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The World Breaks Everyone: Horror Film Classic Rosemary’s Baby

#NoSpoilers

The world breaks everyone, and afterward,
many are strong in the broken places.

Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms

It all seems so ordinary and banal. Young couple in New York serendipitously gets the chance to rent an apartment in an elegant old building with an enviable upper west side Manhattan address. Because the apartment’s elderly resident died suddenly and the building is rent-controlled, the struggling, somewhat sporadically employed actor and his pretty, enthusiastic wife can afford to move in, redecorate it from top to bottom, and furnish the looming place, which has 18-20′ ceilings, stained-glass windows in its doors, bay windows with window seats, and elaborately carved, working fireplaces.

The Dakota (exterior only) setting for Bramford, Rosemary’s Baby ©

While Hubby goes to auditions seeking work, Wifey decorates, shops, and cooks, both of them dreaming of — and actively planning for — the little family they want to have. With such a great home in such an exclusive neighborhood, what difference does it make if you can sometimes hear the braying, nasal voice of the Old Lady next door complaining to her husband late at night? All apartments have thin walls and a few annoying neighbors, right? Of course, right.

John Cassavetes as Guy and Mia Farrow as Rosemary, Rosemary’s Baby ©

It is this very banality and seemingly ordinary setting — “like it could be a snippet out of your own life” — that makes Rosemary’s Baby (1968) such a great film. It is one of the best in the horror genre, but not for the reason you might expect. The film doesn’t have any scary special effects: except for the brief “nightmare” scene, there aren’t even any ghoulish costumes. No blood, gore, monsters, or masked villains wielding weapons while dopey teenagers run mindlessly about. Instead, Rosemary’s Baby, based on Ira Levin’s bestselling novel of the same name, concentrates its horror on the fact that virtually everything in the film could actually happen. Young, happy, pretty, and soon-pregnant Rosemary begins to suspect that something is wrong with her husband, wrong with her marriage, wrong with her unborn baby. Even worse, she soon comes to believe that there is a conspiracy to kidnap her baby upon its birth. However, it is because Rosemary is completely correct in her seemingly bizarre fears that Rosemary’s Baby — a triumph of psychological terror — is such a horror classic.

Rosemary’s Baby, first edition

This film is one of the few dramatizations that remains almost perfectly faithful to the novel on which it was based. All the foreshadowing about the neighbors conspiring in a group and doing something more than “not quite right”? In the book. Hubby Guy’s sudden emotional distance and Rosemary’s increasing isolation? In the book. Guy’s escalating psychological manipulation, emotional abuse, and ultimately physical abuse of his pregnant wife Rosemary? That’s in the book, too.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby (B&W still) ©

But the true horror of both the book and the film is more than Rosemary’s “paranoia and loss of control.” After all, her paranoia is based on subliminal indications about her reality: she is losing control of her own life — and of her baby’s — and other people in the apartment building are conspiring against her. Limiting us to Rosemary’s perspective with its film angles, its close-ups, and its spooky lighting, Rosemary’s Baby “relies on creating an atmosphere and story that speaks to [society’s] deeper, subconscious fears:” isolation, betrayal, and madness.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Mia Farrow, a soap-opera actress on Peyton Place who acquired international notoriety when she married famous singer/actor Frank Sinatra, 30 years her senior, does an outstanding job as Rosemary, and not just because she’s so young and waif-thin (okay, bony-thin).

John Cassavetes, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Farrow’s Rosemary is giddy and giggly when she and husband Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) first look at the magnificent apartment available in the Bramford (named, by author Ira Levin, in honor of Dracula author Bram Stoker).

Maurice Evans as Hutch, Rosemary’s Baby ©

She’s slightly amused by her friend Hutch’s (Maurice Evans) tales of macabre deaths, suicides, murders, and cannibalism at the Bramford, but continues eating dinner as if he were discussing the weather.

