Friday, May 30, 2014

Rosemary’s Baby, Reborn

 So they’ve had the guts to remake Rosemary’s Baby as a miniseries. And from what I’ve heard, it’s pretty good.  The setting has been moved to Paris, a city which has its visually spooky side. And the acting is supposed to be fine. But I can’t imagine this Rosemary’s Baby ever having the impact of Roman Polanski’s 1968 original.

Rosemary’s Baby of course started life as a novel by Ira Levin. It was so original, and so audaciously scary, that publisher Bennett Cerf of Random House considered it perhaps TOO suspenseful. Maybe, he suggested, Levin should make clear that the Satanic takeover at the novel’s end was all just a bad dream.

The novel was a 1967 bestseller, and when the film version debuted the following year, it too  quickly became a sensation. Partly the time was ripe: moviegoers in 1968 had (in the words of Shakespeare’s Macbeth) “supped full with horrors.” Many remembered the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. When the film was released on June 12, 1968, only two months had passed since the slaying of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, precipitating nation-wide riots. And Rosemary’s Baby opened just six days after Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles. America, it seemed, was ripe for accepting a world being usurped by demonic powers.

And director Polanski was uniquely qualified to handle such strong material. The shocking slaughter of his wife Sharon Tate, along with their unborn baby, by members of the Manson clan was still more than a year off. But Polanski was also a Holocaust survivor. In the late 1930s, as a small child, he was living with his family in the Polish city of  Krakow. When the Nazis moved in, he was forced out of school and into a Jewish ghetto. His parents were taken away and killed; he himself survived by pretending to belong to a Roman Catholic family. Later he roamed the countryside on his own, trying to elude German soldiers taking potshots at the fleeing boy. So Polanski had, along with impressive filmmaking skills, a strong personal identification with a God-is-dead world.

I’ve not always been a fan of Mia Farrow, and her current-day behavior strikes me as more than a bit batty, but she plays the passive, put-upon Rosemary with stunning conviction. As much as her acting it’s her physical presence that sells the story. She’s so pale, so thin, so apparently fragile: the lopping off of her blonde tresses into a very short Vidal Sassoon bob midway through the film completes our sense of her as the ultimate victim. (Frankly, I doubt that the statuesque Zoe Saldana could ever spark our imagination in the way that the cadaverous Farrow does.)  I don’t love everything about the movie -- the big Satanic rape scene is definitely heavy-handed – but the sinister presence of John Cassavetes, Sidney Blackmer, and the Oscar-winning Ruth Gordon can’t be beat.

Much of the power of Levin’s story comes from the mysteries we associate with pregnancy. Every woman who’s been with child knows how easy it is to be overawed by the strange things happening inside her. Body parts change size and shape. Emotions swing wildly. Doctors and other traditional allies sometimes don’t seem to have her best interests at heart. She’s eating (and sleeping and breathing) for two, but the final outcome remains very much in question. Until, of course, the baby arrives and demands to be loved. That’s why films about pregnancy (like Rosemary’s Baby and even a Roger Corman cheapie like The Unborn) grab hold and don’t let go.

This post hails the arrival of Mila Danielle Grayver on May 19, 2014, following a perfectly uneventful pregnancy. Family members are thrilled to welcome Mila into their inarguably normal home,  which is in Manhattan Beach, not Manhattan – and therefore nowhere near the Dakota. 


  1. This is fabulous-so creative! Love the tie in with the new baby!

  2. Thanks, Heath. It was fun to salute the past, and the future!

  3. Congratulations to the new parents!

    The new Rosemary's Baby did not go over all that well - at least not in the reviews I read online. Stretching the story to four hours and making the leads hot young Hollywood types certainly didn't draw me in.

    I want to add one name to the 1968 movie's roll call - producer William Castle - here doing a bang up job without a single promotional gimmick in sight. He also figures in a neat cameo - when Rosemary is in the phone booth - and we see what certainly appears to be conspirator doctor Ralph Bellamy outside the booth - and it is him from the back - but after a movie magic switcheroo - it turns out to be William Castle, who may have had a devilish twinkle in his eye when he created movie gimmicks like Emerg-O and Percept-O but certainly wasn't a minion of old scratch in this movie...

  4. Thanks, Mr. C. I should have mentioned the unforgettable William Castle in connection with Rosemary's Baby, but the cameo is news to me! I love it!

  5. A slightly belated welcome to the world, Mila Danielle! A gorgeous name for a gorgeous baby, destined to become a movie fan early on. And great thoughts on Rosemary's Baby. Mia is a tragic spectacle now, but she was luminous in that haunting film from a different era. Who can forget the stark, blood-red cover line on the Time magazine Rosemary leafs through in Dr. Sapirstein's office--"Is God Dead?" That was real, the controversial April 8, 1966 issue was published to great outcry.

  6. I really appreciate hearing from you, Marlene. Do write again!