Category: 60’s


ValleyOfTheDolls1

Movies that garner reputations as being camp classics for being simply so bad that they become enjoyable are a serious risk for first-time viewers. For every Rocky Horror Picture Show (which seems impossible to not enjoy), you have five Napoleon Dynamite‘s whose appeal is totally lost to me. 1967’s Valley of the Dolls was one of Hollywood’s biggest critical flops of all time. It was a Gigli-level disaster and nearly destroyed Patty Duke’s career. And it’s bad. It’s really bad. This movie’s got more melodrama than a 1950’s Douglas Sirk melodrama (Imitation of Life or any of its ilk for example). The acting is absurdly over-the-top, the story and relationships are cartoonish, and the characters are prone to astounding hysterics. But, weirdly, this movie has some strange campy appeal, and although she wasn’t an exceptionally talented actress, Sharon Tate was so beautiful I could watch her all day.

Centered around three rising starlets in Hollywood in the 1960s, Valley of the Dolls is a morality play examining the price of fame and the type of implosion that ultimately destroyed Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland. Anne Wells (Barbara Parkins) is a small-town ingenue that moves to New York City and finds work as a secretary at a prestigious entertainment law firm though it isn’t long before she becomes the face of a national ad campaign for hair spray. Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) is a supporting player in the Broadway show of an aging diva, and when the diva kicks Neely out of the play, Neely’s solo career as a singer and Hollywood actress take off. And Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) is a talentless show-girl that marries a successful Sinatra-style singer but has to fend for herself when he’s diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. And over the course of the film, all three sink into prescription drug addiction.

ValleyOfTheDolls2

There isn’t a single good performance in this. While each of the leads have their moments, the film was so poorly directed and so “stage-y” that the movie felt funny at times that it was meant to be dramatic. Sharon Tate is stunningly beautiful. I mean, she might be one of the most beautiful actresses I’ve ever seen alongside Catherine Deneuve. She has a very sensitive face and it seemed like her performance got better as the film went along, but her diction and enunciation remained forced the entire film. Patty Duke had both the best and worst moments of the whole film. She tapped into something extreme and fierce for the role but she was also never able to really dial it down when she needed to. And Barbara Parkins was more or less boring the entire film. It would have been very interesting to see this film with a director that knew how to coax good performances out of these actresses.

I have no idea what it is, but there were at times something oddly likeable about this film despite how terrible it consistently was. Like, there was an almost innocent sincerity to everything even though they didn’t know how to turn sincerity into realistic and effective drama. And, the film had some really great photography at times. It did a wonderful job capturing on-location exteriors, and while many of the interior shots looked like a poster-child for 1960s excess, there was a weird beauty to some of those shots as well. And, she starts the film out as the most flat character of the group (emotionally cause I’m sure as hell not talking about her bust), but by the time she meets her tragic end (spoilers I guess), I found Sharon Tate’s Jennifer to easily be the most intriguing person in the film. I would have really loved to see more from her and less campy explosions from Patty Duke’s Neely.

ValleyOfTheDolls3

If you have no tolerance for campy films, don’t waste your time on Valley of the Dolls. You will hate it. If it weren’t for the fact that I was reviewing it for this blog (and I’m yet over the course of the last two years to start a movie that I didn’t finish. Wait, that’s not true. I was loving Downfall but for some reason couldn’t find the time to finish watching all four hours of it), I would have stopped watching this movie about halfway through. But for fans of camp, there is something in this movie hidden pretty deeply away. It’s certainly no Rocky Horror Picture Show. This movie is simply not good despite the fact that I found bits and pieces here and there to cling to. It’s such a shame that Sharon Tate was murdered though because I feel like she could have been a decent talent in the right hands.

