New Movies: Rosemary's Baby

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Satan is not dead. Among other vivid manifestations, he has for the past 14 months been one of the leading characters in Rosemary's Baby, Ira Levin's best-selling chiller about the powers of darkness at work in a Manhattan apartment building. Now Old Nick, along with a covey of attendant diabolists, is making Rosemary's life miserable in a film version by Polish Director Roman Polanski (Knife in the Water, Repulsion). Even readers of the book (2,300,000 copies) who know how Baby comes out are in for a pleasant surprise: the very real acting ability of Mia Farrow.

Satan-May-Care. As Rosemary Woodhouse, she and her husband Guy (John Cassavetes) are delighted to find an apartment in the Branford, a penumbral old fortress of an apartment house on Manhattan's Central Park West, modeled on the real-life Dakota at 1 West 72nd Street (where some of the exterior scenes were shot). Rosemary's bookish old father figure, Hutch (Maurice Evans), is not too pleased; the Branford, he notes, has an unsavory history of suicides and diabolical doings, including the murder of a notorious Satanist.

The happy pair moves in anyway and—see how groundless Hutch's fears were?—the funny old couple next door welcomes them with open arms. Guy, who is an actor, loves to go over and listen to Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer) talk about old times. Rosemary is more attracted to a girl of her own age who lives with the Castevets—it is a pity when she commits suicide by jumping out of the window. After that tragedy, the lonely Castevets grow closer than ever to Rosemary and Guy, whose acting career is suddenly beginning to go very well indeed. So well, in fact, that he agrees at last to let her have a baby. They carefully mark the date on the calendar when she will be most likely to conceive.

That night turns out to be really devil-may-care, what with the martinis, and Minnie Castevet coming over with a funny-tasting chocolate mousse, and Rosemary passing out and having a hellish dream in which somebody (or something?) draws marks on her naked body. There are scratches on her back and sides the next morning—Guy admits that he had had a few too many drinks himself.

That Old Black Magic. So begins what must be the most unpleasant pregnancy on record. Mia Farrow seems to grow more sickly and emaciated the more her stomach swells, but she is built for the part of Rosemary and her skillful progression from pain to puzzlement to panic goes far beyond mere looks. The film's most memorable performance, though, is turned in by Veteran Ruth Gordon as the coarse and cozily evil Minnie Castevet—sniffing for information like a questing rodent, forcing Rosemary to drink her satanic tonics of herbs, dispensing that old Black Magic that she knows so well in a voice that sounds like a crow with a cold.

John Cassavetes plays Guy as much too blah a character to have done what the script says he did, and Ralph Bellamy behind a full grey beard seems hardly sinister enough to be Dr. Sapirstein, the occultivated obstetrician. These minor lapses, though, do not seriously affect the bewitching qualities of the film—which, in addition to being superb suspense, is a wicked argument against planned parenthood.