Following the critical success of Repulsion, Roman Polanski became a target for American investors and was invited to work on Rosemary’s Baby for Paramount. After reading the novel, Polanski agreed to do the film. Polanski wrote and directed the film, deciding to stick as close as possible to original novel, believing a straight transfer would make for a more terrifying film experience.
Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) and her husband Guy (John Cassavetes) have just moved into a beautiful New York townhouse. The couple quickly make friends with their elderly and eccentric neighbours Minnie and Roman (Ruth Gordon & Sidney Blackmer). Minnie and Roman are quite nosy and are constantly interested in the goings on of Rosemary’s life. Some time passes and to her delight Rosemary learns she is pregnant. As the pregnancy continues, Rosemary begins to have disturbing dreams and suspects that her neighbours and husband are teaming up against her to take her baby.
Without beating around the bush, Mia Farrow’s performance is outstanding. It seems that Polanski took on board the issues people had with Repulsion, with the main character being unreachable for the audience, and gives us a well-round, well-developed lead to invest in. Rosemary’s descent into paranoia could have easily been frustrating to watch, but due to Farrow’s quiet performance and the nuances in her character development throughout the film, we are given a strong, albeit fragile, female lead to really support.
The supporting cast are all excellent. Much like Farrow’s Rosemary, most of the characters could have easily been amusing and annoying caricatures, instead they are all developed in a likeable fashion. Ruth Gordon’s Minnie is the celebrated performance, winning the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her efforts. It is great watching Gordon work, with her descent mimicking Rosemary’s except in the other direction, with Minnie building towards a scary monster instead of Rosemary’s fragile victim.
Polanski’s direction is uniformly good, although it feels at times that he isn’t exactly sure where he wants to take Rosemary’s Baby. Despite being billed as a horror film, the horror notes are never hit right. For me the film works best when it is a drama. The ending felt out of place, up until that point I had never viewed the film as a horror, in my mind it was a drama about the natural paranoia and instincts associated with pregnancy. The final moments are quite over the top and the film would have been more powerful with a different, more subtle and obscure ending.
Rosemary’s Baby is an amazing achievement with the core performances, and more specifically Farrow, all being extraordinary. It makes a perfect double-header with Polanski’s similar themed Repulsion. Whilst Repulsion superbly blended subtly with in-your-face scares, Rosemary’s Baby plays the subtle card for the entire run-time. This works like a dream when watching the film as a drama, it makes for an enthralling experience until the unfitting finale. Despite this, Rosemary’s Baby is a film worthy of the admiration it has received from fans, critics and filmmakers.
4.0 out of 5.0