Ruth Gordon as Minnie, Rosemary’s Baby ©

She’s friendly and pleasant to their nosy neighbor Minnie (Ruth Gordon, in her Oscar-winning role), who looks through the mail before handing it to Rosemary, and who examines the price-tags on the canned goods while the two of them are sitting at the kitchen table.

Sidney Blackmer as Roman, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Rosemary is subdued and slightly bored by the elderly neighbors, Minnie and Roman (Sidney Blackmer), when they invite Rosemary and Guy to dinner that night, and is somewhat surprised by Guy’s sudden burgeoning friendship with Roman.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

She’s excited when Guy miraculously gets more important acting jobs, attributing it all to his wonderful skill and talent. She works hard decorating the apartment, cooking, doing the laundry, making cushions for the window seats, trying to make friends with the neighbors, and trying even harder to “start their family.”

Ralph Bellamy as Dr. Saperstein, Rosemary’s Baby ©

When Rosemary finally does get pregnant, the real terror of the film begins. Instead of gaining weight, Rosemary loses it. Instead of bouts of morning sickness, she has frightening symptoms and cravings that the congenial obstetrician Dr. Saperstein (Ralph Bellamy) blithely dismisses, telling her — for months — that they’ll “be gone in a day or two.”

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

The scenes with pregnant-Rosemary are some of the most frightening of the film, as are the scenes where husband Guy begins to be more and more dismissive of Rosemary’s feelings, her concerns, even her basic human rights. When she wakes after a nightmare that she was raped, Guy’s response if terrifyingly abusive and distant.

Mia Farrow as Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby ©

(Guy is undeniably the worst villain in the film, but I won’t get started on any rant about him in this post…)

John Cassevetes and Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Despite the fact that Rosemary’s health seems to improve somewhat mid-pregnancy, her life gets worse.  Guy becomes more and more controlling, resorting to manipulation, psychological battery, and emotional abuse to keep her submissive, obedient, and “nice.” Whenever Rosemary’s friends try to intervene, things only get worse for the already isolated Rosemary.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

When Rosemary finally realizes what is happening to her, she desperately seeks help, only to be betrayed in the most frightening way. Though everything Rosemary suspects is happening to her and around her is, in fact, exactly what is happening, she is threatened into compliance by those closest to her. The very people who are supposed to care for her and her unborn baby terrorize her into submission and obedience.

John Cassevetes, Mia Farrow, Ralph Bellamy, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Still, surprisingly, Rosemary isn’t broken. Isolated and imprisoned, Rosemary begins to rebel.

Ralph Bellamy, Rosemary’s Baby ©

When she escapes the apartment and goes into Minnie and Roman’s apartment, where the entire group of conspirators has gathered, Rosemary is still not broken. Not completely.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

By the last scene, though, which reveals Rosemary’s ultimate reaction to her baby, she is, at last, broken by the evil world that has surrounded her. That is the ultimate horror of Rosemary’s Baby: not necessarily that Rosemary herself is so broken that she might as well have let them kill her. Not that she is no longer naïve, innocent, and trusting. Not that she will never again resist evil. The true psychological horror is not that Rosemary is broken, but how she is broken.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Paranoia, loss of control, isolation, and subjugation. Betrayal and sexual abuse. Emotional and psychological manipulation. Fear of madness. Being irrevocably broken by the world. Rosemary’s Baby shows us everything we most fear in life. Through the “lens of realism,” director Roman Polanski, in his first major Hollywood production, created a “brooding, macabre film, filled with the sense of unthinkable danger,” a danger that becomes reality for its protagonist Rosemary, who is forever “broken” by the world in this horror classic.

Rosemary’s Baby is available for rent — $2.99 (SD) / $3.99 (HD)— from Amazon (free for Prime members), YouTube, iTunes, and Vudu.

