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Rosemary's Baby

review by Anthony D.

 

Studio: Paramount

Running Time: 136 Minutes

Starring: Mia Farrow, John Cassevetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans and Ralph Bellamy

Written by: Duncan Kennedy, Donna Powers and Wayne Powers

Written for the screen and Directed by Roman Polanski

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Making of Featurette, Retrospective Interviews with director Roman Polanski, Co-Producer Robert Evans and production designer Richard Sylbert

Specs: Widescreen Anamorphic 1.66:1, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, French Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, English Subtitles

"Could young Rosemary Woodhouse actually be pregnant with the child of Satan?" is the question posed by Roman Polanski's disturbing tale of urban horror adapted from Ira Levin's equally suspenseful novel "Rosemary's Baby." Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and her actor-husband Guy (John Cassavetes) have just moved into the exclusive Bramford building on New York's upper West Side, a building with a dark history of evil. Like The Overlook in Stephen King's later novel, "The Shining," The Bramford becomes a major character with its own possible agenda, and the location filming at New York City's "The Dakota" adds another apprehensive layer in light of its later association with the assassination of John Lennon.

It is 1965, and Guy is not a working actor UNTIL he meets the next door neighbors: Minnie and Roman Castavet (unforgettably portrayed by Oscar winner Ruth Gordon and Sydney Blackmer) two strange old coots with and even stranger coterie of friends. As Rosemary announces her pregnancy, suddenly Guy's career takes off thanks to the fortuitous blinding of a fellow actor. Just as suddenly, the Castevets are carefully watching every move that Rosemary makes, including sending her to their choice of obstetrician who prescribes that Rosemary drink a beverage daily concocted by Minnie from her personal herbarium.

Rosemary's pregnancy is by no means easy. She feels constant pain which her Castevet-recommended doctor says is normal; she is given to very strange eating habits - -not the normal "pickles and ice cream" cravings - -no, Rosemary craves red meat, and the redder and the bloodier the better; she is plagued by the thought that the night she conceived, she was raped by some inhuman creature - - vividly depicted in a dream sequence; and is finally convinced that her neighbors are the leaders of a coven of witches who, in exchange for her child, have given Guy his newfound fame as an actor.

Does The Bramford, with its incredible dark history, house a coven of witches? Has Guy sold his soul, and his child, to agents of Satan? Is Rosemary about to give birth to a child not-of-this-earth? Can an audience brought up on slasher series accept the finely-wrought tale of urban paranoia that Polanski presents us with?

With Paramount's pristine presentation on this newly released dvd, the answer to the latter question is a qualified and resounding, "Yes."

 

Properly framed in a 1.66:1 anamorphic print, Paramount's presentation positively gives us one of the best transfers of a film from the 1960's. Everything about the film looks right - - from the pink title cards to the final credit roll - - there is nothing at all to distract from the enjoyment of the film. Color fidelity. Contrast. Fleshtones. Solid blacks. Shadows and light. Everything adds up to a perfect picture. Detail is so fine that one, if given the urge, could count the freckles on lovely Mia Farrow's face. The garish colors of Minnie's costumes leap from the screen, but never bleed. After years of only seeing "Rosemary's Baby" in poor-quality, edited television prints, or smeary videotapes, it is a pleasure to see this particular favorite given the care that Paramount has bestowed on this particular DVD.

The Dolby Digital track (2.0) is a faithful, firmly centered monaural track. Dialogue never sounds processed, and even the most quiet moments are well-served. Kristopher Komeda's haunting musical score is never harsh nor tinny, and Mia Farrow's vocalese under the opening credits is melancholy and chilling.

Paramount dug into their vaults and came up with a winning short film, billed as a "making of," about the working relationship between Roman Polanski and Mia Farrow. Alternately narrated by the director and the actress, this short subject explores the mindsets of these two talents: Mia, the flower-child and Roman, the European fish-out-of-water. The documentary is filled with clips of the filmaking process, both on and off the set. Also included is a contemporary "talking heads" retrospective discussion consisting of Roman Polanski, producer Robert Evans (for some reason shown only in a right-sided profile shot) and production designer Richard Sylbert.

One of the truly disturbing films that stays with you long after it's over, "Rosemary's Baby" deliberately takes its time in reaching its final nearly-ambiguous ending. Though made and set in America, the film FEELS remarkably foreign, and it is to Polanski's credit that his foreign filmaking process works in adding layer upon layer of suspense. Through the use of a hand-held camera, we see the world through Rosemary's eyes and are constantly reminded of her pain and plight. I can think of no other contemporary (1968) actor who could have brought Rosemary to life as heart-rendingly as Mia Farrow. Blessed with a classically structured face and saucer-wide eyes, and a frail waif-like appearance she can be both vulnerable and strong and always believable. Hers is one of the classic performances in the genre: Sigourney Weaver in "Alien" and Claire Bloom and Julie Harris in "The Haunting" are rare other examples. Whether she is dicovering that her possible rape by a supernatural being with a pained cry of "This is no dream! This is really happening," or boasting plaintively of her husband's theatrical credits, "He was in "Luther" and "Nobody Loves an Albatross," Farrow is completely and totally realistic. Polanski has surrounded his leading lady with a wide assortment of character actors - -easily identifiable to film buffs: Patsy Kelly, Emiline Henry ( who TV buffs will recognize from "I Dream of Jeannie"), Ralph Bellamy, Sidney Blackmer and Charles Grodin. All are cast far against type, and bring their own special brands of peculiarity to their roles. This familiarity works in making the unsettling events of the film ring true, as impossible as they may seem, and makes Rosemary's final discovery a moment of sheer cinematic genius.

The horror that is within "Rosemary's Baby" is never shown, hence its appelation, " a horror film without horror." The terror which lies beneath everyday events is focused on clearly, as is the dread of every pregnant woman. I can remember taking in "Rosemary's Baby" at a repertory house in the late 1970's, accompanied by a strict Catholic, who felt impelled to cover his eyes through many scenes - - not because the film is graphic, but because Polanski constantly keeps the viewer in a familiar, yet somewhat unnerving place. Any trip I take to New York City is incomplete without a side trip to The Dakota - - towering menacingly into the skies near Central Park. With the fine job that Paramount has done with this title, it would

(5/5, NOT included in final score)

(4.5/5)

(4/5)

(3.5/5)

(5/5, NOT an average)

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