Final Score: C

How to Murder Your Wife

HowToMurderYourWife1

Occasionally, this blog does some really weird stuff. I.e., for the first 300 and so films of my blog’s existence, Jack Lemmon didn’t make a single appearance, but after his arrival in the masterful Glengarry Glen Ross, he makes his return just four films later. Pacino did the exact same thing. He hadn’t been any movie prior to the flaccid Scarface last week, but he came roaring back for Glengarry Glen Ross a couple days later. And that’s odd because those are two of Hollywood’s most beloved actors of all time. It’s so weird that it took them this long to show up in the first place. And after two films (when I wasn’t that intimately familiar with Jack Lemmon’s non-Grumpy Old Men roles), I get the allure surrounding this Hollywood legend. Because ten films into my current 50 film line-up for this blog (cause I break my awards down into 50 film chunks), Jack Lemmon is the front-runner for both Best Actor in both Drama and Comedy (though there’s plenty of time for him to be dethroned for both).

That isn’t to say that my current movie, How to Murder Your Wife, is half the movie that Glengarry Glen Ross was. It’s not even operating in the same galaxy of excellence. Actually, to be honest, it’s sort of bad. Jack Lemmon is just brilliant in it. He’s apparently one of those actors like Meryl Streep who can make even subpar material good in the wake of his terrific acting. I’m sure that for the time this film felt revolutionary with its almost counter-culture message about marriage, 50 years later, How to Murder Your Wife seems almost virulently misogynistic and the laughs don’t come often enough to justify it’s overly long two hour running time. The movie has some great comic bits, but for the most part, How to Murder Your Wife is a bore that hasn’t aged well.

HowToMurderYourWife2

Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon) is America’s most beloved comic strip artist. His daily Dash Branigan series chronicling the adventures of a secret agent is read by 80 million people every day. He lives in a gorgeous New York City town house with his butler Charles (Terry-Thomas), and Stanley’s life is the very model of content bachelorhood. When a stag party ends with Stanley married to the dancer that jumps out of the cake (the absurdly gorgeous Virna Lisi), his life becomes everything he fears from domestication. His cartoon hero becomes a domestic marriage satire, and Stanley even begins to put on weight and lose his cocky swagger. Angry with his new lot in life, Stanley decides to have Dash Branigan murder his fictional wife. But when Mrs. Ford finds out about Stanley’s cartoon plans, she runs away and everyone else begins to suspect that Stanley actually murdered her.

Similar to the screwball action at the heart of The Palm Beach Story, this movie actually sounds pretty funny on paper. And if more of the film had been devoted to Stanley’s harmless escapist fantasy of murdering his fictional wife and it avalanching out of control, this could have been a great movie. Sadly, the film spends too much time as a terribly dated family comedy where they try to play on dated gender stereotypes for as many laughs as possible even though the laughs don’t actually arrive. Most of the women are unbearable, unlikeable nagging hags. Mrs. Ford isn’t even given a real name. She’s not necessarily unlikeable but her stupidity and naivete is almost unending. And Stanley’s lawyer, Harold Lampson (Eddie Mayehoff) is a paragon of male boorishness and a picture of the emasculated henpecked husband. But, it’s not funny. It’s just pathetic.

HowToMurderYourWife3

Thank god for Jack Lemmon and Terry-Thomas then. Anyone wanting to be a comic actor should just go back and watch old Jack Lemmon roles because he is a master of comedic timing. He just knows the exact right moment to deliver the punchline. And the way he can roll his eyes or sigh or become deflated after his plans fall apart is just wonderful. And despite the awful situation he believes he’s found himself in and the almost unsympathetic figure that the script paints him as, Lemmon has such a natural joie de vivre that you can’t help but root for this scheming weasel whose dick got him into more trouble than he could afford. And Terry-Thomas helps to obliterate all of the tropes and cliches associated with the wise and mature butler. He’s as sexist and scheming and hard-willed as Stanley and honestly, the film could have used more of Charles the Butler.

How to Murder Your Wife is not a good movie. It has some great moments. And when they let Jack Lemmon just be Jack Lemmon, it can border on brilliant. He gives a speech towards the end of the film is absurdly offensive in its sexism, but coming from Jack Lemmon’s mouth, you almost don’t want to realize what he’s actually saying. That’s how good he is. He’s like the D.W. Griffith or Leni Riefenstahl of sexism in this film. If you like classic comedies, you might enjoy this film. I love classic comedies though, particularly the classic screwball films, and How to Murder Your Wife did not prove to be one of them.