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I Ain’t Never Been No Hero: More Great Westerns

No Spoilers

I love Westerns, though most of the Westerns I favor fall into what are considered the sub-genres, with some of them not even taking place in the American West, for example, but containing iconic character motifs and themes present in Western films. My Top Ten Western films have characters, storylines, and themes make them powerful films that I watch over and over. They don’t always end happily, but they end honestly, with the finale of the movie developing out of the characters’ natures, their conflicts, and the decisions they’ve made previously — either in the film itself or in their lives before the events in the story take place. Here are more of my favorite Westerns, films I can always watch one more time.

 The Long Riders
(1980)

Starring sets of real-life brother actors as historical brother outlaws, The Long Riders explores America’s violent post-Civil War past in a unique way. The most factual of any film about the James-Younger Gang, it covers the activity of Frank and Jesse James (Stacey and James Keach); Ed and Clell Miller (Dennis and Randy Quaid); Cole, Jim, and Bob Younger (David, Keith, and Robert Carradine); and Bob and Charley Ford (Nicholas and Christopher Guest).

Jesse is the titular head of the Gang, but after he disapproves of Ed’s behavior during one of that raids/robberies, rifts begin to form among the Gang members. Pursued by posses and the Pinkertons, the Gang is nevertheless protected by family and neighbors, who consider them local heroes rather than criminals. When hiding out, the brothers court women, and are courted by them in turn, which causes added stress in the Gang. As the Gang’s crimes escalate, so does the Pinkertons’ determination to capture them. After innocent people begin to get hurt and killed, the Gang loses its local support and goes further afield to rob stages, trains, and banks, increasing the Gang’s notoriety and fame, but also increasing its risk.

Even if you know the story of the James-Younger Gang, this film is engaging and worth watching. The cinematography is very effective and powerful, especially as the Gang escalates its violence. The Long Riders is available for rent $3.99 from Amazon (free with a 7-day Starz trial) or free from Starz with a subscription.

The Professionals
(1966)

Four American “specialists,” i.e., mercenaries (Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode), are hired for an extremely dangerous but potentially lucrative, once-in-a-lifetime mission: deliver a $100K-in-gold ransom and rescue the beautiful young wife (Claudia Cardinale) of an older, wealthy rancher (Ralph Bellamy). Because two of the professional soldiers fought in Pancho Villa’s Army during the Mexican Revolution, they’re willing yet wary, if only because they know the ostensible kidnapper Razza (Jack Palance) intimately, and “kidnapping doesn’t seem like his thing.”

Fighting the desert, weather, rogue bandits, self-doubt, and each other, the Professionals use their individual skills — with dynamite, knives, bow-and-arrow, guns — as they head for Razza’s presumed hide-out. When they come upon Razza derailing a train and executing soldiers, they realize their mission may be more dangerous than they’d originally than anticipated because “something’s dicey about this set-up.”

Lancaster as the woman-loving wit is especially entertaining. With surprising (and satisfying) plot-twists, The Professionals is an often-neglected gem of a Western. Available from Amazon available for rent $3.99 (free with a 7-day Starz trial) or free from Starz with a subscription.

The Shootist
(1976)

Opening with a montage of John Wayne’s film roles as the “history” of gunslinger J. B. Books (Wayne), narrated in Voice-Over by The Boy (Ron Howard) who idolizes him, The Shootist is my favorite role by both of these actors. Diagnosed with advanced cancer, with only about 6 weeks to live, Books settles in for a last stay in the lodging house of Widow Rogers (Lauren Bacall), mother of The Boy. Though Books wants anonymity and privacy, The Boy discovers his identity almost immediately and proudly trumpets that a famous Shootist is staying at his house. Books wants to keep him terminal illness secret, too, but he’s forced to tell people in order to stay quietly in the town till he dies.

When the stories of Books’ impending death begin to spread, other gunslingers who want to improve their own reputations by killing the famed Shootist arrive. Books’ instinct for survival and self-preservation combat with any desire he has to die quietly. Worse, he decides he doesn’t want to be alone, and the Widow Rogers and her son have caught his eye.

