Rosemary’s Baby Film Notes

Something about Rosemary’s Baby seems a little off from the very beginning. Perhaps it’s the delicate, innocent “la la la’s” Mia Farrow trills in the minor-key lullaby that accompanies the opening credits. Or the descending shot over The Dakota, an ornate, Gothic-designed, menacing-looking apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West side, renamed The Branford here. How about an aged Elisha Cook Jr. showing Rosemary (Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) their future home? And just the idea of Farrow and Cassavetes as a “young married couple” (with a 16 year age difference between them!) is enough to send chills up the spine. Although far scarier, more graphic horror films have supplanted Rosemary’s Baby since its 1968 release, it has lost little of its power to disturb, unnerve, and even elicit the occasional grin (albeit a ghoulish one).

Not long after settling into their new home, Rosemary and Guy befriend their eccentric elderly neighbors, Roman (Sidney Blackmer) and Minnie Castevet (the inimitable Ruth Gordon, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this role). Guy takes to the Castevets much quicker than Rosemary—especially once she’s pregnant. All of a sudden, Guy is no longer a struggling actor but an unexpectedly successful one, and Rosemary is often inexplicably in excruciating pain. She’s also drawn to ravenously consuming raw liver and the special, stinky-smelling Tanis root milkshakes Minnie custom makes for her. Early on, director Roman Polanski drops enough hints for any viewer to figure out the inevitable fate of Rosemary’s unborn child, including a few bizarre but mesmeric dream sequences (...or are they really happening?) Fortunately, the film’s subtle, suspenseful pacing and paranoia is so deliberate and creepily effective that the final scene (listen for Rosemary’s immortal line about her child’s eyes) is still a shocking, unforgettable scream.

Alfred Hitchcock was initially offered a chance to direct the film, but declined and Polanski (best known at this point for the similarly disturbing Repulsion) got the job. The result was a faithful adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel. For the roles of Rosemary and Guy, Polanski originally wanted to cast Tuesday Weld and Robert Redford (who, with his all-American blond good looks, would have seemed a little less suspect to turn to the dark side than Cassavetes). Redford was busy filming Downhill Racer, and producer Robert Evans preferred Farrow to Weld. A perfectly cast Farrow, surprisingly, did not receive an Oscar nomination. She was, however, served divorce papers on the set by her then-husband Frank Sinatra, who probably did not care much for the radical Vidal Sassoon haircut she received midway through the film. Throughout, be sure to look for appearances by Polanski’s then-wife Sharon Tate (unbilled as one of Rosemary’s friends at a party), Charles Grodin (in his first film role), Ralph Bellamy (as Rosemary’s sketchy obstetrician, a friend of the Castevets), and Tony Curtis (in an over-the-phone vocal cameo).

Rosemary’s Baby was a massive hit, establishing Polanski in America and re-establishing Farrow (then best known for her role on the TV series “Peyton Place”) as a movie icon. In addition to Gordon, the film only received one other Oscar nomination (for Best Adapted Screenplay, which it lost to The Lion In Winter.) Curiously, a string of eerie coincidences soon followed. In 1969, eight-months-pregnant Tate was brutally murdered by Charles Manson and his hippie, Satan-worshipping “family” cult, who were supposedly influenced by “hidden messages” imbedded in The Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter”. In 1968, Farrow was one of The Beatles’ companions on their famous excursion to India. Twelve years later, former Beatle John Lennon was assassinated outside his apartment building, which was, um, The Dakota. Additionally, the film’s composer, Krzysztof Komeda, died of “curious circumstances” (head injuries acquired during a drinking binge) not long after the film’s release. One also must not forget Look What’s Happened To Rosemary’s Baby, a negligible sequel made for television in 1976. It starred Patty Duke (!) as Rosemary and brought back only Gordon from the original cast.