The Stepford Wives (1975 film)

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The Stepford Wives
Stepfordwivesposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBryan Forbes
Screenplay byWilliam Goldman
Based onThe Stepford Wives
by Ira Levin
Produced byEdgar J. Scherick
Starring
Cinematography
Edited byTimothy Gee
Music byMichael Small
Production
company
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • February 12, 1975 (1975-02-12)
Running time
115 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Box office$4 million[2][3]

The Stepford Wives is a 1975 American satirical psychological horror film directed by Bryan Forbes. It was written by William Goldman, who based his screenplay on Ira Levin's 1972 novel of the same name. The film stars Katharine Ross as a woman who relocates with her husband (Peter Masterson) and children from New York City to the Connecticut community of Stepford, where she comes to find the women live unwaveringly subservient lives to their husbands.

Filmed in Connecticut in 1974, The Stepford Wives premiered theatrically in February 1975. It grossed $4 million at the U.S. box office, though it received mixed reviews from critics. Reaction from feminist activists was also divided at the time of its release; Betty Friedan dismissed it as a "rip-off of the women's movement" and discouraging women from seeing it, though others such as Gael Greene and Eleanor Perry defended the film. The Stepford Wives has grown in stature as a cult film over the years, and the term Stepford or Stepford wife has become a popular science fiction concept. Several sequels to the film were made, as well as a big-budget remake in 2004 that used the same title.

Plot[edit]

Joanna Eberhart is a young wife who moves with her husband Walter and their two daughters from Manhattan to the idyllic Fairfield County, Connecticut suburb of Stepford. Loneliness quickly sets in as Joanna, a mildly rebellious aspiring photographer, finds that the women in town all look flawless and are obsessed with housework, but have few intellectual interests. The men all belong to the exclusionary Men's Association, which Walter joins to Joanna's dismay. Neighbor Carol Van Sant's sexually submissiveness to her husband Ted, and her odd, repetitive behavior after a car accident also strike Joanna as strange.

Joanna subsequently befriends the sloppy, irrepressible Bobbie Markowe, with whom she finds common interests and shared ideas. Along with the glamorously beautiful tennis-playing trophy wife Charmaine Wimperis, the three organize a women's liberation meeting, but the gathering is a failure when the other wives continually divert the discussion to cleaning products. Joanna is also unimpressed by the boorish Men's Association members, including the intimidating president Dale 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. When she tells 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 altering the psyches of the women. The psychiatrist recommends that she leave town until she feels safe. After leaving the psychiatrist's office, Joanna returns home to pickup her children only to find out that her children are missing and Walter evasive about their whereabouts. Joanna sneaks out of her house and goes to Bobbie's house, but grows frustrated when Bobbie refuses to engage with her in a meaningful way. Desperate and disturbed, Joanna 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 robot.

Joanna later returns home and bludgeons Walter with a firepoker demanding where their children were taken to. He tells Joanna that their children are at the Men's Association, after which Walter loses consciousness. Despite sensing she may be the next victim, Joanna sneaks into the mansion which houses the Men's Association, in hopes of finding her children. However Joanna falls right into the trap that was set up for her, as she finds herself face to face with the mastermind of the whole operation, Dale Coba (who tells Joanna that her children are really with "Charmaine"), and eventually her own unfinished robot replica. Joanna is shocked when she witnesses its soulless, empty eyes. The Joanna-replica brandishes a nylon stocking and smilingly approaches Joanna to strangle her as Coba looks on.

Some time later, the artificial "Joanna" placidly peruses the local supermarket amongst the other "wives", all glamorously dressed. As they make their way through the store, they each vacantly greet one another. An African American couple bicker in one aisle about their life in Stepford. During this sequence, the camera zooms in on Joanna, and reveals normal-looking eyes. During the end credits, photographs show a smiling Walter driving the family car, and picking up his new "Stepford Wife" from the supermarket with their children in the backseat.

