Dual Analysis: Rosemary’s Baby – KB’ Thoughts

Part two of a new Dual Analysis costume film review.

Based on the 1967 novel by Ira Levin, Rosemary’s Baby is a story about a young couple that is (voluntarily, on the part of the husband, and unwittingly on the part of the wife) lured into a satanic cult. The wife, Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is unknowingly impregnated with Satan’s spawn, and she slowly figures out what is happening to her as the movie progresses. This film gave me nightmares last night. It’s pretty creepy. A warning: do not watch this film if you are pregnant!!

The young couple, Rosemary and Guy (John Cassavetes), moves into a beautiful Gothic apartment building (The Bramford) in New York City. The building has a shady history according to their old neighbor Hutch (Maurice Evans) – tales of witches’ covens, children being cooked and eaten, people dying and the like. Undaunted, they move in. Rosemary stays at home while her actor husband goes to work. She makes the home comfortable, and soon meets Terri (Angela Dorian), a former junkie who was saved by, and now lives with, the neighbors, Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer) Castevet. Terri wears an amulet (given to her by Minnie) that contains a stinky substance.

The next night, Rosemary and Guy are returning home when they come upon a scene in front of their building. Seems Terri has jumped from the building, and is smushed in a pool of blood out front. The Castavets arrive and ID the body. They appear more shell-shocked than sad.

Rosemary has nightmares that night. She dreams about Terri and nuns. The next day, Mrs. Castavet comes over and invites the couple to dinner. At dinner, they talk about religion, and Roman speaks flatteringly to Guy about some of the roles he’s had in theater. Minnie and Rosemary talk about Rosemary’s large family as they do the dishes.

Guy becomes fast friends with Roman, and Minnie continues to drop in on Rosemary. She gives Rosemary the amulet formerly worn by Terri, calling it a “good luck charm”. Evidently, tannis root (contained within the amulet) is the source of the foul odor.

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Guy finds out that the actor who won the role he wanted (Donald Baumgart, voiced by Tony Curtis) suddenly went blind. Therefore, Guy now gets the part. Rosemary talks to Hutch about this, stating, “Actors are all self-centered.” She comes home to find a bouquet of roses at the door, and Guy says that he is ready to start a family.

They sit down to a romantic dinner. The doorbell rings – it’s Minnie. She has delivered some chocolate mousse for dessert. Rosemary has a few bites, but remarks that it tastes chalky, and dumps the rest of the mousse into a napkin so that Guy stops yelling at her for not eating it. She then begins to stagger, and ultimately falls down. Here’s where the weirdness begins.

She hallucinates/dreams that her bed is on the ocean. Then she and other people are on a fancy yacht. Then Guy begins to take her clothes off. Then she’s back on the boat, nude, and then in a bikini. Hutch appears, but he is not allowed on the boat. Guy appears to take his wedding ring off, and she sees murals and frescoes on the ceiling. Someone yells, “Typhoon!” and she approaches a sailor on a boat. Naked, she discovers drawings in blood on her body, and a devilish figure in front of her. She starts to come to. “This is no dream!” she cries. She is being raped by a demon. A black pillow is shoved in her face. Her neighbor (Roman) appears as the Pope. She asks to be forgiven.

She wakes up the next morning, naked, with faint scratch marks on her side. Her husband is in pajamas. He tells her that he “was loaded” and had sex with her while she was passed out. It’s very creepy. More on that later.

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From here, Rosemary discovers that she’s pregnant. Her doctor, Dr. Hill (Charles Grodin), recommends another blood test, and some pills. The Castavets come over and celebrate the news by toasting all around with wine. They tell Rosemary that she needs to see Dr. Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy), as he is the best doctor in New York.

Dr. Sapirstein tells Rosemary that she is not to read any books on pregnancy, that she is not to take any pills. Minnie will prepare her some special tonics for her to drink daily. Rosemary comes home with a super short, cropped Pixie haircut, much to the dismay of her husband. She complains of stomach pain. Again, the doctor tells her not to read books. She cries in pain. She pan-fries a steak (in real time, for like ten seconds on each side) and eats it raw.

Hutch comes over and sees how wan and thin she looks – he’s concerned. She’s losing weight, not gaining weight. Roman comes over and invites himself in. Hutch openly questions the purpose of tannis root. Rosemary notices that Roman has pierced earlobes. She shows Hutch the amulet. Guy comes home and dumps a carton worth of cigarettes out on the dining table. As he leaves, Hutch discovers he has lost his glove. He calls Rosemary later that night, and asks her to meet him the next day – he needs to tell her something.

She goes to meet Hutch the next day, looking like death warmed over. He doesn’t show. Rosemary calls his house, and someone named Grace answers. Grace tells Rosemary that Hutch is in the hospital, in a coma. She exits the building and Minnie appears. She hails a cab and they go home.

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It’s New Year’s Eve, 1965 into 1966. The Castavets host a party, and declare it “Year One”. Rosemary eats raw chicken liver, and then barfs in the sink. By this time, Rosemary is suspicious, and she stops drinking the concoction that Minnie is making for her. She plans a party – for their young friends, no one over 60 allowed. At the party, her stomach begins cramping, and she explains to her friends that the doctor told her not to worry about it. Concerned, they implore her to get a second opinion. She tells Guy she’s going back to Dr. Hill, and a verbal fight ensues. Suddenly, the pain stops, and she can feel the baby moving. She’s overjoyed.

They set up the nursery. She is showing by now. She learns that Hutch has died. She takes a cab to the cemetery, where the funeral has just ended. She meets Grace, who gives her a book from Hutch, adding that Hutch instructed her to tell Rosemary, “The name is an anagram”.

Rosemary reads the book, titled All of Them Witches, and using Scrabble tiles, tries to come up with another name. She peruses the book for more clues, and in so doing, reads about a substance called “devil’s pepper” (tannis root), and a young man named Steven Marcato. Marcato was/is the son of Adrian Marcato, who lived in her building (The Bramford) and practiced witchcraft there in the 1890s. When she rearranges the letters of “Steven Marcato”, she comes up with Roman Castavet. Chills!

She locks the doors, and shows her husband the book. Her husband doesn’t believe her. She wants to move out. He takes the book away from her. She tells Dr. Sapirstein that she’s scared of the Castavets, and, being as they are his friends, he arranges a vacation for them so that they will be out of town by the time she gives birth. Rosemary, quite possibly crazy at this point, takes off the amulet and drops it in the gutter. She goes to the bookstore and buys books on witchcraft.

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She calls Donald Baumgart (the actor who went blind) and asks about a necktie of his that her husband had – did he take it? The implication here is that in order to cast a spell on someone, you need a piece of his/her personal property (like Hutch’s missing glove). Rosemary suspects her husband took Baumgart’s tie in order to cast a spell that blinded him. She takes her suitcase (her maternity ward/hospital suitcase) and leaves the apartment, headed straight for Dr. Sapirstein.

At Sapirstein’s office, his nurse remarks that she (Rosemary) smells better. She remembers the amulet. The nurse mentions that the doctor smelled similarly foul due to a “charm” he wore around his neck. Rosemary does the math, and books out of the office. She goes to see Dr. Hill, and he thinks she’s experiencing pre-partum hysteria. He puts her in a room to sleep. There, she dreams that she holds her healthy baby in her arms, and is surrounded by her friends, including Hutch. The dream ends when Dr. Sapirstein and Guy come in and threaten to take her to a mental hospital.

They get her back to the Bramford, and Rosemary does her best to run away from them, locking them out of the apartment with the little chain-lock on the door. She goes into labor. Guy and Sapirstein enter the apartment and hold her down while injecting her with a sedative. It’s chaos. She apologizes to her unborn child. She believes that the Castavets and their coven are going to use the blood of her child for nefarious ritual purposes.

She wakes, and her husband tells her it’s a boy. Dr. Sapirstein tells her that there were “complications” and the baby died. Rosemary wigs out. “Where’s my baby?!?!” Sapirstein hits her with another syringe full of sedative. When she awakes, Guy talks about moving to Los Angeles. Rosemary is catatonic. She asks to see Guy’s shoulder (looking for some kind of a “mark” of the coven). He complies, and there is nothing on his shoulder – no mark, nothing. Rosemary is crestfallen.

Later, she hears a baby crying. She turns the air conditioner off in order to hear better. A lady comes in to give Rosemary her pills, and chastises her about the A/C. Rosemary hides her pills. When the lady is gone, Rosemary puts on a robe, grabs a butcher knife and goes to the closet (a closet that had been “hidden” when they first viewed the apartment). She takes out the contents of the closet, removes the shelving, and peeks through the keyhole. She can see directly into the Castavet’s apartment. It looks like there is a party happening.

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Rosemary opens the door, butcher knife in hand, and walks through to the living room. There she sees a whole cast of familiar characters – Dr. Sapirstein, the Castavets (who were supposed to be on vacation), and various other neighbors. In the corner is a bassinet covered in black satin. She hears baby noises coming from the bassinet. She looks in the bassinet and screams her lungs out, “What have you done to his EYES?!?!?”

