Tuesday, October 25, 2011

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Casting Coup Tuesdays: Rosemary's Baby

I asked, you voted, and last Tuesday, I did it: I watched Rosemary's Baby for the very first time.

La la la laaaa la la la la la....
There really was no telling which way I would go. I've always read that it's a classic, but I knew a lot of people that either couldn't finish it (too dull) or just plain didn't like it (too dull). Still, I'm in love with the horror genre, it's a part of cinema history, and I follow Mia Farrow on Twitter. Besides, you lovely people (out there...in the dark....) kindly asked it of me.

Let me start at the end, for Rosemary's Baby's is perfect. I love it because I hate it so much, because I should have seen it coming (that Polanski!), because a part of me did see it coming but hoped for the best, because I fell in love with Rosemary.

Wouldn't you?

Certainly if there's a film that puts you completely in the headspace of its protagonist, Rosemary's Baby is it. Farrow is in every scene; I believe the only shots without her are from her P.O.V. We, too, doubt what is real and what is a nightmare; we, too, delude ourselves into thinking that she's going to have it under control. And so that ending, inevitable though it may be, causes the floor to just drop out from under you. I swear I felt my heart sink. It's not just that she's impossibly beautiful, or that hurts to see innocence like that lost, to see a good Catholic girl put through all that. No, it's that Farrow makes Rosemary such a lively, relatable person -- not a character, but a human being. It's probably the best thing I've ever seen from Farrow, and I was already a fan.

Then there's Ruth Gordon, who won the Oscar for her portrayal of loud, nosy, elderly Minnie Castevets, Rosemary's neighbor. I'm reminded of when Goldie Hawn told Taraji P. Henson that a great supporting actress is one that, every time she re-appears, we realize we've missed. That's Gordon here. Every time she appeared on screen, I got excited, and I have to say it's mostly due the wonderful characterization she brings. I lived near and worked in Boca Raton, Florida, for 22 years -- do you know how many Minnies, how many elderly, shrieking, kindly-yet-badgering, nosy, heavily-made-up, New Yarrrrk biddies I've known? ALL OF THEM. While the makeup and costumes certainly help, Gordon's whole physicality is perfect. My absolute favorite shot of the film has Guy bringing the Castevets over to congratulate Rosemary on her pregnancy:

"Naaaaaaaoooooowwwww, that'th what I kawl gud nyooooth!!!"

Minnie enters first, raising her fists triumphantly before moving in for the embrace, all in one smooth glide. It's a very typical reaction that becomes unsettling when put into full context. It's this same familiar approach throughout the film that makes Minnie such an intriguing character.

Let me not solely credit Farrow and Gordon for this, though. Polanski's kept everything grounded in reality. The cinematography isn't distractingly Spooky, the decor and costumes are not overly-stylized to emphasize Good and Evil, the actors aren't playing wizened or sinister. While the score is the only indication of any eerie-ness, it bookends the film with a tender lullaby. Polanski comforts us with the familiar before invading our space with his witches and demons. It makes the horror more palpable, and worse -- more possible. It can happen here!

Because that's what horror is, isn't it? The familiar becoming strange? John Carpenter's The Thing isn't just horrifying for the effects, but for the idea that the people you're surrounded by twenty-four hours a day are not who you think they are. The Elm Street movies are popular because you can no longer escape in your dreams. The original Black Christmas posits that even at home under police surveillance, you are not safe.

And ahead of the pack is the film that made us believe that it's not the weird neighbors we need to worry about. Spooky, kinky, haunting: Rosemary's Baby is a masterpiece. Five out of five black cats.

And ten out of ten Castevet Curls
 Now for the main event: The Casting Coup!

I have to say, this wasn't the easiest. Laura Louise, Hutch, Minnie and Rosemary were difficult to cast, whereas Sapirstein, Roman and Guy were all rather obvious. Still, once I finally decided...it all made sense. Read, enjoy, adore.

Who is She: Hutch's neighbor. She gives Rosemary a book entitled All of Them Witches. Take the hint, Ro.

Originally played by:
Hanna Landy (Harlow, In Like Flint)

My Choice:
Cassandra Peterson (Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark)
A significant cameo requires a talented performer who's an able chameleon. Peterson is underrated as an actress, and wouldn't it be a stitch for the Movie Macabre Maven to help in the fight against the devil.

Who is He: The first OB/GYN Rosemary visits, as recommended by her friend Elise. Dr. Hill is the one who informs Rosemary of her pregnancy. He also wants a second blood test and does not believe in witches.

Originally played by: Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor - Musical/Comedy (The Heartbreak Kid)
Charles Grodin (Midnight Run, Beethoven)

My Choice:
Dule Hill (Holes, The Guardian)

Who is She: Rosemary's best friend, who hasn't seen much of her pal since the pregnancy. She suspects Sapirstein of being a quack.

