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 #22: His Girl Friday [1940]

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.

His Girl Friday [1940]

His Girl Friday [1940]
Director: Howard Hawks
Writers: Charles Lederer (screen play), Ben Hecht (play “The Front Page”) and Charles MacArthur (play “The Front Page”)
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy
Running Time: 92 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This has appeared on countless “best of” lists, and I am always looking to see more of Cary Grant’s work.

Accolades: National Film Registry, #19 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs

A lot of classic films have rapid-fire dialogue, but His Girl Friday may just take the cake. I would love to see the size of this script, which seems to pack three hours of dialogue into just 90 minutes.

Rosalind Russell stars as Hildy Johnson, a former news reporter who is eager to leave that fast-paced lifestyle, going so far as to get engaged to a rather plain insurance salesman, Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). On the eve of her trip to Albany to make the marriage official, Hildy drops by the newspaper to tell her ex-husband (and editor of The Morning Post), Walter Burns (Cary Grant), about her plans. One problem: Walter is still in love with her and will do anything possible to win her back.

Played to manipulative perfection by Grant, Walter quickly gets to work at devising plans to keep Hildy from going to Albany. His methods are cruel but effective — he manages to get Bruce arrested no less than three times (including once by planting counterfeit money on him). This gives Walter more time to make his move.

His Girl Friday [1940]

It also helps that the “story of the century” is happening right now — the alleged wrongfully accused murderer, Earl Williams (John Qualen), is set to be hanged the very next day. The story is so juicy that Hildy cannot resist getting involved, even interviewing the man in hopes of getting him acquitted. The news story gets even bigger when Williams escapes from prison, making this a full-blown front page story. This series of events prompts Walter to amusingly exclaim “Take Hitler and stick him on the funny page!”

As a screwball comedy, the series of events grows wilder and wilder, and Hildy finds it increasingly difficult to get away and leave for Albany on time. It becomes apparent that Walter and Hildy are cut from the same cloth — both are “newspapermen” that get such a rush from breaking a big story, yet struggle to separate their personal and work lives.

His Girl Friday [1940]

In most cases, it would be hard to sympathize with either of these characters, but c’mon, it’s Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell! These two play off each other beautifully, and their chemistry is undeniable. Even though both play such dastardly characters, they are so much fun to watch.

The aforementioned rapid-fire dialogue is a real highlight of the film as well, even though it’s sometimes hard to keep up with the constant overlapping chatter. This is a film that benefits considerably from subtitles, and I was almost afraid to laugh just so I didn’t miss another great line. Regardless, the script (and its cynical look at the newspaper business) is relentlessly engaging, still providing fruitful exchanges so many years later.

9/10