In 1965 Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow), a bright but somewhat naive young housewife, and Guy (John Cassavetes), her husband, a struggling actor, move into the Bramford, an opulent but antiquated New York City apartment building. The couple learns from the building's manager, Mr. Nicklas (Elisha Cook, Jr.), that their new residence was previously inhabited by Mrs. Gardenia, an elderly woman who had seemingly gone senile. Mr. Nicklas also discovers a dresser concealing a simple closet which contains nothing except a vacuum cleaner and a stack of folded towels. Their friend Hutch (Maurice Evans) tries to dissuade them from taking the apartment, informing them of some of the Bramford's unsettling history of cannibalism and murder. Undeterred, Rosemary and Guy move into the building.
Rosemary meets a young woman, Terry Gionoffrio (Angela Dorian), a recovering drug addict whom an elderly, eccentric couple in the building, the Castevets, took in from the street. As Rosemary admires a pendant necklace the Castevets gave to Terry, she notices its strange smell. Returning home one night, Guy and Rosemary find that Terry has thrown herself to her death from the window of the Castevets' seventh-floor apartment.
Rosemary and Guy are quickly befriended by the Castevets, Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer), whom they'd first met on the street the night of Terry's suicide. Minnie invites the Woodhouses to dinner and they accept. Guy forms a bond with the Castevets. Minnie gives Terry's pendant to Rosemary, telling her it is a good luck charm and the odd smell is from a plant called "tannis root". Later, Guy lands a role in a play when the actor who was originally cast suddenly and inexplicably goes blind. Guy suggests that he and Rosemary have a baby.
On the night they plan to conceive, Minnie brings them individual cups of chocolate mousse. Rosemary finds hers has a chalky undertaste and surreptitiously throws it away after a few mouthfuls. Rosemary then passes out and experiences a strange dream in which she is raped by a demonic presence (Clay Tanner) in front of Guy, the Castevets, and other Bramford tenants. When she wakes, she finds scratches on her body. Guy tells her that he had sex with her while she was unconscious because he did not want to pass up the opportunity for her to conceive.
Rosemary learns that she is pregnant and is due on June 28, 1966. She plans to receive obstetric care from Dr. Hill (Charles Grodin), who is recommended to her by her friend Elise (Emmaline Henry). However, the Castevets insist she see their good friend, Dr. Abraham Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy), who says that Minnie will make Rosemary a daily drink which is more healthful than the usual vitamin pills.
For the first three months of her pregnancy, Rosemary suffers severe abdominal pains, loses weight, becomes unusually pale, and craves raw meat and chicken liver. Dr. Sapirstein insists the pain will subside soon, and assures her she has nothing to worry about. When Hutch sees Rosemary's gaunt appearance and hears that she is being fed the mysterious tannis root, he is disturbed enough to do some research. Before he can tell Rosemary his findings, he mysteriously falls into a coma. Rosemary holds a party for some friends, some of whom advise her to have herself checked by Dr. Hill, because the pain she is feeling could be a warning that something is wrong. Rosemary tells Guy her plan to see Dr. Hill, which angers Guy. However, the abdominal pain suddenly disappears. Rosemary's health and appearance also improve quickly, and she and Guy are happy once again.
Three months later, Hutch dies. He leaves Rosemary a book about witchcraft and it is delivered to her at his funeral along with the cryptic message: "The name is an anagram". Rosemary deduces that Roman Castevet is really Steven Marcato, the son of a former resident of the Bramford who was accused of being a Satanist. Rosemary suspects her neighbors and Dr. Sapirstein are part of a witch coven with sinister designs for her baby, and that Guy is cooperating with them in exchange for help in advancing his acting career.
Rosemary becomes increasingly disturbed and shares her fears and suspicions with Dr. Hill, who, assuming she is delusional, calls Dr. Sapirstein and Guy. They tell her that if she cooperates, neither she nor the baby will be harmed. The two men bring Rosemary home, where she briefly escapes them. Despite Rosemary locking them out, they enter the bedroom. Rosemary goes into labor and is sedated by Dr. Sapirstein. When she wakes, she is told the baby died.
