Roman Polanski has made a lot of good movies, a dud or two, and two masterpieces. This is one of them. (Chinatown is the other, if you were wondering.) It is a movie that simply could not be improved on. I was lucky enough not to have read the book—and it might be a fine book, I still haven’t read it, but the luck part is that I didn’t know if Rosemary was going nuts or if there really was a coven of Satanists in the Dakota (called the Branford, but the exteriors were shot on the very spot where John Lennon was murdered), and they really were in contact with the Devil. So I was on pins and needles through the whole masterful build-up of the plot, and the tear-down of Mia Farrow from a lovely young lady to a hollow-eyed, shuddering, quavering, skeleton. I can’t recall a better instance of showing the descent into madness … and then pulling the rug from under me when I realized she was not mad.
John Cassavetes plays one of the slimiest characters in the history of cinema. He betrayed his wife not because he was a believer, but for fame. To get a stinking part in a stinking play, at the cost of a colleague’s blindness. All the small parts are perfectly cast, including Charles Grodin, before he started getting big parts, as the young doctor, and Ralph Bellamy as the satanic doctor who aids in the transformation of the fetus. Mia Farrow is superb. The expression on her face when she first sees her baby is just iconic, the pattern for other masks of horror over the years. But of course the one who steals the show is Ruth Gordon as the perfectly ordinary and perfectly horrible Minnie. And that’s the genius of the story, really. That these old duffers, utterly harmless on the outside, are perfectly camouflaged in their little urban coven. Who could possible suspect them? Which is why I was so willing to believe for so long that Rosemary was insane.