Originally played by:
Emmaline Henry ("I Dream of Jeannie", "The Red Skelton Hour")

My Choice:
Tammy Blanchard (Rabbit Hole, Moneyball)

Who is He: The landlord. Relieved to sell the late Mrs. Gardenia's place to a couple like the Woodhouses, though rent control always disappoint him.

Originally played by:
Elisha Cook, Jr. (The Maltese Falcon, House on Haunted Hill)

My Choice: Indie Spirit Nominee for Best First Screenplay (What Happened Was...)
Tom Noonan (Synecdoche NY, The House of the Devil)

Who is She: Minnie Castevets' best friend. Giggly and excitable, she takes care of Rosemary after the birth.

Originally played by:
Patsy Kelly (Please Don't Eat the Daisies, The Naked Kiss)

My Choice:
Edie McClurg (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Back to School)

Who is She: Lives with the Castevets, who took her in when they found her homeless on the sidewalk. Befriends Rosemary in the laundry room, but soon finds herself back on the street....after falling out of a window.

Originally played by:
Angela Dorian, aka Victoria Vetri (Group Marriage, Invasion of the Bee Girls)

My Choice:
Lauren German (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hostel: Part II
I remember thinking, "Whoa-ho! That Terry sure looks good for a recovering drug addict." So when I started thinking of this coup, I thought, "I need someone who looks like they've been through the wringer, but still beautiful. Like that hitchhiker in the Texas Chainsaw remake. Someone like her." Then I realized: why would I get someone like her when I could just get the real deal?

Who is He: A renowned oncologist who Rosemary sees for a reduced price. After all, he's close friends with the Castevets. Advises Rosemary to avoid books and pills, and instead rely on Minnie's special herbal drink.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Awful Truth)
Ralph Bellamy (The Wolf Man, Pretty Woman)

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay (The Last Picture Show), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Screenplay (The Last Picture Show), DGA Award Nominee for Best Director (The Last Picture Show), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Director (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon), WGA Award Nominee for Best Adapted Drama (The Last Picture Show)
Peter Bogdanovich (Infamous, Humboldt County)
Proving himself as able an actor as he was writer/director, Bogdanovich's dry approach to the craft suits a frank, sensible man like Sapirstein.

Who is He: Elderly author of adventure stories, Rosemary's first friend in New York, a neighbor of the Woodhouses back at their old place. When he visits a pregnant Rosemary, he becomes concerned about her health: not only is she losing weight, but he seems to recognize Roman.

Originally played by:
Maurice Evans (Planet of the Apes, The Jerk)

My Choice: Academy Award/BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actor (Kiss of the Spider Woman), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor - Drama and Musical/Comedy (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Children of a Lesser God, Broadcast News), SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Into the Wild)
William Hurt (Alice, TV's Too Big to Fail)
I had my list of preferred fatherly actors. I kept those that could tell someone they look like death without insulting them. And then I kept those that would believably fight Satan. As it turns out, Hurt was the man.

Who is He: Seventy-nine-year-old neighbor to the Woodhouses. Nice old guy, traveled the world, apparently dying. Also, the son of a warlock; he holds Black Masses in his apartment.

Originally played by:
Sidney Blackmer (High Society, How to Murder Your Wife)

My Choice: SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Hairspray)
Jerry Stiller (Hairspray, Zoolander)
It's strange, but this was almost obvious to me. Of course Stiller would play a servant of Satan, it makes so much sense. He's an old guy, he's a native New Yorker (just like Roman), he can run the gamut from warm to sleazy to just plain mean. He's also someone the audience immediately recognizes and trusts; even if they don't always play nice guys, audiences always trust sitcom actors. 

Who is He: Rosemary's husband, a struggling actor obsessed with his career. So obsessed, he's willing to do anything to succeed.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Director (A Woman Under the Influence), Best Original Screenplay (Faces) and Best Supporting Actor (The Dirty Dozen), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Film (Shadows), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Director (A Woman Under the Influence), Best Screenplay (Husbands, A Woman Under the Influence) and Best Supporting Actor (The Dirty Dozen), WGA Award Nominee for Best Original Screenplay (Faces, A Woman Under the Influence) and Best Original Comedy (Minnie & Moskowitz)
John Cassavetes (Machine Gun McCain, Opening Night)

My Choice:
Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair, Humpday)
I think Duplass could be just freeking outstanding in the role. An affable, everyman type, it would make Guy's struggle credible. The guy's a fantastic actor, and used to working within the realms of naturalism and improv. He's not bad-looking, either. Getting a nice Guy makes the role more compelling.

Who is She: Roman's wife, a busybody who grows her own herbs for use in food, drink, and good luck charms. Takes a special interest in Rosemary, but seems genuinely fond of her, not just in your typical manipulate-to-become-the-mother-of-the-antichrist type.