Final Score: C+

TheChargeOfTheLightBrigade1968-1

As someone who’s written one full-length screenplay (though I haven’t sold it yet) and that has also written about 30 pages or so of several other screenplays that I haven’t actually finished, I understand quite acutely the challenge of balancing attention-grabbing pacing with solid character development. It’s not an easy task and focusing too much on action or “plot spectacle” makes characters seem paper-thin and boring whereas a deficiency in action means the audience is going to fall asleep. You can’t ignore one for the other. And with 1968’s The Charge of the Light Brigade, the first hour of this satire of the snobbery and incompetence of the British aristocracy had me bored nearly to tears and it wasn’t until the doomed heroes went off to fight the Crimean war that the movie began to find its bearings and the right mix of character and spectacle.

The titular charge of Britain’s light cavalry brigade during the Crimean war remains one of history’s most famous tactical military errors that resulted in the annihilation of virtually the entire brigade as they charged head-long into oncoming artillery fire (and anyone who’s ever played Empire: Total War knows that’s a dumb idea). And The Charge of the Light Brigade focuses on the forming of the soon to be doomed cavalry, their training, and their eventual excursion to Turkey to face off against the Russians simply because England felt the need to go to war for appearance’s sake. And from the opening moments of the film, the arrogance of men such as Lord Cardigan (Trevor Howard) and Lord Lucan (Harry Andrews) let you know that even the noble intelligence of the few decent men such as Captain Nolan (David Hemmings) will be subsumed by impractical and ultimately fatal notions of honor and class standing.

TheChargeOfTheLightBrigade1968-2

I must admit that perhaps part of my struggles with the early portions of the film is that I found a healthy portion of the dialogue to be completely incomprehensible. The accents are thick enough that any non-native Brits would have trouble understanding certain characters (particularly Lord Cardigan) but when the period slang is thrown in for good measure, the film becomes far more dense than you would expect. And while I could applaud the film’s decision to spend such a large chunk of the movie focusing on the lives of the members of the Light Brigade before they are called off to war, most of the time spent in Britain feels repetitive and over-blown. While I recognize that the film is meant to be a darkly comic satire of class snobbery, those themes have been handled better by others (Gosford Park) and The Charge of the Light Brigade never generated any real emotional connection early on (except for perhaps moments with Captain Nolan). There was simply a cavalcade of characters and little reason to care for any of them.

And to add to the film’s overly theatrical nature from the first half of the movie, virtually all of the performances were totally ham-fisted. Trevor Morgan turned the incompetent and tyrannical Lord Cardigan into a cartoonish figure. There was no nuance or subtlety there. Although Captain Nolan is likely meant to be the film’s sole sympathetic figure (except for perhaps Vanessa Redgrave’s Clarissa), David Hemmings too turned his part into more of a caricature than a real human being. With his thousand mile stare, Nolan seemed like a warrior poet spouting off Shakespearean nonsense rather than a sensible man forced to follow insensible orders. The only performance with any real heart was Vanessa Redgrave’s Clarissa which is a shame because her character was so shallow and peripheral to the main parts of the film.

TheChargeOfTheLightBrigade1968-3

The film isn’t without its moments though. The animated interludes that begin the film and then occur periodically throughout are brilliant and really hit home on the idea that though the film serves as a satire of British class machinations, The Charge of the Light Brigade also shows historic parallels between the catastrophic decision to go to war against the Russians in the Crimean war and the calls during the 1960s for military action against the Soviet Union. In certain ways, this film is almost the anti-Alexander Nevvsky in that it uses a historical disaster to deflate current nationalism (rather than the other way around). And once they do finally get to Russia, the film brutalizes any notion of military honor or the glory of war by a graphic (for its time) depiction of the actual horrors of war and the price the British paid for such a foolish venture.

It is truly a shame that the film becomes a cross-section of an almost excruciatingly slow first half (though still with the great animated sequences) and then a truly brilliant and scathing denouement. One could make the argument that the last half wouldn’t carry the same weight without the first half, but there’s just no excuse for how dull and meandering the beginning of the film seemed. It took nearly twenty minutes before any character felt truly distinguished from the rest so even as it focused on character, the film showed no knack for crafting unique and engaging characters to attach yourself to. If you’re a fan of military epics, stick around for the final half but everybody else can probably find a better way to pass their evening.

Final Score: B-

 

BobDylan2

If you can’t understand why Bob Dylan is one of the top five most important American lyricists of all time (if not outright number one but I could see arguments being made for Jim Morrison or Bruce Springsteen), we probably can’t have a reasonable conversation about music. We would operating in incompatible spheres of musical discussion. Bob Dylan revolutionized folk music and song-writing ever since he first popped on the scene. I’m delving into my vinyl collection here with the first track on Highway 61 Revisited, “Like a Rolling Stone.” Considered by many to be one of the greatest songs ever recorded, I’d have to agree. I don’t think it’s my number one. And I don’t even think it’s Bob Dylan’s best song, but few songs had a bigger impact in the world of music than “Like a Rolling Stone.” It’s ripple are still felt today. My words (even when I was a regularly writing film critic) couldn’t have done this song justice. So we’ll just let old Bobby D speak for himself.

 

How does it feel Mitt? How does it feel to be completely bitch-slapped around the stage by your better for 90 minutes? If you didn’t know that tonight was the final US presidential debate, you had either better be a foreigner or planning to voluntarily take yourself out of the gene pool. Because the stakes have never been higher in a presidential election. The clear choice between a safer, stronger, and more economically secure America led by Barack Obama against a war-mongering, greedy, corprotocracy led by Mitt Romney was made abundantly clear in tonight’s foreign policy debate. I’d be the first to admit that the President stumbled in Debate #1 but he and the Vice President have been on fire since, and tonight was the best performance out of all of the debates thus far. I’ve chosen Creedence Clearwater Revival’s classic “Fortunate Son” as my Song of the Day to remind everyone that Romney is part of the entitled, leechful plutocracy in America. And that if Romney wins, he will only make things better for his super rich buddies while the rest of America suffers. Make the right choice. Four more years for President Barack Obama!

You want to know how I know I’m getting old. This really happened. That is a link to an article I wrote at Baeble right after the Grammys about the Twitter phenomenon of people honestly not knowing who Paul McCartney is. PAUL FUCKING MCCARTNEY! That’s like not knowing who Michael Jackson is or the President of the United States. He’s a Beatle God Damnit! I cried some tears for future generations. Anywho, as a senior in college, I don’t have a chance to make as many new friends as I did when I first started out. Not living in the dorms and not being involved in a million extra-curricular activities will generally shrink your potential friend pool. Anyways, I have made a couple new friends this year, and one posted a picture on Facebook of a bunch of Beatles albums. I asked her today what her favorite Beatles album was and she said Rubber Soul. I’m more of a Revolver or Abbey Road man myself, but every Beatles record is phenomenal, and Rubber Soul actually has my favorite poppier song of the Beatles, “Drive My Car.” Beatles aren’t on Spotify so I have no idea what song I’m going to make my Song of the Day for there. Probably a cover from Across the Universe except they don’t use this song in the movie. Anyways, give it up for the greatest band of all time.

