The Stepford Wives-1975
Director Bryan Forbes
Starring Katharine Ross, Paula Prentiss
Scott’s Review #1,395
Reviewed September 4, 2023
The Stepford Wives (1975) is a film that has deservedly achieved cult status over the years and its title became iconic in meaning.
Everyone knows what a ‘Stepford wife’ is and what it depicts. Usually, a tall, leggy, brainless rich white woman from Connecticut is a sufficient enough image.
The film is a personal treasure to me since I am a resident of said state. The fact that ‘Stepford’ sounds like ‘Stamford’ where I live is uncanny and ironic. The film was shot in various areas of Connecticut so it’s fun to see the towns, grocery stores, and houses in the mid-1970s.
It also resonates quite well with my husband who lived in Manhattan for many years and then transplanted to nearby Connecticut just like the main characters do.
Besides my fondness, it’s a damned good thriller. It paces nicely and takes its time getting to the stunning conclusion.
The film was written by William Goldman (All the Presidents Men-1976), who based his screenplay on Ira Levin’s 1972 novel of the same name. Levin also wrote Rosemary’s Baby which was turned into a 1968 film.
The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby would make an outstanding double feature.
Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) moves to the quiet town of Stepford, Connecticut, with her husband Walter (Peter Masterson) and children. The town seems idyllic and maybe just a little too perfect for her tastes.
Along with best friend and fellow Stepford resident Bobby (Paula Prentiss), the women notice that the other housewives are not quite ‘normal’. They obsess over housework and are willingly subservient to their husbands.
Joanna and Bobby are determined to solve the mystery especially when they realize there used to be a large women’s liberation group in Stepford.
In a lesser film, the final product could dive headfirst into campy horror. A tepid remake made in 2004 and starring Nicole Kidman did. But the original version stays the course and provides thrills and psychological facets.
The audience knows pretty soon that the men have a secret club that women are not permitted to attend. Named the Men’s Association, a major clue surfaces when Walter invites the men over to his house and they secretly look Joanna up and down.
What we don’t know is the how. Joanna, Bobby, and another neighbor Charmaine Wimperis (brilliantly played by Tina Louise) are the only ‘normal’ wives. Realizing which one of them is the next intended victim is part of the fun.
The women’s portraits are drawn by one of the men and we learn that the previous women have ‘turned’ after going away on a romantic weekend with their husbands.
What’s inside the creepy mansion that holds the Men’s Association meetings? Will Joanna sneak inside? What will happen next?
Delicious sequences occur that reveal that housewives are robots. After a minor fender bender in the local shopping center parking lot, Carol (Nanette Newman) begins acting strangely at an outdoor cocktail party. She repeatedly frets and repeats the same line over and over again.
Her husband blames her odd behavior on alcohol but the audience knows better.
Unforgettable is the stellar grocery store finale when the women are dressed to the nines and robotically shuffle through the aisles. They absent-mindedly take items off the shelves and place them into their carts while acknowledging each other with a pleasant ‘Hello, Charmaine”, or “Hello, Carol”.
My favorite scene is close to the finale between Bobby and Joanna. Horrified at Bobby’s transition to an uptight, well-dressed housewife obsessed with a clean kitchen, Joanna impulsively plunges a butcher knife into Bobby’s midsection.
With no bloodshed proving Bobby is a robot, Bobby calmly scolds Joanna by saying over and over again, “Now why would you do a thing like that?”
The scene is creepy, startling, and powerful given the close relationship between the women.
These scenes and others make The Stepford Wives (1975) part of pop culture and a reason I can watch the film several times over.
Featuring a cast of good actors led by Ross who successfully provides Joanna with both likability and sensibility the film is never over the top or ridiculous.