Originally played by: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Rosemary's Baby), Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Rosemary's Baby, Inside Daisy Clover), WGA Award Nominee for Best Comedy (Adam's Rib, The Marrying Kind, Pat and Mike, The Actress)
Ruth Gordon (Harold and Maude, Voyage of the Rock Aliens)

My Choice:
Doris Roberts (Christmas Vacation, Grandma's Boy)
I don't believe I've seen her in anything but "Everybody Loves Raymond", and that's all I need to see to know. That role alone demonstrated her versatility, her quiet, subtle approach to the New York busybody. Like Stiller, she's someone who the audience would automatically trust based on her sitcom work.

Who is She: A lapsed Catholic who so wants to have children with her handsome husband. Well, she gets pregnant, but slowly realizes that that strange dream she had of the black mass and the mysterious creature may not have been a dream at all.

Originally played by: BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actress (John and Mary/Rosemary's Baby/Secret Ceremony, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress - Drama and Musical/Comedy (Rosemary's Baby, John and Mary, Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Alice)
Mia Farrow (A Wedding, The Omen)

My Choice:
Jessica Chastain (The Debt, Take Shelter)
It's not just because she resembles Mia Farrow. Chastain is probably the best thing to happen this year, with seven performances that convey sexuality, purity, fear, humor...she's got all the tools, is what I'm saying, and she's still fresh enough for the mainstream audience not to have too much baggage with her. With the Castevets, you want someone you trust; with Rosemary, you want someone you don't necessarily know, and Chastain's versatile roles have so far kept her from typecasting.


TomS said...

Walter, you have blossomed as a critic...This is one of the best reviews I have ever read about "Rosemary's Baby". I actually watched it again a few weeks ago, when the results of the voting came in...just to prepare for your essay! I was worried that the advance word of mouth, it's "classic" status, and its realtive calm (for a horror film) might not take hold for you. But, you've demonstrated that you "got it". We could have an awesome conversation about this movie. There are so many small touches that thrill me...like stopping a rocking cradle with the tip of a long knife...or Rosemary's first dream sequence with the school nun ...or the way Gordon eats cake, twisting the fork in a bizarre way and moving upward, like some kind of gargoyle...so many more...

I tried to cast it myself, and wondered what you would do with it...It is SO hard, because the roles such as they are are etched in legend.

Edie McLurg made me laugh out loud, she's so perfect!

John Hurt as Hutch is interesting...He needs to be cast as a hero. Do you remember that Maurice Evans was at that time playing Smantha Stevens' Father in "Bewitched"? (Typecasting for sure). In fact, Jerry Stiller, in a perverse way, could also have made a great Minnie! For Roman, I leaned toward the sinister Jeremy Irons...

I held my breath for your re-casting of Minnie. And I could definitely see Doris Roberts as a busybody with something to hide! Great job. (My initial thought: Diane Wiest).

What inspired you to select Peter Bogdanovich as Dr. Saperstein? That's terrific.

For Guy...the only person that came to mind, the only one who combined looks, ambition, and sleaze, for me, is Justin Timberlake!!

And for Rosemary, I can't disagree with your choice of Jessica Chastain, she IS wonderful.... I considered Carey Mulligan for her waif-like features.....

In all, your re-casting is spellbinding!!

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Tom - There must be a psychic connection between us. I decided on Roberts five minutes before posting, because I had trouble deciding between her and....Dianne Wiest!

Oh! That first dream sequence! That's when I realized just how sophisticated a film I was in for. And I *knew* I knew Maurice Evans from something more familiar! Thanks!

Unknown said...

I know I'm 3 years later but I think differently on a few of your choices.

First, for Roman and Minnie Casavette, I see Dustin Hoffman and Jane Curtain in the role.
Curtain has this great comic timing and many audiences will recognize her from SNL. Hoffman is one of the greatest actors and people will trust him and they can both play those roles well.

As for Dr. Sapirstein, I think Donald Sutherland could do that supposed kind, caring doctor.

For Hutch, I think a lesser- known would be better such as maybe Victor Garber or Julian Sands?

All in all, great choices!

Unknown said...

Great choices, but I see some a little differently.

For Roman and Minnie Casevettes, I would put Jane Curtain and Dustin Hoffman.

Curtain has that comic timing and people will trust her from her SNL in the 70's.

Hoffman is more trustworthy and a hell of a n actor. He could really pull it off.

Donald Sutherland should portray Dr. Sapristein. He gives that older, kind caring older man that you wouldn't expect to be a Satanist.

For Hutch, Hurt is a good choice but I would maybe have a lesser known. Evans was kind of familiar, but not a household name like Hurt. Maybe Victor Garber (Alias) or Julian Sands (Rose Red)?

All in all though, great cast and I love reading these!