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Rosemary's Baby Pt 2: This is Really Happening!

Rosemary's Baby print by Jonathan Burton. For sale here.50th Anniversary Three-Part Mini-Series
Occasionally we'll take a movie and baton pass it around the team and really dive in. 

Rosemary's Baby (1968) is 50 years old now but it feels both ancient and fresh. It's always alive when you watch it. Having seeped into the very DNA of both the movies and our nightmares, it deserves a deep dive. In Part One by Seán McGovern we watched as Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavettes) moved into a strange new apartment building, saw a neighbor mysteriously die, and become socially entangled with an intrusive neighbor couple Minnie and Roman Castavet (Ruth Gordon and Sydney Blackmer), who are both eccentrically endearing and very possibly sinister. 44 minutes into the film we can scratch out "very possibly" and just make that sinister. Full stop. We return to Rosemary just as we realize she's been drugged by Minnie's chocolate mousse "mouse" and has begun to dream... - Editor

Part 2 by Jason Adams

44:21 It seems appropriate to jump right in in the middle of a dream about to turn nightmare, for what else is Rosemary's Baby but that?

44:21 So much of this sequence will come back to haunt us later when Rosemary makes her final horrific discovery...

Now we watch Rosemary be lifted up to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and drift along, the art-work becoming darker, more satanic, as she does; but later on we'll see all of these images - churches on fire and terrifying bearded figureheads standing at a pulpit - return inside of the Castavet's finally fully-decorated apartment...

46:00 The great Sidney Blackmer was, according to Mia Farrow, embarrassed at having to paint on a naked woman's body (Mia herself used a body double for most of this sequence) - he supposedly had to disassociate himself from the moment, pretend it was just a bumpy canvas. He was also (again according to Farrow) outwardly nervous about the implications of his role, and worried they were bringing bad fortune upon themselves telling this story.

"She ate the mouse she can't see nor hear now sing."

46:42 For all of the many many many times I have seen this, my favorite movie, it wasn't until a few years ago that I understood it was supposed to be Jackie Kennedy here (as well as JFK on the boat earlier) telling Rosemary she should be tied down in case of convulsions - it's a brilliant stroke, inserting Rosemary's gauzy Catholicism into the moment (which will be made more explicit with the Pope in just a second), and also perverting something that was already by 1968 starting to be seen as the perfect liberal dream - Camelot! Getting dragged into this muck! Imagine?

47:26 When I was growing up people used to complain about Shelley Duvall's performance in The Shining and the casting of John Cassavetes in Rosemary's Baby. I think we've mostly (thankfully) come around the the former, but I still see people bemoan JC's obviousness in this role and I am not here for that noise. The entire point of the film is everything being right there for Rosemary to pick up on all along but she isn't capable of seeing it until it's too late. Cassavetes' deeply untrustworthy face (I call it that with great affection) has us wary of Guy from the film's first frame, but Rosemary's frothy affection for him blinds her. Casting Robert Redford (who was their first choice) would've blinded us along with Rosemary, and I think we need the blinders off our eyes so we can partake in the movie's other mind games, namely...

"This is no dream this is really happening!"

49:31 The issues this "morning after" scene raises are really something for the time in 1968 - it wasn't until ten years later that the issue of marital consent would become a national conversation when John Rideout was acquitted of raping his wife; state laws would shift over the course of the decade following that. But this scene, with Guy joking about it being "kinda fun in a necrophile sort of way," would've played very different in 1968 than it plays now. Still, as with all the film, I think we're meant to be on Rosemary's side - those scratches ain't joking around.

51:08 Some time has passed by the time we get to the next scene and Rosemary's already outfitted like a pregnant woman, and note the statue of fertility over her shoulder. Oh, subtlety.

51:40 Look at that staging! Farrow has talked about how particular Polanski was with making his actors hit their marks to the precise millimeter and how nuts that physical rigidity made Cassavetes, whose style needless to say was the exact opposite of that. Shots like this is where it pays off - Guy's loving look at his wife is totally obscured and distorted by that coffee decanter she plunks down in front of him.

Anyway when you've seen a movie as many times as I have seen Rosemary's Baby you start seeing riddles buried therein that were no doubt unintentional - take for example how Beethoven's piece "Für Elise" is playing in the background of this scene where Rosemary worries about her menstrual cycle. The song is one of classical music's great mysteries - nobody knows who Ludwig's Elise was. Rosemary's "Elise" on the other hand is mentioned in the very next scene - turns out that's the name of Rosemary's mostly-unseen best friend, the one that sends her to Dr. Hill (Charles Grodin). What does it all mean? And did Stanley Kubrick fake the Moon landing or what?

