88 of 103 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2002
Whether or not you've actually seen it, you'll probably have heard of "The Stepford Wives". Based on Ira Levin's novel, it was produced in the 1970s and has endured in the public consciousness ever since. Indeed the terms "Stepford" and "Stepford Wife" are now part of our vernacular. If you're in any doubt what these expressions mean, just imagine a woman who is the perfect male fantasy...a wife who cooks, cleans and keeps her husband's home to perfection whilst remaining an object of beauty, with well-preserved looks, sexy outfits and just the right-sized cleavage. A female who is there to service her man's every need - domestic, emotional, sexual - whilst never questioning her role as devoted housewife.<P... but the "The Stepford Wives" remains a powerful and disturbing movie, because it shows what could happen if men allowed their fantasies about women to become a reality.
The film tells the tale of New York housewife and photographer Joanna Eberhart, who moves with her lawyer husband Walter (sexy name - not!) and their two kids to the seemingly idyllic rural town of Stepford. Very soon Joanna becomes disenchanted with her surroundings, missing the liveliness of New York. Her feelings of isolation are compounded by the fact that the other women in the town appear content to stay at home for their husbands as loyal house fraus, with no outside interests whatsoever. Also, all new male arrivals in Stepford are invited to join "The Men's Association", an organisation from which the town's women are strictly excluded. Whatever goes on there remains a mystery; the women aren't told.
Fortunately Joanna meets the effervescent and rebellious Bobby Marco, another recent arrival in Stepford who shares her concerns about the strange behaviour of the women in the community. Together they decide to set up a consciousness-raising group and rally to get the local women involved...almost to no avail! At the first meeting of the wives, the other women prefer to agonise over the cleanliness of their kitchens and talk about the wonders of "Easy-On" starch spray and baking. One other recruit is found though; a feisty redhead called Charmaine who feels restricted by her husband Ed's demands. However after a weekend away with him, Charmaine returns strangely altered, allowing her hubby to bulldoze her much-loved tennis court and confessing that she all she wanted to do was "please Ed...and boy am I gonna please him". Weird.
Mystified, Joanna and Bobby seek an answer to the zombie-like behaviour of the local women, wondering if "something in the water" might be responsible. They enlist one of Joanna's ex boyfriends, who is a scientist, to help, but this fails to pay dividends. Joanna soon comes to the frightening realisation that the town's wives undergo a change in personality after they have been resident in Stepford for roughly three months... and her time is almost up...
I won't give any more away but this is a thought-provoking and intriguing movie!! Although low on action, the film builds its sense of momentum through a growing feeling of paranoia: are the women in the town somehow being "substituted" for drone-like replacements? Or are all of Joanna's anxieties inside her own head? If you're looking for a fast-moving film you might be disappointed, but the cleverness of the movie lies in its subtlety and the way in which the events take place in a seemingly normal domestic setting.
Another reason for this movie's success lies in the acting. Katherine Ross (also of "The Graduate") puts in an intelligent, sympathetic performance as a woman who feels increasingly hemmed in by the claustrophobia of Stepford, and you really root for her as she feels she might be next on the list for "conversion". Paula Prentiss is great as Bobby, a funny, bubbly and tomboyish character determined not to become "one of those pan-scrubbers" and the rapport between her and Joanna is believable and touching. Given her determination to escape Stepford, Bobby's last few scenes are all the more poignant; I won't say any more but they make for some of the film's best moments! The supporting cast do a good job: amongst these are Peter Masterson as Walter, becoming gradually less supportive of his wife's feelings and fears and more and more influenced by the demands of the "Men's Association"; and Nanette Newman as Carol Van Sant, one of the wives who starts behaving very oddly at a barbecue, continually proclaiming "I'll just die if I don't get that recipe" (!!) Newman's role as a wife is all the more ironic considering all those "Fairy Liquid" adverts she once did (remember?!)
