Horrifying and darkly comic, Rosemary’s Baby was Roman Polanski’s Hollywood debut. This wildly entertaining nightmare, faithfully adapted from Ira Levin’s best seller, stars a revelatory Mia Farrow as a young mother-to-be who grows increasingly suspicious that her overfriendly elderly neighbors (played by Sidney Blackmer and an Oscar-winning Ruth Gordon) and self-involved husband (John Cassavetes) are hatching a satanic plot against her and her baby. In the decades of occult cinema that Polanski’s ungodly masterpiece has spawned, it has never been outdone for sheer psychological terror.
Criterion presents Roman Polanski’s first American film Rosemary’s Baby on Blu-ray on this dual-layer Blu-ray disc, presenting the film in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer.
Taken from a new 4k scan of the film we get a far more natural looking and sharper image than what we previously had with Paramount’s older DVD release. Colours look far better and better saturated, with more natural flesh tones. Black levels are excellent, deep and inky with no loss in detail in the shadows. Everything is sharp and clearly defined, never looking soft, and film grain is accurately rendered. Motion is clean and smooth, and no artifacts are present. And finally, though I don’t actually recall the film looking rough in any of its home video incarnations, I was especially impressed with how clean this looks other than a few minor marks that are easy to look over. Ultimately it’s the best the film has ever looked on home video and Criterion delivers another stunning transfer.
The lossless PCM mono track offers a nice upgrade as well. Dialogue and music come off clean and free of problems, with no distortion or edginess. It sounds natural, with surprisingly excellent fidelity, and sounds like it could have been recorded recently. It ends up delivering a surprisingly robust presentation, especially for a more than 40 year old mono track.
We only get a few items but in total they run over 2-hours. First is the 46-minute Remebering Rosemary’s Baby featuring interviews with director Roman Polanski, actress Mia Farrow, and producer Robert Evans, the latter of which here looks the part of a stereotypical Hollywood producer more so than usual. There was a similar feature on the Paramount DVD and this one covers some of the same ground but manages to go a little deeper into the production. Again we hear about how Evans, studio chief at Paramount at the time, took the project away from William Castle, who had optioned the rights of Ira Levin’s novel. His thoughts were that Castle, known more for his cheap, schlocky films, wouldn’t do the novel justice, and that he should bring in Polanski and his European sensibilities. As mentioned in the supplements of Criterion’s Downhill Racer, Polanski was attracted over to the States with the promise of doing that film but Evans would eventually lure the director over to doing Rosemary’s Baby, after fighting with the studio to allow him to direct. From here the three participants recall the stressful production, where Polanski fell behind in schedule almost immediately. Farrow talks about her divorce from Frank Sinatra, whose lawyers served her divorce papers right on the set, and Polanski recalls the rather heated working relationship between him and John Cassavetes, who had issues with Polanski’s more controlling style of directing. The three also talk about the other actors, including Ruth Gordon, and Evans talks about the great marketing that a third party firm came up with for the film after Paramount’s own department couldn’t figure out how to sell the film. I was actually surprised by the level of honesty and the overall straight-forward nature of the piece (though Polanski respects Cassavetes he was obviously annoyed by him, even calling him a “pain in the ass.”) Great set of interviews.
Criterion then includes an audio interview from a 1997 episode of WNYC’s program New York and Company between Ira Levin and Leonard Lopate. It was done around the time of the release of Levin’s sequel to Rosemary’s Baby, Son of Rosemary. It’s primarily about that novel and there’s quite a bit of discussion about it, including the fact there was a movie in the works where Levin hoped Mia Farrow would reprise her role, and maybe Brad Pitt could play the now adult son. Of course that never came to light (the book was pretty much panned and the movie, as of now, is dead.) But they also cover some of Levin’s other works and talk about the film adaptations of his other novels, where he states he was not fond of the original Stepford Wives and thought Sliver was a confused mess. But he has the utmost respect for Polanski’s adaptation of Rosemary’s Baby calling it the truest adaptation of a novel he’s ever seen. I was disappointed that it’s mostly about the then-new novel, which isn’t a surprise since he’s obviously there to promote it, but it was great hearing his opinion on other adaptations, talk about his work, and even go over what his intentions were with Rosemary’s Baby. It runs 19-minutes.
The disc then closes with a 71-minute made-for-TV documentary, Komeda, Komeda, about Polish Jazz musician and future film composer Krzysztof Komeda, who scored plenty of Polish films, including Polanski’s. He would eventually move to Hollywood briefly (before a tragic accident) after Polanski requested him to do the score for Rosemary’s Baby. The documentary, which features interviews from those who knew him, including other musicians and film directors (like Polanski and Andrzej Wajda,) is a pretty standard biographical piece. It doesn’t seem to offer a definitive representation of the man but it gives a decent account of his life and work, from his early days as a musician to his eventual move to Hollywood.
The disc then comes with an excellent booklet featuring an essay by Ed Park followed by an essay by Ira Levin written in 2003 where the author recalls his novel and Polanski’s film version, which he again calls the best and truest literary adaptation he had seen, where Polanski had every little detail from the novel in place (he jokes that maybe Polanski didn’t know he could change things if he wanted to.) As another little treat we get recreations of Levin’s notes on the characters and even his sketches of the apartment layout.
The interviews from Paramount’s DVD are missing, which isn’t a huge loss if only because the interviews here pretty much cover everything found there and then some. But oddly Criterion hasn’t included the original making-of featurette that was on that disc, though Criterion splices some of that behind-the-scenes footage into the interview segment on this disc. Despite that loss these supplements are certainly far better and more insightful, even if the expected scholarly material is missing.
I’m still surprised Paramount let this one go but it couldn’t have fallen into better hands. Though I am a bit disappointed in the lack of more scholarly material (the film was a huge influence on the horror genre) the supplements are still incredibly strong, the making-of being far better and more informative than most of its type. Throw in a stunning, filmic transfer and the disc comes with a high recommendation.