The chemistry between Wayne and the impressive line-up of guest stars —  James Stewart, Henry Morgan, Richard Boone, Scatman Crothers, John Carradine, Hugh O’Brien, Sheree North — is surpassed only by the chemistry between Wayne and Bacall, and by that between Wayne and Howard. This is the role that should have won Wayne the Oscar: he’s better by far as the fighting-fading Books than as True Grit‘s cantankerous Cogburn. The Shootist is available from Amazon ($3.99 to rent).

3:10 to Yuma
(2007)

Based on an Elmore Leonard short story, and a remake of the 1951 film of the same name, 3:10 to Yuma packs powerful Western icons with clever dialogue and strong performances. Civil War hero Dan (Christian Bale, in one of his best roles) is about to lose his ranch because he didn’t have enough money to pay the mortgage and to buy feed for his cattle, purchase water during the drought, and to obtain the drugs for his consumptive youngest son.

When attempting to retrieve some of his cattle scattered by ne’er-do-wells, Dan and his sons run into escaped Bad Guy Ben Wade (Russell Crowe, below R) and his Gang, who have just ambushed the Pinkertons to rescue one of their Gang members. After rescuing the wounded Pinkerton McElroy (Peter Fonda), Dan, who is determined to save his ranch, offers to help escort the proverb-quoting escaped convict Wade to Detention so he can be put on the 3:10 to Yuma Prison.

The treacherous journey turns into a contest of wills between idealistic Dan, whose oldest son idolizes the criminal, and the notorious Bed Wade. As Ben’s Gang attempts to rescue its leader, Dan tries to earn his own son’s respect by completing the job he was hired to do. 3:10 to Yuma is filled with excellent writing, rousing action, and memorable characters. The scenes between Bale and Crowe are exquisite. Available from Amazon ($9.99SD-$12.99HD to purchase, or free with a 7-day Showtime trial), or free with a subscription from Showtime or DirecTV.

Salvation
(sometimes translated as The Salvation)
(2014)

Salvation, sometimes translated as The Salvation, is the Danish tribute to Sergio Leone’s classic Spaghetti Westerns, exploring some of the genre’s classic icons: The Man with No Name, The Town Besieged, The Cowardly Townspeople, The Man Seeking Vengeance. Jon (Mads Mikkelsen, below R) has come the the American West, from Denmark, with his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt, below L) after the disastrous War of 1864.

Seven years later, Jon has enough money to bring over his wife and 10-year-old son. Though these two characters are not developed — existing only as a reason for Jon to seek revenge for the heinous crimes against them, the film doesn’t suffer from that weakness. Instead, it plunges into Jon’s story as he and his brother seek revenge against the Bad Guys, led by DeLaRue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

Terrorizing a town where no one is willing to stand up to the villains but where everyone wants a Saviour, DeLaRue and his Gang rule the populace with the aid of a corrupt Mayor (Jonathan Pryce) and a milque-toast Preacher-Sheriff (Douglas Henshaw). Eventually joined by “The Princess” (Eva Green), who appears to have been the captive “wife” of one of the rapists/murderers and who had her tongue cut out by Indians when she was kidnapped as a young girl, Jon fights for justice.

The addition of the mystery-suspense sub-plot makes this Revenge Tale one of the more interesting Westerns. Everyone in the film is more realistic than iconic, as they are in some of the classic Spaghetti Westerns: it usually takes Jon several shots to put down an assailant. Moody and atmospheric, with artistic cinematography, Salvation is available from Amazon ($4.99 to rent, or free with a 7-day trial from Showtime), is available for purchase for $14.99 from iTunes, or for $12.99 from GooglePlay, and YouTube, and is available free with a subscription from Showtime, IFC, or DirecTV.

If you know of any other classic Westerns that I might enjoy, please feel free to tell me about them in comments.

My original Top 10 Westerns post 
If You’re Going to Shoot,
Shoot: Don’t Talk

is now divided into two posts,
updated with official trailers and film availability:


We All Have It Coming:
Top 5 Westerns

and


I’m Your Huckleberry:
5 More Top Westerns

(originally films #6-10)

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