The movie has also attained a kitsch/camp quality over time, mostly due to the fact that it was made in the 1970s! This doesn't spoil the subtler elements to the film, rather makes it all the more entertaining! A large part of the camp appeal is down to the wives themselves - their appearance, behaviour and dialogue. According to this movie, men would like nothing better than to see their wives dressed in frilly blouses (still showing off their assets), flowery dresses and big floppy hats - hilarious. The wives all say things like "I really shouldn't say it, but I just love my brownies" (that's cakes in case you were wondering) and constantly praise their husbands' performances in the bedroom department: "You're the King....you're the Master"!! No comment!
To summarise this is a very enjoyable movie, which, as I have already mentioned, shows the dangers of male fantasies coming true and the perils that women must face having to exist in a patriarchal society. Go buy it...but don't get any ideas about changing your girlfriend...okay?!
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Well, not quite. The sad thing about Ira Levin's brilliant little satirical Gothic about the backlash against Second Wave Feminism is that it's never quite received a film adaptation that does it justice. The 2004 comic version is a travesty, but even this 1975 original is not quite as good as you'd like: the pacing is very slow, especially at the beginning; the crucial part of Walter is underwritten; and while Katharine Ross is much better (especially in the last ten minutes, when she's superb) than she was given credit for at the time it's not quite the knockout performance the part of Joanna deserves. On the other hand, there are many things that make this film worth seeing, particularly the great dialogue and the fine supporting performances by Tina Louise, Nanette Newman, and (especially) Paula Prentiss as the heroine's best friend Bobbie. Indeed, there are several parts of the film that are literally unforgettable: Newman's much-quoted "breakdown" at the pool party ("I'll just die if I don't get this recipe!"); Joanna's consciousness raising session, with the Wives breathlessly promoting the joys of cleaning products; and, most of all, the great last scene, with the Wives placidly sweeping through the supermarket in their ruffled prairie dresses and sunhats as they patiently push their shopping carts...
38 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2002
After hearing references made again and again to The Stepford Wives, I decided to take a chance and buy it on DVD. It was only 12.99, so I figured I had very little to lose. The film is shot and directed in a very 70s style, which can be hard to follow or even annoying for younger, Gen-X viewers (like myself...I was born the year the movie came out) but if you just sit through it, it eventually gets EXTREMELY good. I did not know how the movie ended or what the plot even was, so I found the film particularly thrilling. I paid attention to the foreshadowing, but I figured that the Stepford wives were tamed into submission by coercion, beating, threats, or some other plausible method. It becomes obvious when Ross's character's best friend becomes a "Stepford Wife" that they are being replaced by robots. The sight of Ross coming face to face with her hollow-eyed double, a robot that is not quite finished, is terrifying. People my age don't have the cultural or historical perspective to understand what this film meant when it was released, but 25 years' worth of hindsight allows my younger generation to make the film our own. Feminists were extremely annoyed with this film, saying it was anti-woman, but I think the opposite is true. It is not exactly pro-woman, but it is definitely anti-man. The message I got was that men were too insecure to cope with their wives' growing independence during an era of cultural and sexual liberation, so they simply replaced them with robots.
p.s. watch out for Mary Stuart Masterson...this was her first film.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 22, 2006
I didn't see this 1975 film until about 20 years after its release. Even though I knew the basic plot I was quite captivated by the events of the story. Well, I've seen it three more times since then and each time I'm taken in by the storyline, not to mention well entertained.
THE PLOT: Katharine Ross and her husband move to Stepford, CT, where many of the wives of the village seem to be oblivious to the current women's liberation movement; they seem wholly dedicated to their husbands, home & garden and keeping themselves well-groomed and primed for sex. Meanwhile Katharine's husband joins a mysterious all-male organization which seems to be up to something fishy. When two of Katharine's friends strangely morph into the typical Stepford housewife Katharine realizes something diabolical is going on and, to her horror, that she's next in line.
Paula Prentiss and Tina Louise (Ginger from Giligan's Island) are on hand as Katharine's friends.
