The Stepford Wives (1975 film)
|The Stepford Wives|
|Directed by||Bryan Forbes|
|Produced by||Gustave M. Berne
Edgar J. Scherick
|Screenplay by||William Goldman|
|Based on||The Stepford Wives by
|Music by||Michael Small|
|Editing by||Timothy Gee|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures
Palomar Pictures International
Paramount Pictures (2004 DVD)
|Release date(s)||February 12, 1975 (USA)|
|Running time||115 minutes|
The Stepford Wives is a 1975 science fiction–thriller film based on the 1972 Ira Levin novel of the same name. It was directed by Bryan Forbes with a screenplay by William Goldman, and stars Katharine Ross, Paula Prentiss, Peter Masterson, Forbes' wife Nanette Newman and Tina Louise. The film was remade in 2004 under the same name, but was written as a comedy versus a serious horror/thriller film.
While the film was only a moderate success at the time of release, it has grown in stature as a cult film over the years. Building upon the reputation of Levin's novel, the term "Stepford Wife" has become a popular science fiction concept and several sequels were shot, as well as the remake of the film in 2004.
Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) is a young wife who moves with her husband Walter (Peter Masterson) and two children from New York City to the idyllic Connecticut suburb of Stepford. Loneliness quickly sets in as Joanna, a mildly rebellious aspiring photographer, finds the women in town all look great and are obsessed with housework, but have few intellectual interests. The men all belong to the clubbish Stepford Men's Association, which Walter joins to Joanna's dismay. Neighbor Carol Van Sant's (Nanette Newman) sexually submissive behavior to her husband Ted, and her odd, repetitive behavior after a car accident also strike Joanna as unusual.
Things start to look up when she makes friends with another newcomer to town, sloppy, irrepressible Bobbie Markowe (Paula Prentiss). Along with glossy trophy wife Charmaine Wimperis (Tina Louise), they organize a Women's Lib consciousness raising session, but the meeting is a failure when the other wives hijack the meeting with cleaning concerns. Joanna is also unimpressed by the boorish Men's Club members, including intimidating president Dale "Diz" Coba (Patrick O'Neal); stealthily, they collect information on Joanna including her picture, her voice, and other personal details. When Charmaine turns overnight from a languid, self-absorbed tennis fan into an industrious, devoted wife, Joanna and Bobbie start investigating, with ever-increasing concern, the reason behind the submissive and bland behavior of the other wives, especially when they learn they were once quite supportive of liberal social policies.
Spooked, Bobbie and Joanna start house hunting in other towns, and later, Joanna wins a prestigious contract with a photo gallery with some photographs of their respective children. When she excitedly tells Bobbie her good news, Joanna is shocked to find her freewheeling and liberal friend has abruptly changed into another clean, conservative housewife, with no intention of moving from town.
Joanna panics and, at Walter's insistence, visits a psychiatrist to whom she voices her belief that all the men in the town are in a conspiracy of somehow changing the women. The psychiatrist recommends she leave town until she feels safe, but when Joanna returns home, the children are missing. The marriage devolves into domestic violence when Joanna and Walter get into a physical scuffle. In an attempt to find her children, she hypothesizes Bobbie may be caring for them. Joanna, still mystified by Bobbie's behavior, is desperate to prove her humanity but intuitively stabs Bobbie with a kitchen knife. But Bobbie doesn't bleed or suffer, instead going into a loop of odd mechanical behavior, thus revealing she is a robot.
Despite feeling she may be the next victim, Joanna sneaks into the mansion which houses the Men's Association to find her children. There, she finds the mastermind of the whole operation, Dale "Diz" Coba, and eventually her own robot-duplicate. Joanna is shocked into paralysis when she witnesses its soulless, black, empty eyes. The Joanna-duplicate brandishes a cord; it is implied that she strangles the real Joanna to death. In the final scene, the duplicate is seen placidly purchasing groceries at the local supermarket, along with the other "wives" all wearing similar long dresses, large hats and saying little more than hello to each other. The final shot focuses on Joanna's now-finished eyes. During the closing credits still images show a very cheerful Walter along with his now conservatively-dressed children in the back of the station wagon, picking up his "Stepford wife" from the supermarket.
