The Stepford Wives (1975 film)
The Stepford Wives is a 1975 American satirical horror film directed by Bryan Forbes, written by William Goldman, and starring Katharine Ross, Paula Prentiss, and Peter Masterson. Its plot follows a woman who relocates with her husband 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. The film is based on the 1972 novel of the same name by Ira Levin.
|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|
Filmed in Connecticut in 1974, The Stepford Wives premiered theatrically in February 1975. It grossed $4 million at the United States box office, though it received mixed reviews from critics. Reaction from feminist activists and writers was extremely divided at the time of its release, with Betty Friedan deeming it 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.
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 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 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 strikes 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 drives back home to Stepford passing a few computer tech plants and a biotech plant with Coba's namesake. She stops by the local pharmacy to pick up the drugs that were prescribed by the psychiatrist before returning home in the evening. In an attempt to gather her children and leave town, Walter startles Joanna and tells her that they are away from home with their "friends." Walter demands that Joanna go up to her room and lie down, which she eventually does but not before locking herself in after a physical confrontation with her husband. Later she sneaks out of the house during a thunderstorm and stops by Bobbie's house once more in a attempt to find her children, but Bobbie tells her that she is home alone doing housework and offers Joanna a cup of coffee. Joanna grows frustrated when Bobbie refuses to engage with her in a meaningful way. Desperate and disturbed, Joanna cuts her hand with a kitchen knife, and asks Bobbie if she bleeds as Joanna shows her own blood to Bobbie. Bobbie answers by telling Joanna to "look at your hand," which only angers her and then stabs Bobbie with the same knife. Bobbie does not bleed, but goes into a loop like a malfunctioning computer, revealing to Joanna that the real Bobbie has been replaced by a gynoid.
Joanna rushes back home and bludgeons Walter with a firepoker, demanding he tells where her children were taken to. Her husband tells her the children are at the Men's Association. Despite sensing she may be the next victim, Joanna sneaks into the mansion which houses the Men's Association. There, she finds 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.
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. The android "Joanna" now has the normal-looking eyes of her original human counterpart.
Ultimately, still photos depict a smiling Walter driving the family car, picking up his new "Stepford Wife" from the supermarket with their children in the backseat.
- 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 Kim Eberhart
- Ronny Sullivan as Amy Eberhart
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. Jean Seberg was considered, but declined the part. Tuesday Weld initially accepted the role of Joanna, but cancelled before filming began. Ultimately, Katharine Ross was cast in the part.
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 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 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.
The film was shot in a variety of towns in suburban Fairfield in southwest Connecticut, primarily in Darien, Westport, and Fairfield. The climax of the story was filmed at Lockwood-Mathews Mansion, a tourist attraction in Norwalk.
Scheduling difficulties delayed the filming from 1973 until 1974.
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.
Goldman later claimed the film "could have been very strong, but it was rewritten and altered, and I don't think happily."
The Stepford Wives has a rating of 67% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 33 reviews, with an average rating of 6.19/10. 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."
Variety summarized the film as "a quietly freaky suspense-horror story" and praised Ross's performance as "excellent and assured." John Seymour of the Santa Maria Times also gave the film a favorable review, deeming it an "epic nightmare" boasting "gripping drama."
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".
Reaction from feministsEdit
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." Friedan commented that women should boycott the film and attempt to diminish any publicity for it.
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." 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."
|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|||
|2008||Top 10 Top 10 (Science Fiction)||Nominated|||
Anchor Bay Entertainment issued The Stepford Wives on VHS on March 10, 1997; they subsequently released a non-anamorphic DVD edition on December 3, 1997. 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. In 2004, Paramount Home Entertainment re-released the "Silver Anniversary" edition, which featured the same bonus materials and screen menus.
- 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
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