The story is not campy at all (like the 2004 version). This is serious and creepy sci-fi of the highest order. "The Stepford Wives" powerfully succeeds where the similar-themed "Westworld" only passably gets by.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2006
I couldn't beleieve someone was brave enough to make a remake of this film because I have an impression that this movie has attained a cult like status. Okay, so if you're gonna remake this film, couldn't you at least make it more interesting. The Nicole Kidman update was just god awful. I am basing my 5 star review on the DVD extras and just because I really like this movie. It is so memorable and funny in many ways. The DVD extra was neat. Apparently there was rancor between the English director, Bryan Forbes, screenwriter William Goldman and lead actor Peter Masterson. Forbes altered Goldman's script which Masterson didn't appreciate because he is a close friend of Goldman's. Excutive producer Edgar Shcerick wanted Brian DePalma to direct but Goldman refused. Also, Diane Keaton was the first choice to play Joanna Eberhart but backed out at the end. And as a footnote, Mary Stuart Masterson appeared as the Eberharts' seven year old daughter in her film debut. Overall everyone got along enough to make a real neat film. There's also interviews with Katharine Ross and Paula Prentiss on their prespective in making the movie. I like the DVD extra as much as the film itself. I did not read the book, but now interested in doing so just to see the comparisson. I think a reviewer based his opinion on the translation of the book to film, which I think is unfair because the book is always better. The movie itself is a hoot. There were loads of funny lines.. Like the exchange between the Ross and Prentiss characters "I dabbled in Women's Lib back in New York" "Yeah didn't we alll." (at least in college, anyway.) And the husbands are kinda pathetic because they all seem like a bunch of jeeks and nerds who grew up to be old professional bores scheming to build a super wife who will always be in the mood and will keep a clean house. They should have been replacing themselves. I didn't really see it as a feminist's movie even though it was made during 1975 when the ERA movement was gaining momentum. This movie holds up in many aspect because it is well made and the suspense build up was well paced and got real scary toward the climactic end. I am glad Ross ended up playing Joanna. She projected an innocent frailty just by her mere appearance. She has the most melancholic pair of camel eyes on screen, almost haunting. If you haven't seen this movie in a while, I encourage you to get the DVD, I think you'll like the extras as much as I did specially if you're a fan of this movie.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2005
This is a remarkable film. Some say it is dated. Maybe so, but there is nothing wrong with being dated if you are making a valid point in a fresh, eye-opening style, about the time and place in history, as this film director and screenwriter do with The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin.
The early 1970s were the height of the Women's Movement. Like other movements before it, there was a strong current of ideological militance on the part of some at the time, (and incidentally began to include men as well as women) enough so that a film of this artistic power and validity appearing in the movement's aftermath would by definition be incredibly frightening.
Unusually enough, Ira Levin's brilliance includes his uncanny ability to write from the point-of-view of his heroines. Director Bryan Forbes and the screenwriter who adapted the work, rose to this task as well when they created this excellent movie.
Additionally, the casting of Katharine Ross as the heroine was an excellent choice--Ross was the epitomy of the 70s female with the combination of her strength of character, down-to-earth feminity and warmth, as well as her subtle, natural beauty. It is genuinely horrifying because women of the 70s identified so much with Ross and her character Joanna, as well as her feisty, wise-cracking friend Bobbi. What happens to these women happens to us all as we watch the film.
Those who did not live through the heydey of feminist consciousness-raising will also identify with this film, because of Joanna's human qualities that are universal, and because malevolence and abuse of power can be based anywhere, at any point in history where there are human beings who no longer feel connected to humanity, as happened when the men of Stepford betrayed their own wives and children in this finely crafted and horrifying movie.
Anyone who wants to see a fascinating and horrific tale that is short on blood-and-guts but long on genuine, horrifying intrigue that includes entertaining the impossible, would absolutely love this film.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2005
After all these years, the original STEPFORD WIVES still plays as a perfect blend of black satire and bone-chilling horror. Forgot the horrid recent remake with Nicole Kidman, stick with the 1975 version, which scared me to death (and made me laugh at the same time) when I saw it as a young kid in the theaters - those were the days, and this is still a scary, mature little gem of a horror movie that doesn't rely on today's CGI effects to get under your skin. Chock full of priceless dialogue and pitch-perfect performances (especially Paula Prentiss as the coffee-serviing Bobbie!), STEPFORD takes it time to rachet up suspense and deliberately build to a disturbing, ironic conclusion that will stick with you for days. Katherine Ross' climactic confrontation with her black-eyed drone is terrifying, while the final supermarket sequence is all about what becomes a legend most. Def worth a rental or purchase.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2005
First, despite the passing of 30 years this well made film is still a very good suspense thriller with excellent acting and pacing. The climatic scene is still a major creep-out, and the resolution scene is still a hoot-and-a-half.