(Side note before my actual review. Man, I’d started to forget what it was like to watch a foreign art house film. It’d been a while. Specifically, I think I haven’t watched one since 8 1/2 in the middle of May back in New York. And it’s been even longer since I’ve taken a journey into the strange and perverse mind of art house film icon Luis Buñuel with Viridiana in July of last year. Nothing like a good foreign film to remind you of how conventional even the most groundbreaking American films can seem)

Subtle political commentary is the most effective when a film is first released and the most incomprehensible commentary decades after the film’s release. Throw in a transatlantic cultural barrier and you have the makings of a movie whose actual message should be completely lost on future foreign generations (unless they do their homework on the film’s subject matter). Luis Buñuel’s (Belle de Jour) 1964 classic Diary of a Chambermaid seems destined to some day suffer that sad fate. However, thanks to my political science upbringing (and a healthy love of foreign history), I was able to peer into the subtle depths of his political satire of the growing French nationalism and neo-fascism of the 1960s to find a wonderfully understated film filled to the brim with Buñuel’s love of shocking and subversive sexuality.

When cultured and haute couture Parisian maid Celestine (Jeanne Moreau) moves to the countryside of 1930s Paris, she is quickly drawn into the political and sexual games of the Rabour/Monteil family. The family’s patriarch, the elderly Monsieur Rabour (Jean Ozenne) never sleeps with the maids but gets his sexual kicks by having them wear racy shoes and reading erotic literature to him. His daughter, Madame Monteil, is frigid and takes her frustrations out on the help by being an overly critical shrew. Her husband, Monsieur Monteil (Michel Piccoli), has a voracious sexual appetite, but since his wife won’t sleep with him, he tries to sleep with all of the women (including the help) in sight. Throw in the family valet, Joseph (Georges Geret), a racist French nationalist, and walking the landmine known as the Rabour household is as much a full-time job for the beautiful Celestine as her actual maid duties. Although Celestine quickly decides that the Rabour household is too much for her to handle, the murder and rape of a 12 year old girl causes her to decide to stay as she attempts to suss out the mystery of who could commit such an atrocity.

While I’m not necessarily as consistently impressed with Luis Buñuel’s output as the rest of the cinema world (Viridiana was brilliant but Belle de Jour was relatively mediocre), if there’s one thing the man can do well, it’s cast sexually vivacious women as his leads, and much like Catherine Deneuve and Sylvia Pinel, Jeanne Moreau is a refreshing slice of sexual liberation. Sexual politics are a recurring theme of Buñuel’s work, and the dominant and playful Celestine is a classic example of a woman in charge of her sexuality without being overly whorish (is there a way to say that without me sounding incredibly sexist?), and her openly liberated lifestyle is often compared to the repressed but no less lustful lifestyle of her bourgeois benefactors. There’s an honesty present in Celestine’s character and Moreau’s performance lacking in the hidden desires of the less aware individuals around her.

Similar to Viridiana, the film’s black and white photography is simply stunning. Although Buñuel, a Spaniard who often worked in France, is not officially associated with the French New Wave, he was similarly ahead of the pack in terms of unorthodox cuts, handheld camera shots, and a willingness to regularly cross the borders of the sacred and profane. His juxtaposition of the enlightened eroticism of Celestine (and to a lesser extent the almost innocent fetishism of Monsieur Rabour) with the dark and violent desires of virtually everyone else around her creates for consistently startling image. Throw in the visual lushness of the film and it’s no wonder that Buñuel developed a reputation as one of cinema’s most exciting visual directors even accounting for the lack of some of his more overt surrealist imagery in The Diary of a Chambermaid (which is markedly straightforward by Buñuel standards).

Where the film really shines is the way that Buñuel eviscerates the rapidly growing fascism of the 1960s in France (which would come to be defined in the 1970s by men like Jean-Marie Le Pen and his National Front party) by drawing the obvious parallels to pre-Vichy France. Nearly all of the men in the film are some form of fascist and are without fail racists (except for Monsieur Rabour who displays no real politics) and xenophobes. By showing their avarice and sexual perversions, Buñuel paints his political opponents (who had essentially ran him out of France for being a subversive during the era where the film takes place) as everything wrong with the French character and as warnings to future French generations. In the same vein to Viridiana however, the proletariat aren’t spared Buñuel’s critical eye any more than their potential oppressors as men like Joseph and his comrades are simply proles waiting for their opportunity to oppress those they don’t like.

