Looking for a chill during the dog days of summer? Check out
the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s delicious quartet of Roman Polanski
thrillers: Summer Chills: Four by Roman Polanski. Screening Monday, July
30, and Wednesday, Aug. 1, at the Walter Reade Theater at LincolnCenter in New York. The series features the acclaimed
director’s cult favorite The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) and all
three classics in what some commentators have labeled the Apartment Trilogy:
Repulsion (1965), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and The Tenant (1976).
Given the horrors contained in the Apartment Trilogy, what
would our favorite Polish director have made of today’s rental market? A
first-time viewer of Rosemary’s Baby might take away this central
message: You’ll need no less a connection than SATAN to land a three-bedroom
apartment in the Dakota when you’re a newly married, out-of-work actor and have
no visible means of income.
Roman Polanski stars in and directs "The Tenant"
The Tenant, a harrowing tale of urban
isolation and paranoia, is instead a single renter’s nightmare: Not only have
you (Roman Polanski) just moved into the apartment of a suicide victim, your
landlord (Melvyn Douglas) hates you. The more you attempt to keep out of
everyone’s way, the more things keep going terribly wrong. Like finding the
former tenant’s tooth in the wall. Or the nightmarish visions none of your
fellow tenants believe—even the one of the mummy-woman in the bathroom window
across the courtyard who stares at you as you attempt to pee. The message:
Living alone, while initially liberating and bohemian, usually ends in your
becoming That Weird Guy Down the Hall Who Does Creepy Drag. The only solution
is to throw yourself out the window.
If you fail the first time, repeat.
If you can buy the premise of Catherine Deneuve as a repressed, sexually frustrated virgin, you'll love Polanski's classic chiller "Repulsion".
Repulsion, conversely, is more of a
cautionary tale about what your anti-social roommate does when you go on
vacation. So desperate is she for company, hands will reach out of the walls.
Figures will appear in mirrors. She will pull your food out of the fridge, then
not eat it. Psycho-sexual frustration will lead to her crawling around on all
fours and delusions of rape. The message: Roommates, like pets, are high
maintenance, especially when left alone. Either take them with you on vacation,
or while you’re away, call your answering machine and make soothing sounds into
Mia Farrow isn't reacting to another rent increase at the Dakota, she's defending her unborn child from Satanic influences in Rosemary's Baby
Back to Rosemary’s Baby, I can’t resist. Oft-cited as
one of the “scariest films of all time,” I think of itas more of a
touchstone of inspired casting – maybe the most inspired works of casting ever.
Stuffed to the rafters with everyone from 1930’s contract players (Patsy Kelly,
Ralph Bellamy); robust, British thespians (Maurice Evans, in a role that fits
him like an old houseshoe); vaudevillians (Phil Leeds, Elisha Cook), Broadway
actors (Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer) and a winking cameo by William Castle,
the film’s co-producer (Robert Evans would not let him direct as part of the
deal at Paramount) – it’s hard to imagine a better ensemble. But according to
IMDB.COM and other sources, the leads and supporting roles were the result of
weeks of negotiations, turn-downs and second choices. Polanski wanted Tuesday Weld for the
lead, and Castle wanted Mia Farrow. Jane Fonda was made an offer for the lead,
but turned it down so she could make Barbarella (1968). Both director
and producer wanted Robert Redford for the role of Guy Woodhouse, Rosemary's
husband, but negotiations broke down when Paramount's lawyers served the actor
a subpoena over a contractual dispute involving Silvio Narizzano’s film Blue
(1968). Other actors considered for the role of Guy were contemporary leading
men: Richard Chamberlain, Robert Wagner and James Fox. Legend has it that even
Laurence Harvey campaigned for it, and Polanski tried to convince Warren Beatty
to do it before offering it to John Cassavetes, who in 1968 was more known as a
TV actor. Perhaps most intriguing to imagine, for the roles of witch coven
leaders Minnie and Roman Castevet, Polanski suggested Alfred Lunt and Lynn
Fontanne (!) the renowned husband and wife Broadway acting duo. Might they have
given their roles more of a Noel Coward drawing room feel, consistent with
their theatrical careers? I guess we’ll never know. Hard to imagine Minnie
Castevet as anyone other than Ruth Gordon, in her Oscar-winning performance.
well-cast bit parts are by Emmaline Henry, who played Dr. Bellow’s wife on I
Dream of Jeannie (Rosemary and Guy’s party scene) and Victoria Vetri,
1968’s Playmate of the Year, who plays the ill-fated, adopted runaway Terry
Gionoffrio. When Rosemary meets her in the laundry room and asks “Aren’t you
Victoria Vetri?” she replies no, “but everyone says I look like her.” It is,of course,
Victoria Vetri, all 36-21-35” of her! – David Savage
Wende Wagner also appeared in "Rosemary's Baby," a film that used the Dakota
but wasn't supposed to be set there...Robert Redford in "Blue"? It's bad enough with Terence Stamp, but Redford?
The mind boggles!- Rory Monteith