The Stepford Wives touches on many issues popular in America in the early and mid 1970s and even today: the battle of the sexes (Katherine Ross's husband wants her to give up the career she had in New York City before they moved to Stepford), the feminist movement (The heroines don't wear bras but put them on after they've been "turned"), the sexual revolution ("My only tennis partners are two teenage boys with permanent erections." "Oh, really? Send them over to my place."), liberal versus conservative lifestyles, environmentalism ("Maybe these companies are polluting the water and tranquilizing the women in this town."), man's innate desire to create life without the help of women (The president of Stepford's Men's Association--Peter Lawford--is called 'Diz because he used to work for Disneyland where they build humanoid robots.), and the blandness or sameness of American suburbs (Everyone in Stepford drives a big station wagon. For you younger readers, the station wagon was the mini-van of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.)
The premise of this movie isn't silly but serious, and here's why: True, life-like androids aren't the stuff of science fiction but of pure fantasy. However, there are real methods of turning people into automatons involving surgery, drugs and social conditioning which should allow us to cut the makers of the film a little slack, although a story using these methods might have made for a more horrific and serious movie....I haven't read the book.
Since this movie was originally released in 1975 most people seem to agree that the male characters are portrayed as evil (although the men don't give up their wives lightly they do all go through with it in the end.) Feminist activists, leaders, etc. didn't and still don't like the film because the men do prevail and the women are powerless to stop them. They see the movie as more of a male fantasy full of negative stereotypes of women. However, when you see the film it's clear that these sterotypes were played for laughs.
Now, is this movie every man's fantasy? Well, yes, it is. But if you take a moment to think about it, isn't it true that when we realize our fantasies we often discover that the reality doesn't measure up? We men often fantasize about what life would be like if our wives didn't have "issues" or PMS, didn't gain weight or grow old, and never said no in the bedroom because we drove them wild with lust. But the fact is that a quiet, subserviant wife would sadden and disappoint most American men. We don't just want a lover, housekeeper or nanny; we want a partner and best friend. And that's what I came away with from The Stepford Wives. The film is an entertaining examination of American society and some of its more controversial issues, but more importantly it contains themes that left this viewer with a greater respect for the yin & yang relationship of men and women and the very American desire for freedom and the free will to take full advantage of it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2005
This movie has usually been reviewed as an effective thriller--which it is. And slow-moving--which it is, too, but in terms of this Pre-Rambo era, this was normal. Many features of the time were slow moving--The Conversation, The Parallax View, Soylent Green, and most notably, Picnic at Hanging Rock, were all excellent movies that took quite a while to get moving. You're supposed to absorb everything that's going on.
The Stepford Wives, however, is underrated as a social commentary of the times. It's probably the only good movie that deals with Feminism, which was a cultural war very much on our minds at the time.
Many of the references will probably bewilder those younger than 35. For example, the scene with Joanna and Bobby on the steps. Talk is made of "the Women's Lib thing in New York" "a Maidenform [bra] bonfire", a "consciousness-raising group". Concerning the "bonfire", burning bras was a big thing in the early 70s--it symbolized freedom from feminine restraints.
Watch the scene of the men's party at Joanna's house--the camera dwells on Joanna's feminine curves, very obviously both bra-less and pantiless. This is a visual allusion to the "bra-burning" trend. At the end of the movie, there's a scene with "Joanna", bra-less, and much better endowed than before. There's a scene with pantyhose--a vital scene--too revealing to give away here. Pantyhose, widely worn in the 70s, was that most feminine, that quasi-sexist garment that can be said to strangle Joanna's sensibilities, her independent ambitions. Our sensitivities have been numbed by a generation of mindless, Rambo-type movies. This is why many of the reviewers have looked at this movie with too literal an eye.
Some of the feminists allusions are too obvious to go into here. Suffice it to say they're numerous. As an example, one of the wives used to be the head of a women's group. Joanne and Bobby hear of this, and want to know more.
