The Stepford Wives
Release year: 1975
Director: Bryan Forbes
Writers: William Goldman, Ira Levin (novel)
Starring: Katharine Ross, Paula Prentiss, Peter Masterson, Nanette Newman, Tina Louise, William Prince
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #54, week 25 2015
When Walter (Peter Masterson) and Joanna (Katharine Ross) move from the city to the suburb Stepford their first impression is how quiet and peaceful it is. But soon Joanna feels out of place between the feminine Stepford wives more interested in keeping their house sparkling and their husbands happy than pursuing their own career like she does. When she befriends the like-minded and fellow newcomer Bobby (Paula Prentiss) they start to suspect there is a sinister reason behind the too perfect behaviour of the females in Stepford.
Based on Ira Levin’s satiracal novel The Stepford Wives is a story that at first seems like a simple thriller but on a closer look offers so much more. It doesn’t just offer effective psychological suspense, work as a commentary on society’s pursuit of youth and perfection, it is also a sci-fi horror with touches of dark humour and the best part is that it only gets better when you rewatch it. For the most part the film moves along slowly and quietly, painting a peaceful picture of a suburbian dream life and even when Joanna begins to suspect something is amiss nothing in the movie gives away just how life shattering the town’s secret is. It is not until the climatic end that the horror truly pokes it face out and sends chills down your spine and knowing the secret from the beginning means the chills are there from the very start when rewatching the movie. As the movie is shown from Joanna’s perspective a lot of the horror happens unseen to us and as you think back on the movie those horrors will play for your inner eye and set thoughts in motion which makes this an incredibly strong movie with more impact than a simpel jump-scare horror. While the movie has been criticised for being anti-feministic Stepford is clearly more chauvinistic dystopia than heaven and the men are cold and flat characters compared to the fleshed-out warm and strong females. All the women, the Stepford wiwes that is, give brilliant performances of perfect housewifes so clearly inspired by the phony females in adds that they manage to give a comic edge to the story, perfectly hitting the note so it slowly increases the sense of something wrong rather than making the tone too light. Especially Ross (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969) is great as the heroine, at once feisty but still insecure and self-doubting from the insanity of the situation, and Prentiss (The Parallax View, 1974) is a delight as the bubbly Bobbie just as the beautiful Louise (Day of the Outlaw, 1959) brilliantly shows the insecurity hidden underneath the beautiful face of the feisty Charmaine, while Newman (Captain Nemo and the Underwater City, 1969) delivers the perfect archetype Stepford wife persona as Carol Van Sant. One could argue that the statement against gender roles was more important in the time of the book and movie’s publishment but considering the high standard everyone is met with in today’s global life, it is as familiar a theme as ever and Bryan Forbes’s (The Raging Moon, 1971) bright sunny-set movie with its gloomy secret luring underneath will still be able to hit you and hit you hard.
The feature film debut of actress Mary Stuart Masterson (Fried Green Tomatoes, 1991) who played the daughter of Katharine Ross and her real life father Peter Masterson.
There were tension between director Bryan Forbes and screenwriter William Goldman. Goldman has accused Forbes of heavily rewriting his script claiming his ending was more ‘horrific’.
After Goldman’s script the women were meant to resemble ‘Playboy bunnies’, wearing mini skirts and be more model-like, but when Forbes cast his wife Nannette Newman as one of the wives the idea was quickly changed to the clean housewife look we see in the movie.