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DVD Review: Rosemary’s Baby – The Criterion Collection

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Whether you were raised in a household that was even slightly religious, or you grew up on the rough streets of an urban community, there’s a greater than average chance that you’ve heard the expression “Devil may care” at least once at some point in your existence. Indeed, sometimes that Lucifer fellow does in fact care — about someone’s existence, at that — thus, the occasional story or motion picture comes along that centers on a less-than-immaculate conception between Satan and some poor, hapless lass who resides in the human-based world. And there is perhaps no better tale of such an underworldly match-up than Rosemary’s Baby — the 1968 thriller from Roman Polanski based on the Ira Levin book of the same name.

Here, Mia Farrow takes the lead as a recently married young housewife named Rosemary Woodhouse — a character full of such naiveté and pathos, that she inevitably paved the way for a great number of actresses (and non-actresses alike) who would go on to follow her into oncoming NYC traffic with not even so much as a prayer that the approaching automobiles will stop (such a scene happens in the film, which was filmed without any rehearsal or participation from the city; Polanski assured his starlet that nobody would dare hit a “pregnant” woman!). Moving into a classic apartment building with her actor hubby Guy (the great John Cassavetes), the happy couple eagerly look forward to their new life together.

Sadly for Rosemary, things aren’t as cheery and copasetic as they may seem. In fact, there is a strong possibility that her new neighbors — as played by an amazing assortment of aging performers, such as Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, former Hal Roach comedienne Patsy Kelly, et al — are quite literally of the Devil. Rosemary’s unearthly suspicion being to grow when a nice young lady in the building suddenly leaps to her death — and the kindly, old eccentric couple of Mr. and Mrs. Castavet (the dynamic duo of Gordon/Blackmer) begin to invade the Woodhouse way of life on a daily and nightly basis. Things take a turn for the even eerier when Rosemary has a nightmare about being raped by a demonic persona — only to discover soon thereafter that she is indeed carrying a child.

Produced by none other than king of theatre gimmicks himself, William Castle, Polanski’s first American film is a masterfully-crafted exercise in psychological horror that consistently keeps the average moviegoer guessing as to whether or not Farrow’s onscreen fears are genuine or imaginary. The swingin’ Manhattan scene of the late ’60s in which the movie as filmed only adds to the project as a whole, with a variety of styles (from clothing to music) that — when viewed today — gives the otherwise-dated title a surreal feeling that manages to gain the attention of viewers who have since been spoiled by flashy editing and cinematography, as well as contemporary filmmaking laziness in-general.

Also appearing in this “Devil may care” classic are Maurice Evans (who would achieve a certain amount of fame with sci-fi nerds the same year as Dr. Zaius in the original Planet of the Apes), Ralph Bellamy, a young fellow by the name of Charles Grodin, model Victoria Vetri, Emmaline Henry, Hanna Landy (Hertelendy), Phil Leeds, Hope Summers, Elisha Cook, Jr. (who also worked with producer Castle on House on Haunted Hill), and D’Urville Martin (as the movie’s token black guy — long before the term “token black guy” was conceived, mind you!). Tony Curtis lends his voice to the film as well, playing the part of an ill-fated actor whom Mia has a disturbing telephone conversation with.

Previously released on DVD in the US by Paramount Pictures in 2000 (and again in 2008), Rosemary’s Baby had only been seen in the digital home video format via a rather sub-par generic release that boasted a muted color scheme. The Criterion Collection has, fortunately, rectified that by giving us a new DVD issue with an improved (and colorful!) transfer with an anamorphic 1.85:1 presentation and cleaned-up mono soundtrack. Optional English (SDH) subtitles accompany. The DVD also includes several new special features (the Criterion release is also available on Blu-ray, for the HD-minded).

Said bonus items begin with “Remembering Rosemary’s Baby,” a collection of interviews recorded for The Criterion Collection in 2012, and feature recollections by Polanski, Farrow, and producer Robert Evans. “Ira Levin and Leonard Lopate” is another conversational featurette with the author of the original novel, in which he discusses his famously controversial work and its follow-up, Son of Rosemary. Finally, there is a feature-length documentary, Komeda Komeda (2012), about the movie’s composer, Krzysztop Komeda. An additional supplement in the form of a booklet is provided within the confines of the DVD case. The only drawback here is that the vintage behind-the-scenes featurette from 1968 and retrospective look at the movie that were on the 2000 Paramount DVD release are not to be found on this Criterion disc.

That said, though, Criterion’s release of Rosemary’s Baby is the best the feature has ever looked or sounded — and deserves a spot on your shelf for that reason alone. Providing you care, that is.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.