Welcome to our weekly classic movies column here on Nerdist.com. Each week focuses on a different film available on streaming. Sit back, grab some snacks, and expand your film knowledge with old Hollywood cinema.
Prior to coming over the Atlantic to reside in America, Roman Polanski was already making waves as a director in Europe.His first feature, the 1962 Polish drama A Knife in the Water, garnered Polanski attention and critical acclaim. The movie was nominated that year for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Frederico Fellini’s masterpiece 8 1/2 won the award, but Polanski succeeded in getting America to take notice of the work being created abroad beyond the typical British, French, and Italians directors.
The son of Jewish parents who were sent to concentration camps during WWII, the director is known for films that utilize eerie, palpable atmospheres. His next work, the psychological British thriller Repulsion, capitalized on this technique. The movie follows a young woman (played by Catherine Deneuve) who is left by herself while her sister goes on vacation. Alone in the apartment, she begins reliving frightful ordeals from her past. Repulsion was the first English-language film made by Polanski, and upon release it gained almost universal positive reviews and awards from festivals. This paved the way for the now up and coming director to make his way to the west, to Los Angeles.
The novel Rosemary’s Baby was first brought to the attention of Paramount Pictures executive Robert Evans before it was even published. The great American horror filmmaker William Castle gave him the proofs of the book and asked him to purchase the film rights. Evans, who had praised Polanski’s past features, wanted him to direct the project. Knowing that he was a big fan of winter sports, Evans sent him the script for ski film Downhill Racer and the galleys for Rosemary’s Baby. Polanski read the book non-stop all night and called Evans the next morning to express his interest in writing and directing it.
Now considered to be one of the great American horror movies, Rosemary’s Baby was an unconventional film at the time. Released in 1968, the movie follows a couple who move into a trendy new Manhattan apartment in New York City. The woman, Rosemary Wodehouse (played by Mia Farrow), soon becomes pregnant thereafter. She begins to fear that her husband Guy (famed indie film director John Cassavetes) may have made a deal with their strange, creepy neighbors in exchange for success with his acting career. Rosemary soon starts to uncover a strange plot with her unborn baby that deals with the occult and the Devil.
Filmed in 1967, the movie marks one of the first mature, adult horror films made in the genre. Mia Farrow as Rosemary was unlike most female roles in horror movies at the time. Women in thrillers such as Psycho or The Haunting were reduced to tortured “scream queens” or were killed off entirely. Rosemary’s presence on screen is magnetic, audiences feel a strong emotional connection to her as the film escalates in tension. Additionally, the location and fashions of the movie lend it an air of class and style. Polanski is known for remarking that he wanted Rosemary’s Baby to be a “classy horror film,” setting itself apart from the low-budget horror movies of the time.
After the film was released, it had a lasting impact on the genre. The movie set the tone for darker, more adult fare. There’s no gore in Rosemary’s Baby, it exists entirely upon the audience’s own fears and suspense felt in conjunction with the main character. The spooky, occult driven horror of the 70s like The Exorcist and The Omen would not exist without Rosemary’s Baby successfully pulling off it off first. The movie, which had a modest $3.2 million budget, went on to gross over $33 million in release.
In the scenes where Rosemary walks across the street in front of traffic, the responses were genuine. Mia Farrow (in padding to make her appear pregnant) crosses the street in traffic with Roman Polanski manning a hand-held camera beside her.
Most of the movie was filmed at the famous Dakota Apartments in New York City on the Upper West Side. The apartments are considered to be one of the most expensive and prestigious residential buildings in NYC. John Lennon resided there for seven years before he was killed right outside the Dakota.
The movie adaptation was incredibly faithful to the book. Pieces of dialogue are taken verbatim from the novel. In fact, Polanski called the author Ira Levin to ask the date and issue of the New Yorker in which Guy Woodhouse sees a shirt he likes, a scene in the book. Levin confessed to Polanski that he made it up.
Actress Ruth Gordon won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Minnie Castevet.
Rosemary’s Baby is available to stream on Netflix.
What’s your favorite scary movie? What other classic films would you like to see in a future column? Drop us your thoughts in the comments below!
Michelle Buchman is the social media manager at Nerdist Industries. She’s also a huge cinephile. Feel free to follow and chat movies with her on Twitter, @michelledeidre.