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.


Movie Project #21: Shadows [1959]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Shadows [1959]

Shadows [1959]
Director: John Cassavetes
Genre: Drama
Starring: Ben Carruthers, Lelia Goldoni and Hugh Hurd
Runtime: 81 minutes

Shadows, director John Cassavetes’ first film, is widely considered to be a landmark in independent film making. Shot entirely with a 16mm handheld camera on the streets of New York City, Shadows was funded on a meager $40,000 budget. There was no script; instead, the vast majority of the dialogue was improvised. The crew consisted of volunteers and fellow class members of Cassavetes. Essentially, the low budget helped more than anything to give the film an authentic documentary-style feel.

Shadows follows the lives of a trio of siblings. Hugh (Hugh Hurd), is a talented but struggling jazz singer who is currently resorted to opening for girl go-go dancers. Ben (Ben Carruthers) is a hipster musician who has little direction in his life. Lelia (Lelia Goldoni) is an aspiring writer who is also emotionally vulnerable. They are, in a nutshell, very much members of the Beat Generation.

Shadows [1959]

Shadows is remembered especially for its brave portrayal of sensitive issues from its time period. Interracial relationships are examined, as Lelia’s new fling, Tony (Anthony Ray) freaks out when discovering that she is African-American (her light complexion is quite a bit different than her brothers). There was also a bit of a controversy when Lelia and Tony were shown in a post-coital position — how dare a young woman have sex before marriage??

Given the rough look and nature of the film, it feels like we are right there on the streets of 1950s New York. The narrative moves along as it desires, never really settling down into a general plot. Sure, issues are brought up, but the film has more of a “day in the life” approach before it reaches its anticlimactic conclusion. With its improv dialogue and jazzy soundtrack, Shadows is an interesting relic of its time. Its importance to independent film making is undeniable, but it doesn’t pack quite the same punch today.