Listen closely to the dialogue. Much of the time, it's revealing. Bobby refuses to "squeeze the goddamn Charmin" or "become one of those 'pot-scrubbers'". The gossip talks about "the first black couple to move in town--is it a good thing"? Later on, in the supermarket scene, the new black couple is arguing. Listen closely--the wife's unhappy, and wants to leave Stepford, and we viewers can see the cycle starting all over again.
The only criticism I can land on this movie is that the editing is flabby in spots. Establishing shots, in particular, seem too drawn-out, even for the era. But overall, I highly recommend this movie, both as a thriller and as a social commentary of the times.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
With the remake of "The Stepford Wives" coming out on DVD next week I decided to watch the 1975 original again. This is one of the most understated horror films of all time, more akin to an episode of "The Twilight Zone" than the bloodbaths that usually defined the genre at that time. Of course, with William Goldman adapting Ira Levin's novel, you knew that this one was going to be more cerebral.
Stepford is a quaint little Connecticut town where the Eberharts have moved to in order to escape from New York City, whose urban horrors are reduced to the sight of a man carrying an inflatable rubber doll down the street. The decision to move the family was done by the husband, Walter (Peter Masterson), who apparently makes all of the decisions for the Eberharts, much to the distress of his wife, Joanna (Katharine Ross). She finds the idyllic life of Stepford to be too different and actually admits she misses the noise of the big city. While her husband makes plans to join the local men's club, Joanna finds herself turning back to her love of photography as a way of keeping sane. Then she finds a kindred spirit in neighbor Bobbie Markowe (Paula Prentiss), and they go off in search of other like-minded ladies for some increasingly necessary female bonding.
Everything that is wrong with Stepford is personified by Carol Van Sant (Nanette Newman), the perfect model of a Stepford wife, who lives next door. There is something odd about Carol, for whom cleanliness is before everything else. All of the other wives seem to be like Carol, with the exception of Charmaine Wimperis (Tina Louise), who seems all ready to complete the triad of sanity with Joanna and Bobbie. But then, overnight, Charmaine becomes just like Carol and the others. Bobbie thinks it has to be the water. Of course, she never suspects the truth until it is way too late.
Of course everybody knows the twist. "The Stepford Wives" became a paradigm for the flip side of the feminist movement of the Sixties. While many women were interested in having their consciousness raised, some men were wishing they could drag their spouses back to the Stone Age. Of course, Levin found a solution by going in the opposite direction.
My reading of this film has always been slightly idiosyncratic. My sympathies are with Joanna, not because she is a gifted artist with a camera who deserves to become self-actualized and do more with her life than take care of the house and kids seven days a week, but because she is Katharine Ross. After "The Graduate" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," Ross was the actress from the Sixties that I thought of as being the most beautiful. Consequently, when Walter is unsatisfied with his wife I find it unbelievable because the man is married to Katharine Ross. She is bright, she is articulate, she has a cute smile to go along with great eyes, and there is no reason to enhance her bust line. Walter is a toad who has married far above what he deserves.
"The Stepford Wives" is an exercise in misdirection, and not simply because most of the clues hint at something simpler than advanced robotics. The story spends most of its time trying to figure WHAT is going on, with directly addressing the question of WHY. Goldman's satire is often too subtle. A pivotal scene is when Joanna, Carol and Charmaine get together with a couple of the other wives to unburden themselves. The three women each admit deep dark secrets, unbarring their souls. The other women get rhapsodic over cleaning agents. Clearly there is a wide gulf here, but the idea that gender equality would result in a male backlash that would do more than simply yearn for the good ol' days never becomes explicit. There is a lot more going on here than rehashing "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" for a new generation.
The movie also requires Joanna not to put two and two together in enough time to flee Stepford, although she does have two children who can be used against her at the key moment. Still, "The Stepford Wives" cannot be accused of being heavy handed, which is usually the fatal flaw in such thrillers and the final scene is as elegant a conclusion to a horror movie as you are going to find in the genre. I still pity the Stepford husbands, who think that perfect housewives make the world a far, far better place.