The Stepford Wives, Paramount, 1975
Reviewed by Everard Cunion in July, 2013
The 1975 movie The Stepford Wives is, like the 1972 novel by Ira Levin on which it is based, a darker tale than the 2004 movie. The plot is important, so I have attempted to avoid giving it away in this mini review.
In contrast to the 2004 Stepford Wives, where Nicole Kidman plays the part as a hyper-actively successful television executive, the 1976 Joanna Eberhart is a struggling freelance photographer, saved from having to struggle too hard by having married a successful lawyer.
To set the scene: In 1976 the USA (and therefore, the west in general) was in a direction-less and leaderless state following the cessation of the Apollo moon landings. (The less ambitious space shuttle was years from its first flight.) The devil finds work for idle hands, as the saying goes, and The Stepford Wives is a tale of what happens when our brightest back-room boys are left to find for themselves a non-aerospace outlet for their energies.
The story is also a male fantasy. Men tend to wake up in the morning ‘with a stiff’. (The best remedy is to rub it… It is a stiff neck you’re talking about?) So you get up late and find your wife doing some gardening. You might feel the urge to unbutton her top and feel her boobs.
The first thing that strikes me about this film, in contrast to the faster-paced 2004 version (OK, the second thing that strikes me about it) is the 1970s (USA) women’s fashion. (You either like it or you don’t, I guess. For what it’s worth, I don’t.)
However, Joanna’s dresses are OK in my view.
Joanna’s husband joins the Stepford Men’s Association, which holds a meeting at the Eberhart’s. During that meeting, this guy sketches Joanna. In detail. And what he does not sketch, he commits to memory…
Joanna is not alone. She finds two others, who, like her, are both fairly new to Stepford. They feel that there is something wrong with the other women. Why are such attractive women so devoted to their nonentity husbands? (Does this ring a bell, by the way?)
Like Philip K. Dick’s Blade Runner, this story uses the mechanism of displacement (in time, technology, or place) to highlight the ‘elephant in the room’ in the behaviour of everyday people. The decisions women make in selecting the men who father their offspring still conflicts with the theory of natural selection, which works so well in understanding other animals’ behaviour. Where are we going wrong?
This movie does not provide an answer, incidentally. The technology required for such a tale to become real is more advanced than modern aerospace can provide, still less 1970s aerospace. Therefore, this story is strictly in the sci-fi genre.
Bobbie Markowitz, here played by Paula Prentiss, is shocked by a realization that finally strikes her at the women’s club meeting.
The end of this movie has some similarity to the beginning of Sucker Punch (2012). (See Stairway to Paradise, my review of Sucker Punch.)
The Stepford Men’s Association building and the storm are similar, and in some respects identical, to those in the 2004 movie.
Only one criticism, really: Like most old films, its main drawback is too slow a pace. Even in the USA, it seems, people’s time was of little value then compared to nowadays. Scenes that should last fifteen seconds go on for a minute or more.