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Paramount Studios presents
"The green inside is called tannis root. That's for good luck."
DVD ReviewHow well do you really know your neighbors? For all you know, they could be Satan-worshippers, bent on bringing the Antichrist into the world. Or they could be nice old folks who are just a little eccentric, and you're just being paranoid. How do you tell which is which? And which should one believe?
Henry James posited the ambiguity between reality and paranoid fantasy in his classic short story, A Turn of the Screw. Ira Levin in his best-selling book, and Roman Polanski in his terrific film of Rosemary's Baby, give us a similar ambiguity. Is Rosemary (Mia Farrow) just suffering pre- and post-partum delusions? Or is her husband Guy (John Cassavetes) in league with the Satanists next door, Roman and Millie Castevet (Sidney Blackmer and Oscar-winning Ruth Gordon), and the evil obstetrician, Dr. Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy) to deliver a child which will be sacrificed to the devil, or worse? Is it just a coincidence that Guy's acting career takes off after they meet the Castevets and Rosemary becomes pregnant? And what is this tannis root stuff that the Castevets keep feeding her? And why does Rosemary keep losing weight, even though she's pregnant? Few images in horror are more iconic than Rosemary, with her ultrashort Vidal Sassoon haircut, gaunt and sunken-eyed as a concentration-camp inmate, as she descends into the nightmare that is her pregnancy. In all, the most terrifying vision of parenthood until Eraserhead.
The entire cast does a superb job in this film, headed by Farrow, who is in nearly every scene. She gives a widely varied performance, from the fawn-eyed Doris Day type at the beginning to the wracking pain of a horrific pregnancy, to complete madness and paranoia at the conclusion. At every step, she is convincing. Blackmer and especially Gordon gleefully take on their roles of evil shrouded by banality. Bellamy doesn't have a lot to do, but he makes a good authority figure that helps compel Rosemary into giving in to the assistance of the Castevets. The great Shakespearian actor Maurice Evans plays a writer who also acts as confidante to Rosemary, and who apparently runs afoul of the Castevets In smaller roles, we find a young Charles Grodin in his first significant film role as Rosemary's first obstetrician, Dr. Hill, and the then-promising starlet Angela Dorian (who also used the name Victoria Vetri) as a young woman taken on as a project by the Castevets; there's a funny little in-joke exchange between her and Rosemary, as Rosemary says she looks "like that actress, Victoria Vetri." Finally, the man who shows Guy and Rosemary the apartment is none other than longtime character actor Elisha Cook, Jr.; when he's your landlord, you know you're in for trouble!
Roman Polanski's script and direction are both surehanded. Although the film runs slightly long, if it were any shorter the seemingly endless nature of Rosemary's painful pregnancy would be minimized. The camera follows the actors naturally, but he thinks nothing of swooping and moving rapidly when called for. The lighting is often stark, with characters moving from near-blackness to bright lighting at will; often Rosemary herself is in the dark, both in a lighting sense as well as metaphorically. Polanski also uses heavy religious iconography, with a particularly chilling dream sequence prominently featuring the Sistine Chapel. He helps emphasize the ambiguity by placing Guy's Faustian bargain offscreen; we only share Rosemary's suspicions, but are not allowed to see more than she does. Christopher Komeda's score is highly disturbing and effective, from the opening lullaby to the wailing shrieks of the dead in the nightmare conception sequence.
In all, this film holds up wonderfully well; the horror is almost entirely psychological and consists of discomfort. There's not a nickel's worth of traditional horror to be seen here, and this makes the film all the more effective.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic picture is quite good; although Polanski uses a limited palette, there are moments of bright color (usually associated with Ruth Gordon's character) which make it clear that this is intentional. Blacks tend to be quite good, although often a little on the greenish side. The bright red pantsuit during the conception scene is bright and sharp without being oversaturated or smeary. There are two or three speckles, but overall the source print looks fabulous.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Only the original mono track is included, in DD 2.0. It is, however, a highly effective mono track that doesn't really need the bells and whistles of a surround presentation. The dialogue is always clear, and the hypnotic and chilling music comes through without any distortion whatsoever. This is a rather quiet film, most of the time, but the soundtrack serves it quite well.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Layers Switch: Unknown
Extras Review: Paramount gives a decent little array of extras. There is a "Making Of" shot at the time of filming (23m:01s) that contains a great deal of behind the scenes footage and outtakes. One gets a greater appreciation for Farrow's talent, when one sees her talking naturally; from her slow, slurred and halting speech it's almost as if she were perpetually stoned during filming. Nothing whatsoever of that personality makes it onto the screen in the film. Otherwise, it is mostly a studio puff piece, despite its duration.
The second extra is a series of present-day interviews with Polanski and others involved in the film (although none of the cast is interviewed). These tend to be quite interesting, and the perspective which these participants have is a nice counterpoint to the earlier interviews in the Making Of documentary.
The subtitles are in an easily readable yellow, and are fairly accurate. Chaptering is quite good. Oddly enough, no trailer is included. I would have liked to have seen how the film was originally sold, since it's produced by the grand master of promotion, William Castle. I also would have liked a full commentary from Polanski, who has shown he's capable of giving a highly interesting one on The Ninth Gate. But this will do for now.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsOne of the great films of the 1960s, given a nice transfer and some decent extras. Very highly recommended.
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