In the hall closet, Rosemary discovers a secret door leading into the Castevets' apartment and hears a baby's cries, revealing that her child is alive. She then finds a congregation made up of the building's tenants, as well as Dr. Sapirstein, gathered around her newborn son. When Rosemary pulls back the curtains of the crib, she is horrified and asks what they've done to its eyes. It is remarked upon that the baby, a boy, has "his father's eyes," to which Rosemary protests that the baby's eyes are nothing like those of Guy. It is then explained to Rosemary that Guy is actually not the child's real father; her newborn child, named Adrian, is actually the son of the Devil himself. Guy attempts to calm a horrified Rosemary by explaining to her that they will be generously rewarded with possible wealth and fame in exchange for having produced Satan's offspring, and that they can conceive a second child that will truly be theirs. Rosemary takes no solace in Guy's words, instead spitting in his face. Minnie tells Rosemary that she should be honored to be the "lucky" woman chosen to bear a child for Satan. Roman urges her to become a mother to her son, and assures her that she does not have to join the coven if she does not want to. Initially reluctant, Rosemary ultimately goes to the cradle and gently rocks it, with a small smile on her face.
In Rosemary's Baby: A Retrospective, a featurette on the DVD release of the film, screenwriter/director Roman Polanski, Paramount Pictures executive Robert Evans, and production designer Richard Sylbert reminisce at length about the production. Evans recalled William Castle brought him the galley proofs of the book and asked him to purchase the film rights even before Random House released the publication. The studio head recognized the commercial potential of the project and agreed with the stipulation that Castle, who had a reputation for low-budget horror films, could produce but not direct the film adaptation. He makes a cameo appearance as the man at the phone booth waiting for Mia Farrow to finish her call.
Evans admired Polanski's European films and hoped he could convince him to make his American debut with Rosemary's Baby. He knew the director was a ski buff who was anxious to make a film with the sport as its basis, so he sent him the script for Downhill Racer along with the galleys for Rosemary. Polanski read the latter book non-stop through the night and called Evans the following morning to tell him he thought Rosemary was the more interesting project, and would like the opportunity to write as well as direct it.
The script was modeled very closely on the original novel and incorporated large sections of the novel's dialogue and details, so much so that nearly every line of dialogue was taken from the novel's text. Author Ira Levin claimed that during a scene in which Guy mentions wanting to buy a particular shirt advertised in The New Yorker, Polanski was unable to find the specific issue with the shirt advertised and phoned Levin for help. Levin, who had assumed while writing that any given issue of The New Yorker would contain an ad for men's shirts, admitted that he had made it up.
Polanski envisioned Rosemary as a robust, full-figured, girl-next-door type, and he wanted Tuesday Weld or his own then-fiancée Sharon Tate for the role. Since the book had not reached bestseller status yet, Evans was unsure the title alone would guarantee an audience for the film, and he felt a bigger name was needed for the lead. Mia Farrow – with only a supporting role in Guns at Batasi (1964) and the then-unreleased A Dandy in Aspic (1968) as her only feature film credits – had an unproven box office track record, but her role as Allison MacKenzie in the popular television series Peyton Place and her unexpected marriage to Frank Sinatra had made her a household name.
Patty Duke auditioned for the role of Rosemary Woodhouse but lost out to Mia Farrow.
Despite her waif-like appearance (which would ultimately prove beneficial, as Rosemary became more frail as her pregnancy progressed), Polanski agreed to cast her. Her acceptance incensed Sinatra, who had demanded she forgo her career when they wed, and he served her divorce papers via a corporate lawyer in front of the cast and crew midway through filming. In an effort to salvage her relationship, Farrow asked Evans to release her from her contract, but he persuaded her to remain with the project after showing her an hour-long rough cut and assuring her she would receive an Academy Award nomination for her performance. Farrow was not nominated for the award, but stayed with the film, which pleased Evans, Polanski and the entire cast.
Robert Redford was the first choice for the role of Guy Woodhouse, but he turned down the offer. Jack Nicholson was considered briefly before Polanski suggested John Cassavetes.
Sylbert was a good friend of Garson Kanin, who was married to Ruth Gordon, and he suggested her for the role of Minnie Castevet. He also suggested that the Dakota, an Upper West Side apartment building known for its show business tenants, be used for the Bramford. Its hallways were not as worn and dark as Polanski wanted, but when the building's owners would not allow interior filming, it became a moot point and was used for exterior shots only.
Polanski wanted to cast Hollywood old-timers as the coven members but did not know any by name. He drew sketches of how he envisioned each character, and they were used to fill the roles. In every instance, the actor cast strongly resembled Polanski's drawing. They included Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly, Elisha Cook, Jr., Phil Leeds and Hope Summers.