Like the entirety of the art house niche, Diary of a Chambermaid isn’t going to be for everyone. Sexual satire and scathing political commentary don’t seem like they go hand in hand, and either one is enough to turn off vast swaths of the common audience. Yet, if you have an appetite for Buñuel’s mercurial wit and can place the film within the context of French history and Buñuel’s leftist politics (which let’s face it, one has to do their homework to discover), it’s a rewarding ride into one of foreign cinema’s most famous subversives. Ultimately, the film lacks the same bite as Viridiana (which remains one of the greatest religious satires I’ve ever seen) but it makes up for it with a stellar visual identity and unerring look at the hypocrisy of the far right.

Final Score: B+

How have I not done a Bob Dylan song yet? I haven’t done The Beatles, the Stones, Zeppelin, or the Clash yet either so maybe it’s not that bad. I do tend to primarily focus on modern music just because that’s what I write about and it helps me to keep on top of my game. But for some reason, today I was feeling nostalgic, and has there been a greater songwriter than Bob Dylan in the history of American music? I think not. Bob Dylan’s been making music since the early 1960s and he has another album scheduled for release either this year or the beginning of next year. Picking a Dylan song to use for this series isn’t easy since the man has literally dozens upon dozens of fantastic tunes. Certain tunes, “Tangled Up in Blue” or “Visions of Johanna” for example, I want to reserve for special occasions because I have deep emotional connections with much of Dylan’s music. I decided to go with the undeniably iconic Dylan standard “Rainy Day Women #12 & #35” because it’s a landmark song of the folk movement without being a song that seems destined for specific uses on this blog. Enjoy.

The first time I ever heard this classic track was on the soundtrack to Platoon. I actually don’t even think I had seen Oliver Stone’s classic war film yet (regularly counted among the best war films ever made). My dad purchased the soundtrack to the film, and we listened to it a lot. There were a ton of great tunes on there including the Rascals, Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, and I want to say Jefferson Airplane as well. I might be wrong about the latter. The only song on the album I actively disliked was the god-awful “Okie from Muskogee” which I rank among the worst/most jingoistic songs I’ve ever listened to. Along with Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” (I’m pretty sure it’s on the soundtrack), the song that got the most play from me was “The Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. It’s one of the greatest soul songs ever recorded and I hope you all enjoy it if you somehow haven’t managed to hear it before.

With 1965’s Repulsion, Roman Polanski proved himself to be the master of psycho-sexual horror. While the film took a while to get off it’s feet (apparently a trademark of Polanski pictures), few films have left me feeling so completely disturbed. With the unsettling subversions of Freudian sexual iconography (let’s not get into the hand’s extending from the walls) as well perversions of Catholic imagery, Repulsion transcended Catherine Deneuve’s stilted acting to scare the holy hell out of generations of viewers. Polanksi’s 1968 classic, Rosemary’s Baby, is far more well-known although ultimately less satisfying. It can be genuinely eerie and Polanski’s stylistic direction is as memorable as ever. But even more so than the tepidly paced Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby tests the patience of its viewers and Mia Farrow’s performance is underwhelming to say the least.

At a conceptual level, Rosemary’s Baby could have even eclipsed the psychological mind-games of Repulsion. It was only in the actual execution where it really faltered. Struggling actor Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) and his stay at home wife Rosemary (Radio Days‘ Mia Farrow) have just rented a room in a fancy apartment with a dark and storied past in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They have two neighbors on their floor, the kindly but eccentric Castavets, Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer). Guy and Rosemary want to have a baby, and after Rosemary has a nightmare where she’s raped by a demon as naked occultists (including her husband and the Castavets) watch. Shortly thereafter, Rosemary finds out she’s pregnant and slowly comes to the conclusion that her husband and neighbors are conspiring to hurt her and her baby. Is it real or is it all in her head?

