Following last year's release of his earlier work, this is an artfully presented set of Polanski's commercial breakthrough movies—Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and The Tenant. Given a ready-made yarn with a thread, he could concentrate on brewing his own unique, dislocating atmospheres and obsessions, and did so brilliantly.

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Pole Vaults

Following last year’s release of his earlier work, this is an artfully presented set of Polanski’s commercial breakthrough movies?Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and The Tenant. Given a ready-made yarn with a thread, he could concentrate on brewing his own unique, dislocating atmospheres and obsessions, and did so brilliantly. He wasn’t content in this role for long, but Robert Evans forcing him to play (relatively) straight strengthened the reputations of both men.

In Rosemary’s Baby (1968) he adapts Ira Levin’s novel (one shudders, in a positive way, to think what he’d have made of The Stepford Wives) of a young woman (Mia Farrow) who’s impregnated by the Devil. What’s suggested is as scary as what’s seen. The domestic Manhattan setting makes it all the creepier, and the film paved the way for The Exorcist and inferior imitations. Chuck Palahniuk wrote recently that: “We’re so wrapped up in this story, we get a cathartic experience, a horrible adventure by proxy.”

Chinatown (’74) is, for all the acclaim, Polanski’s least Polanski film. His most restrained. He doesn’t overpush the kinky quirks of his subjective world view, allowing Robert Towne’s script and the fine acting of Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway to carry their own water. Yet the director’s dark wit questions the conventions of noir, and exhales stylish seediness; ’30s LA is sun-baked yet subterranean, in a miasma of political-personal scandal. The Tenant (1976) is a ghastly (if very unsettling) self-parody, with Polanski as a paranoid male version of Deneuve in Repulsion, clothed in drag and dementia in Paris. Evict it; house the other two.