Throughout most of history women commonly have had fewer legal rights and career opportunities than men. Women were seen as wives and mothers, not lawyers and photographers. The most effective aspect of the story's plot is an examination of the drastic measures some men will take to control women. The men create replicas of their wives and kill their original human counterparts, even while they just as well could have filed for divorce. The new wives don’t have opinions or careers, they undertake and enjoy all aspects of housework and will forever remain beautiful. In the film the men create these women to fulfill their own fantasy desires. The robots exist for their personal pleasure only.
The men utilize their talents to create wives that lack character, brains, ambition, creativity, and independence. Their goal is to create women they can control; wives that enjoy housework and fulfilling their husband's every need. The duplicates are "new and improved" versions of their wives. They have larger breasts, narrower waists and higher cheek bones. These robots are sexual objects, so they are intended only to accommodate their husbands' desires while having none of their own.
Modern women stand as potential threats to the male-controlled order, because they are outspoken, determined, and aggressive. The two women that are seen as the threat throughout the movie are Bobbie and Joanna, who were the only women wearing shorts, overalls, and pants; by the end they dressed and behaved like Stepford housewives. Joanna tries to start a women's association where real issues and emotions are discussed, while the robots are only programmed to talk about housework. All of the wives of Stepford were once female activists who had goals and ambitions until the men felt that there was a need for change. The women become isolated from the real world; they are attractive, sexualized property. These women are helpless, incompetent, and no longer able to defend themselves.The plot also continues a theme of patriarchal critique dating at least from Mary Shelley's 1818 novel "Frankenstein", which, unlike most movies of the same name, is intimately concerned with the implications of men's control of the manipulation of life, a concern of outstanding relevance today, when genetic engineering, DNA therapy, cloning and synthetic lifeforms are an ever increasing reality are all in the cards. Ira Levin made this a theme in other science fiction novels he wrote, including This Perfect Day (1970) and The Boys From Brazil (1976).
- Katharine Ross as Joanna Eberhart
- Paula Prentiss as Bobbie Markowe
- Peter Masterson as Walter Eberhart
- Nanette Newman as Carol van Sant
- Josef Sommer as Ted van Sant
- Tina Louise as Charmaine Wimperis
- Franklin Cover as Ed Wimperis
- Toni Reid as Marie Axhelm
- George Coe as Claude Axhelm
- Carole Mallory as Kit Sundersen
- Barbara Rucker as Mary Ann Stavros
- Judith Baldwin as Patricia Cornell
- Michael Higgins as Mr. Cornell
- William Prince as Ike Mazzard
- Carol Eve Rossen as Dr. Fancher
- Robert Fields as Raymond Chandler
- Remak Ramsay as Mr. Atkinson
- Patrick O'Neal as Dale Coba
Cast notes 
- "Brat Pack" actress Mary Stuart Masterson made her film debut here as one of Joanna's children. Masterson is the daughter of Peter Masterson.
- Nanette Newman is the widow of the late director Bryan Forbes.
- Dee Wallace, later known for her role in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, appears as Charmaine's maid. Franklin Cover, of the situation comedy The Jeffersons also appears in a supporting role.
- Tina Louise originated the role of "Ginger Grant" on the situation comedy Gilligan's Island. When the actress declined to appear in later incarnations, she was replaced by actress Judith Baldwin, who had a role as one of the minor wives. Baldwin also appeared in a small role in the telesequel The Stepford Children.
The film was shot in a variety of towns in Western Connecticut, primarily in Darien, Westport, and Fairfield. Director Bryan Forbes purposefully chose white and bright colors for the setting of the film, attempting to make a "thriller in sunlight". With the exception of the stormy night finale, the film is almost over-saturated with bright light and cheery settings. All the locations were actual places; no sets were built for the film.
Tension developed between Forbes and screenwriter Goldman over the casting of Nanette Newman (Forbes's wife) as one of the wives. Goldman had wanted the wives to be depicted as model-like women who dressed provocatively. But after casting Newman this was not to be, as Goldman stated he felt that Newman's physical appearance did not match the type of woman he imagined, and as a result this caused a change in appearance in costuming for all of the other wives. Goldman has said that he found Newman to be a perfectly good actress, however. Goldman was also unhappy with some rewrites that Forbes contributed. In particular, Forbes toned down Goldman's "horrific" ending. Actor Masterson, who was friends with Goldman, would secretly call Goldman for his input on scenes, creating additional stresses. Although Forbes made different stories concerning different people and their lives, this was his only horror film.
