The Stepford Wives (1975 film)
|The Stepford Wives|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Bryan Forbes|
|Produced by||Edgar J. Scherick|
|Screenplay by||William Goldman|
|Based on||The Stepford Wives|
by Ira Levin
|Music by||Michael Small|
|Edited by||Timothy Gee|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$4 million (rentals) (U.S./Canada)|
The Stepford Wives is a 1975 American science-fiction horror 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, and Peter Masterson.
While the film was 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" or "Stepford Wife" has become a popular science fiction concept and several sequels were shot, as well as a 2004 remake using the same title, but rewritten as a comedy instead of a serious horror/thriller film.
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 Fairfield County, 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 exclusionary local Men's Association, which Walter joins, to Joanna's dismay. Neighbor Carol Van Sant's sexually submissive behavior to her husband Ted, and her odd, repetitive behavior after a car accident also strike Joanna as strange.
Things start to look up when she befriends another newcomer to town, sloppy, irrepressible Bobbie Markowe. Along with the glamorously beautiful tennis playing 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 Association members, including intimidating president Dale "Diz" Coba. Stealthily, the Men's Association collects information on Joanna including her picture, her voice, and other personal details. When Charmaine returns from a weekend trip with her husband as an industrious, devoted wife who has fired her maid and destroyed her tennis court, Joanna and Bobbie start investigating, with ever-increasing concern, the reason behind the submissive and bland behavior of the other wives.
Bobbie and Joanna start house hunting in other towns. Later, Joanna wins a prestigious contract with a photo gallery with some photographs of their respective children. When she goes to tell Bobbie the good news, Joanna is shocked to find her freewheeling friend has abruptly changed into another clean, conformist housewife, with no intention of moving. Joanna panics, and visits a psychiatrist, to whom she voices her belief that the men in the town are in a conspiracy of somehow changing the women. The psychiatrist recommends that she leave town until she feels safe, but when Joanna returns home, the children are missing. Joanna and Walter argue and get into a physical scuffle. In an attempt to find her children, she thinks Bobbie may be caring for them.
Joanna, still mystified by Bobbie's behavior, becomes increasingly desperate and stabs Bobbie with a kitchen knife. Bobbie does not bleed but goes into a loop like a malfunctioning computer, thus revealing the real Bobbie has been replaced by a fembot. Despite sensing 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, Diz Coba, and eventually her own unfinished robot-replica. Joanna is shocked into paralysis when she witnesses its soulless, empty eyes. The Joanna-replica brandishes a stocking and smilingly approaches Joanna as the screen abruptly cuts to black, presumably strangling Joanna to death.
At the film's end, "Joanna" is seen placidly purchasing groceries at the local supermarket, along with the other "wives", all inappropriately glamorously dressed, politely saying little more than hello to each other. In the background, a black couple (new residents of Stepford) argue, and it is likely the wife is poised to become the conspiracy's next victim. Still images show a cheerful Walter along with his children in the back of the station wagon, picking up his wife from the supermarket.
- Katharine Ross as Joanna Eberhart
- Paula Prentiss as Bobbie Markowe
- Peter Masterson as Walter Eberhart
- Nanette Newman as Carol van Sant
- Tina Louise as Charmaine Wimperis
- Patrick O'Neal as Dale "Diz" Coba
- Josef Sommer as Ted van Sant
- 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
- Mary Stuart Masterson as Joanna's daughter Kim
The film was shot in a variety of towns in suburban Fairfield County in southwest Connecticut, primarily in Darien (Goodwives Shopping Center), Westport, and Fairfield. The climax of the story was filmed at Lockwood-Mathews Mansion, a tourist attraction in Norwalk. 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 Peter Masterson, who was friends with Goldman, would secretly call Goldman for his input on scenes, creating additional stresses.
Goldman later claimed the film "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 re-shot. Tuesday Weld initially accepted the role of Joanna, but cancelled before filming began.
Actress Mary Stuart Masterson made her film debut here as one of Joanna's children. Masterson is the daughter of Peter Masterson. Dee Wallace, later known for her role in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, appears as Charmaine's maid. Franklin Cover, of the television situation comedy The Jeffersons, also appears in a supporting role. Tina Louise originated the role of Ginger Grant on the TV 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 television sequel The Stepford Children. Kenneth McMillan, who later featured as the evil Baron Harkonnen in David Lynch's 1984 film version of Dune, has a small speaking role in the early part of the film, as the supermarket manager.
The Stepford Wives has a rating of 69% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 29 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10. 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 with one studio screening for feminist activists being met with "hisses, groans, and guffaws." Cast and crew disagreed with the perceived anti-woman interpretations with Newman recalling "Bryan [Forbes] always used to say, ‘If anything, it’s anti-men!'". Despite Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique being a major influence on the original novel upon which the film was based, Friedan's response to the film was highly critical, calling it "a rip-off of the women's movement."
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
Sequels and remake
Three television film sequels have been produced, including:
- Revenge of the Stepford Wives (1980 TV) - starring Don Johnson, Sharon Gless, and Julie Kavner.
- The Stepford Children (1987 TV) - starring Barbara Eden and Don Murray.
- The Stepford Husbands (1996 TV) - 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"
- 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.
- The 1998 horror film Disturbing Behavior shares the same premise involving brainwashed teenagers.
- S'Express sampled the line "yes, yes, this, it's wonderful" in their 1989 hit "Hey Music Lover".
- Jordan Peele was influenced by The Stepford Wives for his 2017 directorial debut, Get Out, citing its combination of humor, horror, and social commentary.
- Note: The BBC movie soundalike The Stretford Wives (2002) is not related.
- "THE STEPFORD WIVES (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. March 9, 1976. Retrieved July 3, 2015.
- "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 50
- Canby, Vincent (February 13, 1975). "The Stepford Wives (1975) Screen: 'Stepford Wives' Assays Suburbia's Detergent Set". The New York Times.
- "Bryan Forbes: british director behind cult classic movie Stepford Wives - News - The Week UK". The Week UK. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
- Scott, A. O. (June 11, 2004). "The Stepford Wives (2004) FILM REVIEW; Married To a Machine". The New York Times.
- The Stepford Wives Behind the scenes documentary
- 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.
- "The Stepford Wives". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved July 3, 2015.
- "BBC - Films - review - The Stepford Wives DVD". bbc.co.uk. Retrieved February 27, 2015.
- Roger Ebert (January 1, 1975). "The Stepford Wives". suntimes.com. Retrieved February 27, 2015.
- Coggan, Devin (2017-10-23). "The Stepford Wives: Inside the making of the 1975 feminist horror classic". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2017-10-24.
- Anna Krugovoy Silver, The Cyborg Mystique: The Stepford Wives and Second Wave Feminism', Women's Studies Quarterly, Vol. 30, 2002 p 60
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF).
- "AFI.com Error" (PDF). afi.com. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
- "Key & Peele Star Talks About His Upcoming Horror Movie".
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