Sleeping With the Devil


Rosemary Woodhouse may have slept with Satan, but he was just a one-night stand. The real devil in Rosemary’s Baby is her husband, Guy.

NBC has cleverly scheduled the first part of its made-for-television remake of Rosemary’s Baby on Mother’s Day. That’s the most positive thing I can say about this new production. God only knows what prompted the network to tamper with perfection, since the 1968 movie version of Rosemary’s Baby is a cinematic masterpiece.

Stephen King described Ira Levin, author of Rosemary’s Baby, as the “Swiss watchmaker of suspense novels.” Levin’s tale of a young couple who land their dream apartment in Manhattan only to find themselves living among a coven of witches sold over four million copies. Robert Evans, the hotshot head of Paramount pictures, grabbed the movie rights while the book was still in galleys, hoping Rosemary’s Baby would jump-start the fortunes of the sinking studio. In a bold move, Evans hired Polish director Roman Polanski to adapt the screenplay and direct. The studio wanted Tuesday Weld and Robert Redford to play Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, but Polanski fought to hire Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes. Farrow (and her famous Vidal Sassoon pixie haircut) is divine as Rosemary. But today, thanks to John Cassavetes’ creepy performance as Guy, I see Rosemary’s Baby as less about a devil baby and more about a devil husband.

The first word out of Guy Woodhouse’s mouth is a lie. The building manager of the Bramford (exteriors were filmed outside the notorious Dakota apartment building) asks if he is a doctor. Guy casually answers, “Yes.” Rosemary corrects her husband: “He’s an actor.” But Guy goes on to make a Faustian bargain for success. While the women wash dishes in the kitchen, the men plot in the parlor. In a brilliant directorial touch, Polanski films the scene from Rosemary’s viewpoint. All she can see is the cigar smoke mixing and rising.

I see Rosemary’s Baby as less about a devil baby and more about a devil husband.

Guy also helps drug Rosemary, the better not to see her unearthly sex partner, but the drug doesn’t totally knock her out. In one of the most famous lines in the movie Rosemary screams, “This is no dream! This is really happening!” As Rosemary’s belly grows, so does the conspiracy: Guy’s rival suddenly goes blind; Rosemary’s mentor, Hutch, falls into a coma; Guy fires her original obstetrician and isolates Rosemary from her girlfriends—all to prevent his wife from discovering what is really inside her. When Rosemary goes into labor in the apartment, Guy again helps drug his wife. Later he tells her the baby died, but that they can try again. After all, they’re moving to Beverly Hills.

When Rosemary finally does see her baby (“What have you done to it? What have you done to its eyes?”), she learns the truth. (“He has his father’s eyes.”) Guy sidles up to his wife, a woman who has just learned she has given birth to the son of Satan, and says softly, “They promised me you wouldn’t be hurt and you haven’t been…really. Supposing you had the baby and lost it. Wouldn’t that be the same thing? We’re getting so much in return.” Rosemary spits in his face. I always applaud that scene. Rosemary’s Baby confirms the old adage “Be careful who you trust. The devil was once an angel.”

Photo courtesy of Everett