One can applaud Polanski’s attempt to delay the introduction of any of the horror or thriller elements to the story if it meant he had spent the beginning of the film developing the characters in a meaningful way. That isn’t what happens. Although the film makes liberal use of foreshadowing (Rosemary’s old landlord detailing the history of their new apartment building, eerie chanting at night, the sudden suicide of a younger neighbor), the film makes you wait for any real plot development. And that time isn’t spent making us sympathize or understand Rosemary and Guy. Though it’s obvious Guy is a bit flippant and sarcastic, all you really learn about Rosemary throughout the entire film is that she’s willing to go to extreme lengths to take care of her unborn child. Compared to Polanski heroines like Tess of the D’Urbervilles, she is as one-dimensional as you can imagine.

However, from the second that Tess has her nightmare involving her rape by Satan, you realize you’re still in the world of Roman Polanski (pre-the murder of his wife by Charles Manson). During Rosemary’s multiple dream sequences (the film has Rosemary dream multiple times so that you are never really sure whether her nightmare was real or a dream), the film gains a surreal, Lynchian quality (though I suppose, since Polanski came first, it’s insulting to compare him to Lynch) that breaks the monotony of much of the rest of the film. Whether it’s a sudden stylistic shift where the film looks like it was shot on home video, or using hand-held cameras (Polanski was highly influenced by the French New Wave), Polanski infects the viewers with the same unease and paranoia that’s gripping the young and increasingly unhinged Rosemary.

Mia Farrow comes off (similar to Ingrid Bergman in For Whom the Bell Tolls) as slightly touched in the head and not quite in the way the role calls for. With her high-pitched voice, affected manner of speech, and general obliviousness to the world around her, you sometimes wonder if she’s a little disabled mentally. Although you innately sympathize with Rosemary’s situation (her doctor ignores her severe pregnancy pains, her husbands claims that the night of her demon nightmare he had sex with her while she was asleep), her performance alienates you because she seems so detached from the situation happening around her. It’s almost as if Mia Farrow doesn’t realize the severity of what’s going on in Rosemary’s world as her two modes are passive obliviousness or campish over-acting. She never finds a balance between the two.

Thankfully, the rest of the supporting performances are top-notch. Ruth Gordon excels as the nosy, talkative, and flamboyant Minnie Castevet. When she whirls into a scene, you may not catch every word out of her motor mouth, but you’ll certainly know she’s acting circles around everyone else in the scene. I’ve heard some call her performance “hammy” but it’s what the role called for. I haven’t seen any of the other nominees but Ruth Gordon’s Oscar seems well-deserved. John Cassavetes is a proto-Don Draper (with an even darker side) as the glib and narcissistic Guy. Sidney Blackmer also nails the difficult part of simultaneously being a kindly grandfather figure as well as an ominous, foreboding menace. The interplay between the three lead supporting stars is wonderful and nearly makes up for the non-presence of the actual star.

The film’s decision to wait until the very last scene to reveal whether Rosemary was crazy or actually at the center of a Satanic conspiracy was well-played (and assuages the primary complaint I have with The Exorcist). Although I would have certainly preferred the film to come down on the other side of conclusion it followed through on, the film’s last twist at least made the ending more bearable. While the film gives Rosemary plenty of evidence that she’s part of some plot, most of it sounds like crazy conspiracy theory talk if you look at it too deeply. Polanski gives you ample reason to believe that perhaps Rosemary is just got a few screws loose (and with Mia Farrow’s addled performance, it’s easy to believe it). Although the film can get a little too heavy-handed with its occult symbolism (666 makes numerous appearances), the film will leave you torn as to what’s real and what’s imaginary.

For classic horror fans, Rosemary’s Baby‘s place in the established canon makes it required viewing. It’s fans often see an undercurrent of feminist commentary (which would be in line with Polanski’s body of work) on the isolation and mistreatment of modern women, but I didn’t really catch that. I can see why people believe it’s there, but I don’t necessarily buy that was Polanski’s plan all along. At the end of the day, Rosemary’s Baby is a psychological thriller with enough truly inspired moments to warrant recommendation but at the same time, it is burdened by enough troublesome flaws that it doesn’t come whole-heartedly.

Final Score: B-