Goldman later claimed the movie "could have been very strong, but it was rewritten and altered, and I don't think happily."
Initially, Joanna Cassidy was cast as Bobbie. When she left after a few weeks of production, her scenes were reshot. Tuesday Weld initially accepted the role of Joanna, but cancelled before filming began.
The Stepford Wives has a 67% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Some critics deride its leisurely pace. Most applaud the "quiet, domestic" thrills the film delivers in the final third and earlier sections as "clever, witty, and delightfully offbeat". As for the satire in the film, Roger Ebert wrote, "[The actresses] have absorbed enough TV, or have such an instinctive feeling for those phony, perfect women in the ads, that they manage all by themselves to bring a certain comic edge to their cooking, their cleaning, their gossiping and their living deaths."
Initial reaction to the film by feminist groups was not favorable, arguing that it was "anti-woman". Cast and crew vehemently disagree, as the men in the film are characterized as "swinish and grotesque", and the heroine is dispatched in the finale. They maintain that critics misunderstand the premise, that Stepford is a sort of chauvinistic dystopia, and that the depiction of subservient, robotic women is intended as a satirical statement against traditional gender roles. There was a TV ad campaign that fueled further the resentment, ending with the words, "See 'The Stepford Wives'.....Before your husband does."
Awards and nominations 
Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror films
- Best Actress 1975 — Katherine Ross-Won
- Best Science Fiction film 1975 — nominated
American Film Institute Films
Many sequels have been produced over the years including:
- Revenge of the Stepford Wives (1980) Starring Don Johnson, Sharon Gless, and Julie Kavner.
- The Stepford Children (1987) Starring Barbara Eden.
- The Stepford Husbands (1996) Starring Donna Mills and Michael Ontkean
- The remake The Stepford Wives (2004) Starring Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick
Parodies and popular culture 
- Married... with Children, season 11, episode 10, "The Stepford Peg": Peg (Katey Sagal) bumps her head on the coffee table after slipping on a candy wrapper, and becomes a stereotypical housewife thanks to Al (Ed O'Neill) implanting suggestions that she does do housework.
- The Chronicle, season 1, episode 18: "The Stepford Cheerleaders"
- Homeboys in Outer Space, season 1, episode 10: "A Man's Place is in the Homey, or The Stepford Guys"
- Desperate Housewives: In Season 1, Bree Van de Kamp is said to be running for the "mayor of Stepford" because of her perfection.
- Newhart, season 2, episode 4: "The Stratford Wives"
- Note: The BBC movie soundalike The Stretford Wives (2002) is not related.
- In one episode of Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide there were three "perfect" girls in the class, and Moze thinks they are robots.
- In an episode of My Hero, Pierce is asked if it is possible to make the Stepford wives a reality.
- S'Express sampled the line "yes, yes, this, it's wonderful" in their 1989 hit "Hey Music Lover".
- [. < http://www.wic.org/misc/history.htm >. "Women’s History in America"]. www.wic.com.
- "The Stepford Wives". www.ejumpcut.org.
- 38d9 353 9ff4-46e5-bed7 3d997f71a8b1%40sessionmgr104&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d% 3d#d b=aph &AN=7466613>. "The Cyborg Mystique". web.ebscohost.com.libdb.njit.edu.
- Reel.com review – deprecated link[dead link]
- Dennis Brown, Shoptalk, Newmarket Press, 1992 p 70
- Bryan Forbes, A Divided Life, Mandarin, 1993 p27
- Creating Horror in Connecticut Sunlight Wolf, William. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 11 Aug 1974: q30.
- BBC review
- Roger Ebert.com
- DVD documentary
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees
- AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
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- The Stepford Wives at the Internet Movie Database
- The Stepford Wives at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Stepford Wives at the TCM Movie Database
- The Stepford Wives at AllRovi