52:04 Hello Dr. Hill! I just want to point out that the dreamboat Dr. Hill does not have a mustache in this scene, where he is seen as trustworthy. When Rosemary meets Dr. Hill a second time, amid much darker circumstances later on, he has suddenly grown a mustache. Mustaches are a sign that something is wrong!

"We went to see The Fantasticks!"

Oh Rosemary, always trying to put a bright spin on everything.

52:55 Cut immediately to Rosemary getting the call that she's pregnant. I'm always shocked when I remember this film's two hours and fifteen minutes long - there isn't an ounce of fat; it plows right along. Have you guys ever read the book? It's the most straightforward book adaptation I've ever seen - Ira Levin once joked he thinks Polanski didn't know he could cut things out when adapting a book since this was his first time doing that.

53:52 "Blood."

53:55 There's something so occult-tinged about the way that Rosemary breaks the news of her pregnancy to Guy - offering him a coin (his thirty pieces of silver) like they're crossing the river Styx. And Guy's inability to react with anything even close to believable enthusiasm is one of the film's great sources of dark humor - Cassavetes is so good as making it clear what a terrible actor Guy is, even as Rosemary continues praising him to the moon. "Luther and Nobody Loves an Albatross" indeed.

55:32 This shot always scares the hell out of me - Minnie and Roman bursting through the door at a sprint relentlessly forward towards the camera, their sickening melange of gaudy pinks and mustards popping out from in between the hallway's blackest shadows. 

56:39 One of the great shots in all of cinema history. We see a variation on this idea a couple times during the movie (notably earlier when Roman & Guy are talking and smoking in the other room after their first dinner together, presumably when the seeds of all this Satanic business were being planted), where the placement of the camera, obscuring something, shows us All is Not To Be Trusted. 

57:51 As Rosemary debates baby names you can hear Guy audibly groaning with deep revulsion in his sleep - if only we got to see his dreams! I imagine they'd give Rosemary's nightmares a run for their money.

"Call me, not your Aunt Fanny!"

59:00 I mean... Minnie's coloring, you guys.

59:22 Rosemary comes back from Vidal Sassoon, which is apparently an anagram for "Life Force Vampire." It's so crazy that Mia Farrow popularized this haircut at this time since the movie goes out of its way to parallel it with her entire physical disintegration. All that plus it gives her loving husband an easy outlet for projecting his disgust - what an advertisement, Vidal!

1:00:17 I know "mansplaining" has been a thing since time immemorial but this movie might just be the ultimate tribute to the experience - Dr. Sapirstein tells Rosemary to throw out all her books they're only going to worry her, and soon enough her husband will be throwing our her books, which are worrying her. 

1:00:22 I've always wanted to take a closer look at what words we see on the Scrabble board the first time we see it and here, I turned the image upside down for us to see it better (if you click on it it gets bigger). That little cluster in the top left hand with MEN and ATONE and WARD and DEBIT is pretty spectacular.

1:00:42 Just another one of my favorite shots in a perfectly shot movie.

1:02:11 Rosemary looks downright deranged when she tells Hutch she's pregnant, and he reacts with the exact right amount of incredulity - we should enjoy these thirty whole seconds of aloneness between these two old friends though, because they're immediately interrupted...

... first by Roman (Rosemary notices his pierced ears, and Hutch his "piercing eyes") and then by Guy, who storms in still wearing clownish stage make-up, looking like he got into Minnie's stash. All so he can swipe one of poor Hutch's gloves and set the witches on the ol' boy. 

"He's a professional crepe-hanger."

I still have no idea what a crepe-hanger is. Does anybody?

1:08:28 Another one of those gorgeous shots where Rosemary's fate gets decided just an inch or two out of frame - here Guy's trying to get rid of Hutch on the telephone. A nice little time capsule in this scene - before we had mobile telephones, kiddies, people would disconnect from the wall a phone in one room and then reconnect it in another wall, if they wanted to move around and didn't have phones in every room.

1:10:07 Guy says he's going out to get ice cream but a second later (as Rosemary allows herself the freedom to writhe around in agony in peace) you can hear the door-bell ring at Minnie and Roman's (as if to drive home the sound-effect being the same the very next scene has Rosemary pressing the buzzer and hearing the same sound) -- Guy clearly goes over to snitch on Hutch and sure enough Hutch is in a coma before the night is through. This movie even poisons the idea of ice cream!

