The Stepford Wives (1975)

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) is a young wife who moves with her husband Walter (Peter Masterson) and two children from New York City to the idyllic Connecticut suburb of Stepford. Loneliness quickly sets in as Joanna, a mildly rebellious aspiring photographer, finds the women in town all look great and are obsessed with housework, but have few intellectual interests. The men all belong to the clubbish Stepford Men’s Association, which Walter joins to Joanna’s dismay. Neighbor Carol Van Sant’s (Nanette Newman) sexually submissive behavior to her husband Ted, and her odd, repetitive behavior after a car accident also strike Joanna as unusual.

Things start to look up when she makes friends with another newcomer to town, sloppy, irrepressible Bobbie Markowe (Paula Prentiss). Along with glossy trophy wife Charmaine Wimperis (Tina Louise), they organize a Women’s Lib consciousness raising session, but the meeting is a failure when the other wives hijack the meeting with cleaning concerns. Joanna is also unimpressed by the boorish Men’s Club members, including intimidating president Dale “Diz” Coba (Patrick O’Neal); stealthily, they collect information on Joanna including her picture, her voice, and other personal details. When Charmaine turns overnight from a languid, self-absorbed tennis fan into an industrious, devoted wife, Joanna and Bobbie start investigating, with ever-increasing concern, the reason behind the submissive and bland behavior of the other wives, especially when they learn they were once quite supportive of liberal social policies.

Spooked, Bobbie and Joanna start house hunting in other towns, and later, Joanna wins a prestigious contract with a photo gallery with some photographs of their respective children. When she excitedly tells Bobbie her good news, Joanna is shocked to find her freewheeling and liberal friend has abruptly changed into another clean, conservative housewife, with no intention of moving from town.

Joanna panics and, at Walter’s insistence, visits a psychiatrist to whom she voices her belief that all the men in the town are in a conspiracy of somehow changing the women. The psychiatrist recommends she leave town until she feels safe, but when Joanna returns home, the children are missing. The marriage devolves into domestic violence when Joanna and Walter get into a physical scuffle. In an attempt to find her children, she hypothesizes Bobbie may be caring for them. Joanna, still mystified by Bobbie’s behavior, is desperate to prove her humanity but intuitively stabs Bobbie with a kitchen knife. But Bobbie doesn’t bleed or suffer, instead going into a loop of odd mechanical behavior, thus revealing she is a robot.

Despite feeling she may be the next victim, Joanna sneaks into the mansion which houses the Men’s Association to find her children. There, she finds the mastermind of the whole operation, Dale “Diz” Coba, and eventually her own robot-duplicate. Joanna is shocked into paralysis when she witnesses its soulless, black, empty eyes. It is then suggested that the Joanna-duplicate strangles the real Joanna. In the final scene, the duplicate is seen placidly purchasing groceries at the local supermarket, along with the other “wives” all wearing similar long dresses, large hats and saying little more than hello to each other. The final shot focuses on Joanna’s now-finished eyes. During the closing credits still pics show a very cheerful Walter along with his children in the back the station wagon picking up his “stepford wife” from the supermarket

REVIEW:

I detest remakes, as we all know. So, when I found out that The Stepford Wives was actually a remake of a 1975 film of the same name, immediately I went on a mad search to find it. Well,  I shouldn’t say immediately, but I did watch it again recently resulting in a renewed interest. So, which version did I find more intriguing?

What is this film about?

Based on the 1972 novel of the same name, this version is more of a thriller than a comedy, but the basic plot of Joanna moving from New York City to Stepford, Connecticut, remains the same. Once she and her family get settled in, she begins to feel more and more lonely. In town, she notices that nearly all of the women act strangely submissive to their husbands. A trait that wasn’t very common in the this era of female empowerment and women’s liberation. After some digging, and meeting a new friend, Bobbie, Joanna learns that all the housewives used to be major players in the women’s liberation movement. This causes her to start snooping even further to find out more about what is going on. She insists to her husband tha they must move before she becomes the next victim. Not soon after, Bobbie starts acting strangely. Joanna sneaks into the Men’s Association, where she finds the mastermind behind the whole scheme and her unfinished replacement self. Does she stop the plot or find herself erased from existence?

What did I like?

Faithful. Having not read the novel, I can’t really comment on whether this is a faithful retelling or not, but from what I’ve heard, it is much closer than the 2004 version. The thriller tone seems to work better, if you ask me.

Ginger. She’s not in it very long, but Ginger from Gilligan’s Island, Tina Louise, makes a nice appearance, though not as glamorous as we’ve become accustomed to seeing her.

Creepy drawings. In a fairly early scene, we see the men of Stepford meeting Walter and Joanna. While they are talking, some guy is drawing Joanna, presumably for reference in creating her robot self. It is rather creepy seeing him do it, though.

What didn’t I like?

Casting. Don’t get me wrong, these women are beautiful by 1970s standards, but the wives, as far as I know, have always been described as model types. With the exception of the rock hard abs and flat tummies that Joanna, Bobby, and almost all the rest of the wives have, I really don’t see them as models, so it was rather a failure in casting.

Women’s liberation. I know this was the 70s, but there was too much emphasis placed on the women’s liberation front. They could have come up with something else to focus on.

Down time. About the midway point, Joanna and Bobbie are going around talking to the women of Stepford. This could have very well been done in montage form, but instead we were privy, or should I say forced, to sit through and watch these boring conversations that just dragged the film down.

The Stepford Wives is a decent flick, but not very entertaining. I do believe that this version’s tone and ending do it justice more than the remake. However, the remake is good for those that prefer the comedic version of this. Personally, I think the other version is more interesting, but this one has more substance. Take your pick which one is more to your liking.

3 out of 5 stars

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