What Were We Thinking? Hitchcock Versus Polanski Versus Hunter

At this point in time, renowned director Roman Polanski is more likely to be criticized for his dubious legal situation than he has ever been for his films, which have often garnered wide acclaim. That is, of course, if one ignores the case of Tim M. Hunter ’68, who, in a 1968 Crimson article, argued that Polanski’s films “have apparently fallen into every cinematic pitfall readily available.”

Was Hunter reviewing one of the Polish master’s lesser works? Nope. The quote comes from a review of “Rosemary’s Baby,” a film Hunter deemed a “a pointless and supremely mediocre melodrama” and “ugly—aesthetically derelict, the groping of a bombed-out mind.”

There are many valid reasons to condemn a movie—bad haircuts, vapid dialogue, uninspired visuals—but an unhappy ending doesn’t always top the list. But this is Hunter’s main complaint—he notes that “the witches win... [and] Rosemary accepts Satan’s spawn as her son,” then takes a stand against this madness, declaring “there are too many reasons around for not affirming devil worship to allow us to accept Polanski’s recent films without pausing for thought.” Spoiler alert!

Though “Rosemary’s Baby” is undoubtedly a disturbing film, Hunter’s argument seems problematic—the idea that an unhappy ending is tantamount to sympathy for evil forces does not quite add up. If “Rosemary’s Baby” is pro-Satan, that makes “Terms of Endearment” pro-cancer.

To be fair, Hunter was smart to refute the late-’60s hype of Polanski as the next Alfred Hitchcock. But “Rosemary’s Baby,” perhaps Polanski’s finest work of suspense and tension, doesn’t seem like the film to illustrate that dismissal. Had Hunter been reviewing the director’s “Pirates” or “Oliver Twist” instead, some of his criticisms would have found a worthier target.

—Staff writer Petey E. Menz can be reached at menz@college.harvard.edu.

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