1:10:39 Rosemary's Baby, besides being a masterpiece of horror and film-making, is also one of my favorite New York City movies - I'm over on this corner by the Time Warner building all the time and every time I am I think of Rosemary and mutter to myself...

"Pain be gone, I will have no more of thee..."

She looks like such a religious icon of suffering here, with her stylish halo of a hat and the holiday-appropriate angel-wings framing her back. And the response to her prayer...

... is a helicopter passing overhead. The cold indifference of modernity.

1:12:46 Rosemary realizes how sickly she looks in the reflection of a store-front Mary & Child display, y'all. (Do note the predatory wolf at the holy woman's feet.)

1:13:23 Every millisecond's worth of screen-time that Ruth Gordon fills is a master-class on character choices, and I'm convinced this throwaway shot of her hailing a taxi via a whistle she wears on a charm-bracelet was all hers. Minnie really is one of the greatest screen creations of all time.

1:13:31 Another stunning shot, one of my faves - there's not a wasted spot in the frame, from the icy blue rain washing down the window to the looming actor trophy or statue (doing Guy's patented "involuntary reach" no doubt) behind her, and over to the Busby Berkeley musical twisting like a trippy kaleidoscope on the TV screen. There is no escape from the madness.

1:13:50 As I said I've seen this movie so very many times, so it's hard to believe there are moments in it that still strike me anew, but when I re-watched it this past weekend I was struck by this interaction between Rosemary and Dr. Sapirstein - she tells him with sadness that she's not going out anymore and he, not listening to what she's really saying (or more likely not caring) says that that's fine, that there's no need for her to go out anymore. She's asking for help, seeing her isolation as a problem, and he waves her off. It's just like that episode of The Golden Girls

"To the year one!" 

1:14:40 What this movie does to the idea of pregnancy - in 1968! - is nothing short of extraordinary. The way it turns the entire concept of the Glowing Healthy Mother inside out and perverts it (I keep coming back to that word, perversion, but it's so profoundly fitting when it comes to this film) is shocking today by our standards; I can't even imagine what a jolt to America and the holy idea of Family it was back then.

1:16:09 To a person with Ostraconophobia such as myself this is the scariest shot in this movie, bar none. Shudder.

1:17:39 Hey look it's Kate Middleton's dress.

1:18:20 And finally the famous Elise! We've been waiting for you, lady.

1:20:17 Rosemary makes the single mention of abortion in the film here, among her lady friends -  one of the great tragedies of this movie, one that rings true with great harshness to me today, is how these friends of Rosemary's appear and then disappear so easily; they're concerned as long as she's right in front of them but their concern withers the minute they're out of the house. Six months can pass these days between me hanging out in person with people I consider my "good friends" and this movie uses that hard reality of adulthood as its original sin. All the horror spreads from how easily isolated Rosemary's allowed to become in a city of millions.

1:22:59 One of John Cassavetes greatest acting moments in the movie is his flinch here when Rosemary makes him feel the "baby" kicking - he's absolutely horrified. Guy might not know an "involuntary reach" but John sure did. Rosemary meanwhile is wild-eyed with happiness, crying, "It's alive! It's alive!" straight out of a Frankenstein film.

1:24:39 The tables are turned on Guy here (which happens more as the film heads towards its conclusion and Rosemary starts putting together the "plot" as she sees it) - he lets Rosemary answer the telephone and she actually gets to be off-frame for once as the news is delivered to her that Hutch has died. (Sidenote: how hot does John Cassavetes look there anyway?)

"I feel awful, all this time I didn't even think of him."

1:25:18 And more proof that with the "rebirth" of the baby inside of her Rosemary regains some of her self-hood (or is allowed to think so, anyway) - she gets to go out by herself into the world. (It is strange that Guy doesn't go with her but I guess they feel they can loosen the leash a little at this point.) And wearing another one of her Renaissance-like halo hats, and in black no less. She finally meets Hutch's friend Grace (now there's a name) who delivers the book that will unravel all...

"And I'm to tell you the name is an anagram..."

Up next, part 3: All of them witches with Nathaniel taking us through the film's horrifying conclusion...

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Reader Comments (21)

Definitely one of the greatest films ever made.

June 14, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

This is so brilliant Jason. I treasure reading you writing about films you deeply love. I especially dig the intro

It seems appropriate to jump right in in the middle of a dream about to turn nightmare, for what else is Rosemary's Baby but that?
and that bit about her suffering prayer and the edit to an indifferent response.

I've seen this movie about 4 times i think and it always surprises me. And every time I read about it it gets better. These are usually the signs of a masterpiece.

June 14, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Oh and I'm not sure exactly what Guy is insinuating with "professional crepe-hanger" but maybe it's a suggestion that Hutch is nothing more than a party-planner? but i'm sure this has some 1968 connotation lost on us in 2018.

June 14, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

JC was such a hot guy. See what I did there?
Polanski is one of our best directors, and I'm glad he got an Oscar.
Facts are facts, America.

June 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSTFU

Castavet is an anagram, but Saperstein seems like an unusual name too. I wonder if that has conotations, also.

You all are making want to watch this again. Such brilliant work from everyone.

June 15, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

I am a USA national but apart from that I think We all must vote for the righteous and Polanski is one of all time favorite director and I am glad that he won an oscar

June 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVideo Animation Inc.

Something that is striking me is how long the film is. I've seen it a few times over the years but I've never checked the clock while doing so. I'm amazed, for example, to read how long Hutch lasts in the film. The pacinf works so well. In fact, it's packed with so much, one finds oneself longing for Rosemary just to have some downtime!

And now I'm tensed for part three and that scrabble scene...

June 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Crepe, by the way, is a material that, in black, was hung to 'decorate' for a funeral, so a 'crepe hanger' is someone concerned with death and dying.

June 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGlendon

One of my all-time top 3. I've never read a complaint about Cassavetes in it, and I agree he's perfect, and a very recognizable male type. You cringe because you've seen him before.

June 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

The name is an anagram and what Rosemary's does next is some of the most skin crawling in cinema.

June 15, 2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

This is one of my all-time favorite movies. I also think it's one of the most stylish movies of all-time; Rosemary's wardrobe is amazing and still influences fashion today (even her maternity and sleepwear). I love the look she wears outside of the Time Warner building and the floral dress she wears when she hears she's pregnant.

June 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I just had to look up Ostraconophobia - LOL. I had no idea. that shot looks delicious to me.

June 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I just had to look up Ostraconophobia - LOL. I had no idea. that shot looks delicious to me.

June 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

thanks for this article, really excellently done. This movie scared the hell out of me when I saw it in the theater in 1968. still scares me today. don't know if it counts as a horror movie (which i gave up years ago because they left me a mess).

June 15, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterrrrich7

Jason, what an eye you have for detail. Absolutely astounding. Wonderful article on a rich cinematic treasure.

June 15, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

A masterpiece and an amusing, scary movie. The movies of this period 1966-1969 scream - “dated!” - when you look at the hair styles, clothes, art direction, soundtrack, sound effects, direction tricks and camera movements. It's like to be watching a time capsule. Interesting that 1968 - the year of release of Rosemary's Baby - seems today more dated than 1958, 1948 and 1938. Just look at Mia Farrow - wonderful in this movie and making the short hair for women a thing again - and compare, for example, to Jean Arthur in You Can't Take it with You(1938), Lauren Bacall in Key Largo(1948) and Doris Day in Teacher's Pet(1958), contemporary movies like the Polansky one.

June 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGwen

Robert Redford was suppose to play Guy which would have given the final reveal a bigger shock.

June 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Note on that Ira Levin quote: When people talk about cutting or changing things from books, they're usually not talking about leanly written and roughly 200 page micro novels. They're usually talking about 400+ page books that would be 5+ hours long if you included literally EVERYTHING on the page.

June 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

BTW on the Redford note - Polanski was originally going to direct him in Downhill Racer as his English-language debut (the studio thought a European would be suited to direct all of the foreign locations), but he became interested in Rosemary's Baby instead.

June 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

A "crepe hanger' is a pessimist. Guy is saying Hutch is always going to give the "Black Bramford" interpretation to everything.

Jason, every time you write about a movie you love that I love you bring up new things I hadn't caught. Rosemary handing Guy the quarter - what can I say? Even if it wasn't meant to conjure up an analogy to the River Styx that is a brilliant interpretation.

June 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Jason, such an in-depth look at this part of the movie that I had to read it twice to take it all in.

God there's really so much going on. I can't believe this film is 2hr 17 minutes, there is not a moment that needs trimming.

Also, I kind of can't believe that JC gets a bad rap - I think he's perfect casting. He's hunky as hell even though we know he's an evil one. I think that adds to its appeal. We KNOW Guy is in league with the Devil but JC is such a babe. WHY GOD WHY?

June 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSeán

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