+ years later. 8/10

Double Indemnity [1944]
Double Indemnity [1944, Wilder]
Starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson

Double Indemnity is a film that I have been looking forward to seeing for a while now, as it seems to get brought up often when discussing Film Noir. I was especially excited to watch this because I had never seen a Billy Wilder film before (a travesty, I know). This classic tale seems to be the quintessential example of Film Noir. Fred MacMurray stars as an insurance salesman who gets caught up in a dangerous murder plot. He becomes deeply enamored with a lonely housewife (Barbara Stanwyck, the fantastic femme fatale), who comes up with the idea of having her husband murdered while making it appear as an accidental death. The duo concoct a plan that would evoke the double indemnity clause in the insurance contract, meaning that the payout would be double the normal amount. While the murder plan is meticulously carried out, other unexpected issues come up, particularly from the insurance company who have their suspicions about the incident.

The screenplay, co-written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, is fantastic. The dialogue is fast and witty, with lots of sharp one-liners. The story is well-crafted, with many twists and turns. I was impressed with the two leads, as Stanwyck and MacMurray have a dynamic chemistry. I believe this was the first movie I had seen with either star, though I am sure it will not be the last. I would be remiss not to mention Edward G. Robinson’s role as Walter’s boss, as he was a very likable and intriguing character with exceptional investigative skills. Essentially, Double Indemnity is a perfect example of everything I have loved about Film Noir so far. It’s easy to see why this is so well-regarded. 9/10