Roman explains that the child has the eyes of his father. She remarks that Guy’s eyes are normal. Roman corrects her, telling her that Satan is the child’s father. From there, a chorus of “Hail Satans” and so forth. The coven has named the child Adrian. She drops the knife on the floor. Guy tries to explain it away, and Rosemary spits in his face. The baby cries, and something in Rosemary – a motherly urge? – takes over. The coven encourages Rosemary to be a mother to this child, and as the movie ends, it appears she is warming to the idea. The end.

Okay, so this was only Anthea Sylbert’s second film as a costume designer. She was just 28 – 29 years old when she designed this film. It’s an interesting movie, for sure, and it was a huge, though controversial hit, when it came out in 1968. I mean, Satanism! Mia Farrow being impregnated with the spawn of the devil! This movie was the first to really address the issue of Satan (only later came films like The Omen [1976], The Exorcist [1973], etc), and at the time, it was truly shocking. HERE is a good article about the controversy (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Interesting is the objective, vis-à-vis Rosemary’s costumes, is to have the audience care about her. She needs to look innocent. She needs to look pure. She needs to look as though she doesn’t deserve what is happening to her. Well, mission accomplished, people, because here it goes:

The use of white. Look at all the instances of white costumes on Rosemary.

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In the beginning, they come to The Bramford to look at their apartment. Look at this white shift. Could she be any more endearing with her prim gloves and handbag?

She cleans the house and gets it ready… who looks this cute while doing housework? Do you see how the audience is manipulated? We love her and care about her because she is cute as a button.

In the scene where Terri’s body is discovered, there’s a nice Nehru collar. It may be 1968, but Rosemary is a prissy white girl from Omaha. No trace of women’s lib or hippie culture. She’s a “good girl”. (Notice the Castevets, by the way – what is UP with that crazy hat?!)

Once under the Castevets’ spell, her colors turn slightly, though the innocent silhouette persists. Probably the most well-known dress from the film is this one – the blue trapeze mini dress with big white collar.

By the time Rosemary eats the chocolate mousse, she is wearing solid red – an indication that something has definitely changed:

rosemarys-baby_mia-farrow_dream-cap-1-9761555 Image courtesy of FrockTalk.com

And she wears the red in the initial stages of her hallucination/dream.

As a pregnant woman on the run, she is back to the pale, fragile, girlish silhouettes in which she was established.

In the final scenes, she puts a light blue robe over her white nightgown. Light blue and white – correct me if I’m wrong – but aren’t those the Virgin Mary’s colors? Think about it!

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I can’t help but wonder if they didn’t have that conversation.

Deserving of special mention are the Castevets. Ruth Gordon won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Minnie Castevet, and the costumes had a LOT to do with the character. Look at this:

She’s like Mrs. Roper from Three’s Company. She is a batty, crazy neighbor.

With all of that pattern and garish makeup, it’s a big WOW, visually. I love it!!

Mr. Castevet, Roman, also is elegantly costumed. He is kind of a natty dresser, indicating a life of privilege and good breeding. Ha. Ha. Ha. How he does deceive poor Rosemary. It’s all in the ascot.

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Look at this image of the Castevets leaving for their fake “holiday”. Look at those fabulous colors. Color plays an important role here, because when the Castevets wear friendly, fun colors like this, we don’t suspect anything evil of them. This use of color makes the audience wonder if Rosemary is really on to something, or if she’s just going crazy!

I must mention that the most frightening thing for me about this movie was the fact that people used to actually LIVE like this – a woman was beholden to her husband, doctor, whatever. That a doctor actually had the NERVE to tell his patient not to read books (like she’s an idiot and should just do what she’s told), that a husband would yell at his wife for not eating mousse or wanting a second opinion from a doctor; the patronizing attitudes shown here are stomach churning! Further, that people smoke cigarettes, joints and pipes around a pregnant woman, or that they offer her a glass of wine to celebrate the fact that she’s pregnant?! Wowza – we have come a long way, baby. No pun intended.

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But perhaps the creepiest thing: that Rosemary is effectively raped by her husband (or so he says) while she is passed out, and she doesn’t even seem to care? Like it’s her wifely duty to put up with whatever indiscretion her husband perpetrates on her? Holy Sh*t!!!

THANK GOD we are living in 2010.

I definitely recommend this film for the total creepiness factor. To younger audiences, however, it might be hard to understand the behavior of this naïve young housewife. The costumes are inspired, though, and it is definitely worth a look!! Now I am going to copy that blue dress – everything come back in style.

Check out KB’s ace costume design website FrockTalk HERE.

© 2010 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.