Roman Candle

The 40th anniversary presentation of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), from his own screenplay and based on Ira Levin’s horror novel, will play at Film Forum from Friday, Oct. 31, through Thursday, Nov. 6. Showtimes daily are 1:30, 4:10, 7 and 9:35. Mr. Polanski had already established his reputation with his very first film, an incisive thriller titled Knife in the Water (1962), followed by Repulsion (1965), with a revelatory performance by Catherine Deneuve, and The Fearless Vampire Killers (1965), in which a particularly irreverent Jewish vampire scoffs at the Cross and Bible intended to exorcise vampires with a dismissively disdainful gesture and facial expression.

Having escaped the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust in Poland by the skin of his teeth, Mr. Polanski was well equipped psychologically to re-imagine what was, before Rosemary’s Baby, a B-picture genre into an A-picture genre. He was assisted in no small measure by a cast that rose to the satanic challenge of the story, in which Mia Farrow’s innocent wife is impregnated by Satan in the guise of her own actor husband, who connives with a coven of devil worshippers in order to get a coveted part in a Broadway play by having the already signed-for-the-part actor go mysteriously blind. Rosemary’s treacherous husband was played by John Cassavetes—to my knowledge, this is his only unsympathetic role, and he remains a culture hero to filmmakers for his pioneering efforts in cinematic improvisation. The members of the coven are played in high comic style by Maurice Evans, Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon, and the satanically motivated obstetrician by a bearded Ralph Bellamy, once the pathetic romantic loser to Cary Grant’s mercilessly taunting winner in Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth (1937), with Irene Dunne as the contested prize, and Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday (1940), with Rosalind Russell doing the choosing.

asarris@observer.com