Cast[edit]

Analysis[edit]

Film scholar John Kenneth Muir interprets The Stepford Wives as "a film essay about what it means to be part of an unspoken 'underclass.'"[4]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

Producer Edgar Scherick recruited English director Bryan Forbes to direct the film.[5]

Casting[edit]

Director Forbes considered various actresses for the lead role of Joanna Eberhart: He initially met with Diane Keaton about playing the role, but she turned it down. When he asked why, she said her analyst did not like the script.[6] Jean Seberg was considered, but declined the part.[5] Tuesday Weld initially accepted the role of Joanna, but cancelled before filming began.[7] Ultimately, Katharine Ross was cast in the part.[5]

In the role of Bobbie, Joanna Cassidy initially was cast.[8] When she was fired after a few weeks of production, she was replaced by Paula Prentiss.[8] [9]

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 appears in a supporting role. Tina Louise originated the role of Ginger Grant on the TV series 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 appeared in a small role in the television sequel The Stepford Children. Kenneth McMillan, who later was 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.

Filming[edit]

The film was shot in a variety of towns in suburban Fairfield in southwest Connecticut, primarily in Darien, Westport, and Fairfield.[8] The climax of the story was filmed at Lockwood-Mathews Mansion, a tourist attraction in Norwalk.[10]

Scheduling difficulties delayed the filming from 1973 until 1974.[11]

Director 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' 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 of 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, secretly called Goldman for his input on scenes, creating additional stresses.[12]

Nanette Newman stated that the ending was deliberately filmed by the director "in an unreal way, so they were almost like a ballet moving in and out, up and down the aisle."[13]

Goldman later claimed the film "could have been very strong, but it was rewritten and altered, and I don't think happily."[14]

Release[edit]

Box office[edit]

The Stepford Wives premiered theatrically in the United States on February 12, 1975.[8] The film grossed approximately $4 million in North America.[2][3]

Critical response[edit]

The Stepford Wives has a rating of 68% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 34 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10. The site's consensus states: "The Stepford Wives's inherent satire is ill-served by Bryan Forbes' stately direction, but William Goldman's script excels as a damning critique of a misogynistic society."[15] 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".[16] 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."[17]

Jerry Oster of the New York Daily News awarded the film a middling two out of four stars, describing the screenplay as a "tedious" and "padded" adaptation of the source material.[18]

Variety summarized the film as "a quietly freaky suspense-horror story" and praised Ross's performance as "excellent and assured."[19] John Seymour of the Santa Maria Times also gave the film a favorable review, deeming it an "epic nightmare" boasting "gripping drama."[20]

Devan Coggan of Entertainment Weekly wrote that the finale was "deeply divisive" and the actress for Joanna stated retrospectively that if she was to revise the ending she would have Joanna "fight harder".[13]

Reaction from feminists[edit]

Feminist Betty Friedan deemed the film a "rip-off" of the women's movement

Initial reaction to the film by feminist groups was not favorable,[5] with one studio screening for feminist activists being met with "hisses, groans, and guffaws."[5] 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!'"[5] 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."[21] Friedan commented that women should boycott the film and attempt to diminish any publicity for it.[22]

Writer Gael Greene, however, lauded the film, commenting: "I loved it—those men were like a lot of men I've known in my life."[22] Feminist screenwriter Eleanor Perry came to the film's defense, stating that it "presses buttons that make you furious—the fact that all the Stepford men wanted were big breasts, big bottoms, a clean house, fresh-perked coffee and sex."[22]

Accolades[edit]

Year Institute Category Recipient Result Ref.
1975 Saturn Awards Best Actress Katharine Ross Won
Best Science Fiction Film The Stepford Wives Nominated
2001 American Film Institute 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominated [23]
2008 Top 10 Top 10 (Science Fiction) Nominated [24]

Home media[edit]

Anchor Bay Entertainment issued The Stepford Wives on VHS on March 10, 1997;[25] they subsequently released a non-anamorphic DVD edition on December 3, 1997.[26] In 2001, Anchor Bay reissued the film in a "Silver Anniversary" edition, featuring an anamorphic transfer as well as bonus interviews with cast and crew.[27] In 2004, Paramount Home Entertainment re-released the "Silver Anniversary" edition, which featured the same bonus materials and screen menus.[27]

Legacy[edit]

Film scholar John Kenneth Muir considers The Stepford Wives one of the best horror films of the 1970s.[28] Also Jordan Peele said that he was inspired by this movie to make his director debut film Get Out.

Related works[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Stepford Wives (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. March 9, 1976. Archived from the original on July 4, 2015. Retrieved July 3, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "All-time Film Rental Champs". Variety. January 7, 1976. p. 50.
  3. ^ a b "The Stepford Wives". The Numbers. Archived from the original on January 2, 2020.
  4. ^ Muir 2012, p. 373.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Coggan, Devan (October 23, 2017). "The Stepford Wives: Inside the making of the 1975 feminist horror classic". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on December 25, 2017.
  6. ^ Forbes 1993, p. 27.
  7. ^ Wolf, William (August 11, 1974). "Creating Horror in Connecticut Sunlight". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. p. Q30.
  8. ^ a b c d "The Stepford Wives". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Los Angeles, California: American Film Institute. Archived from the original on January 2, 2020.
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 31, 2021. Retrieved January 24, 2021.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Digrazia, Christina (September 28, 2003). "At a Mansion, Lights, Cameras And, Well, Clonings". The New York Times. New York City, New York. Archived from the original on December 26, 2017.
  11. ^ "The Stepford Wives (1975)". American Film Institute. Archived from the original on January 2, 2020. Retrieved April 5, 2020.
  12. ^ The Stepford Wives: Behind the Scenes documentary
  13. ^ a b Coggan, Devan (October 23, 2017). "The Stepford Wives: Inside the making of the 1975 feminist horror classic". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on August 28, 2019. Retrieved April 5, 2020.
  14. ^ Brown 1992, p. 70.
  15. ^ "The Stepford Wives". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Archived from the original on August 10, 2015. Retrieved September 22, 2021.
  16. ^ "BBC - Films - review - The Stepford Wives DVD". bbc.co.uk. Archived from the original on September 25, 2015. Retrieved February 27, 2015.
  17. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1975). "The Stepford Wives". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on October 3, 2012. Retrieved February 27, 2015.
  18. ^ Oster, Jerry (February 13, 1975). "'Stepford Wives' a Tedious Experience". New York Daily News. New York City, New York. p. 64. Archived from the original on January 2, 2020. Retrieved January 2, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  19. ^ Variety Staff (December 31, 1974). "The Stepford Wives". Variety. Archived from the original on November 23, 2014.
  20. ^ Seymour, John (June 21, 1975). "'Stepford': epic nightmare". Santa Maria Times. Santa Maria, California. p. 11. Archived from the original on January 3, 2020. Retrieved January 2, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  21. ^ Silver, Anna Krugovoy (2002). "The Cyborg Mystique: The Stepford Wives and Second Wave Feminism". Women's Studies Quarterly. 30: 60.
  22. ^ a b c Klemesrud, Judy (February 28, 1975). "A controversial film". The Press Democrat. Santa Rosa, California. p. 18. Archived from the original on January 3, 2020. Retrieved January 2, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  23. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Los Angeles, California: American Film Institute. June 12, 2001. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 20, 2015.
  24. ^ "10 Top Ten Film Genres". The Film Site. AMC. Archived from the original on October 8, 2018.
  25. ^ The Stepford Wives [VHS]. ASIN 6304437617.
  26. ^ The Stepford Wives DVD. ASIN 6304697988.
  27. ^ a b Galbraith, Stuart (June 15, 2004). "The Stepford Wives (Silver Anniversary Edition)". DVD Talk. Archived from the original on December 7, 2011.
  28. ^ Muir 2012, p. 375.

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]