When Rosemary calls Donald Baumgart, the actor who goes blind and is replaced by Guy, the voice heard is that of actor Tony Curtis. Farrow, who had not been told who would be reading Baumgart's lines, recognized the voice but could not place it. The slight confusion she displays throughout the call was exactly what Polanski hoped to capture by not revealing Curtis' identity in advance.
When Farrow was reluctant to film a scene that depicted a dazed and preoccupied Rosemary wandering into the middle of a Manhattan street into oncoming traffic, Polanski pointed to her pregnancy padding and reassured her, "no one's going to hit a pregnant woman". The scene was successfully shot with Farrow walking into real traffic and Polanski following, operating the hand-held camera since he was the only one willing to do it.
One scene that was shot but later deleted involved Farrow's character attending an Off-Broadway production of The Fantasticks and encountering Joan Crawford and Van Johnson, who were playing themselves.
The lullaby played over the intro is the song "Sleep Safe and Warm" and was composed by Krzysztof Komeda and sung by Mia Farrow.
From contemporary reviews, Renata Adler wrote in The New York Times that "The movie—although it is pleasant—doesn't seem to work on any of its dark or powerful terms. I think this is because it is almost too extremely plausible. The quality of the young people's lives seems the quality of lives that one knows, even to the point of finding old people next door to avoid and lean on. One gets very annoyed that they don't catch on sooner." Variety stated, "Several exhilarating milestones are achieved in Rosemary's Baby, an excellent film version of Ira Levin's diabolical chiller novel. Writer-director Roman Polanski has triumphed in his first US-made pic. The film holds attention without explicit violence or gore... Farrow's performance is outstanding." The Monthly Film Bulletin stated that "After the miscalculations of Cul de Sac and Dance of the Vampires" Polanski had "returned to the rich vein of Repulsion" The review noted that "Polanski shows an increasing ability to evoke menace and sheer terror in familiar routines (cooking and telephoning, particularly)" and Polanski has shown "his transformation of a cleverly calculated thriller into a serious work of art."
Ruth Gordon won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in this film.
Today, the film is widely regarded as a classic; the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie a 99% rating (67 out of 68 reviews), with the site's consensus stating "A frightening tale of satanism and pregnancy that is even more disturbing than it sounds thanks to convincing and committed performances by Mia Farrow and Ruth Gordon".
In 2014, Rosemary's Baby was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Rosemary’s Baby was one of Stanley Kubrick's favorite films, according to his brother-in-law and assistant Jan Harlan.
Following the film's premiere, a string of other films focusing on Satan worshippers and black magic appeared, including The Brotherhood of Satan, Mark of the Devil, Black Noon, and The Blood on Satan's Claw.
The scene in which Rosemary is raped by Satan was ranked #23 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
Thirty years after he wrote Rosemary's Baby, Ira Levin wrote Son of Rosemary, a sequel which he dedicated to the film's star, Mia Farrow. Reaction to the book was mixed, but it made the best seller lists nationwide.
R&B artist SZA included clips of the movie on her mixtape S in the songs "TERROR.DOME" and "KISMET".
Sequel and remake
In the 1976 television film Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby, Patty Duke starred as Rosemary Woodhouse and Ruth Gordon reprised her role of Minnie Castevet. The film introduced an adult Andrew/Adrian attempting to earn his place as the Antichrist. It was disliked as a sequel by critics and viewers, and its reputation deteriorated over the years.
A remake of Rosemary's Baby was briefly considered in 2008. The intended producers were Michael Bay, Andrew Form, and Brad Fuller. The remake fell through later that same year.
In January 2014, NBC made a four-hour Rosemary's Baby miniseries with Zoe Saldana as Rosemary. The miniseries was filmed in Paris under the direction of Agnieszka Holland.Academy Awards
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Ruth Gordon, winner)
Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (nominee)
Golden Globe Awards
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture (Gordon, winner)
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama (Farrow, nominee)
Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay (nominee)
Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score (nominee)
BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Mia Farrow, nominee)
Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures (nominee)
Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Drama (nominee)
David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Actress (Mia Farrow, winner)
David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Director (winner)
Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay (nominee)
French Syndicate of Cinema Critics Award for Best Foreign Film (winner)
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor (Sidney Blackmer, winner)
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress (Gordon, winner)
American Film Institute ListsAFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills - #9