ⓘ 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.
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 divisive at the time of its release, with Betty Friedan deeming it a "rip-off of the womens movement" and discouraging women from seeing it, though others such as Gael Greene and Eleanor Perry defended the film.
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 Levins 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 Mens Association, which Walter joins to Joannas dismay. Neighbor Carol Van Sants sexually submissive behavior 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 womens 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 Mens Association members, including the intimidating president Dale Coba. Stealthily, the Mens 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 psychiatrists office, Joanna stops by Bobbies 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 fembot.
Joanna rushes home to find that her children are missing, and Walter evasive about their whereabouts. After Joanna bludgeons him with a firepoker, he tells her the children are at the Mens Association. Despite sensing she may be the next victim, Joanna sneaks into the mansion which houses the Mens Association. There, she finds the mastermind of the whole operation, Dale Coba, 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 over "wives," all glamorously dressed. As they make their way through the store, they each vacantly greet one another.
2.1. Production Development
Producer Edgar Scherick recruited English director Bryan Forbes to direct the film.
2.2. Production Filming
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.
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 Newmans 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 Goldmans "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 dont think happily."
3.1. Release Box office
The Stepford Wives premiered theatrically in the United States on February 12, 1975. The film grossed approximately $4 million in North America.
3.2. Release Critical response
The Stepford Wives has a rating of 69% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 32 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, always used to say, If anything, it’s anti-men!" Despite Betty Friedans The Feminine Mystique being a major influence on the original novel upon which the film was based, Friedans response to the film was highly critical, calling it "a rip-off of the womens 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 Ive known in my life." Feminist screenwriter Eleanor Perry came to the films 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."
4. Related works
Three television film sequels have been produced, including:
- The Stepford Children 1987 TV - starring Barbara Eden and Don Murray.
- Revenge of the Stepford Wives 1980 TV - starring Don Johnson, Sharon Gless, and Julie Kavner.
- The Stepford Husbands 1996 TV - starring Donna Mills and Michael Ontkean.
- The remake The Stepford Wives 2004 - starring Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick.