44 Days of Paranoia #33: The Stepford Wives (dir by Bryan Forbes)


For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, let’s take a look at the sci-fi social satire, The Stepford Wives.

Now, don’t panic.  I’m not talking about that terrible Nicole Kidman comedy that came out in 2004.  No, I’m talking about the original Stepford Wives.  This film originally came out in 1975.  I recently saw it on TCM and I was shocked to discover that, despite the fact that the film is undeniably dated in that fascinatingly weird way that most films from the 70s are, The Stepford Wives holds up rather well.

Joanna (Katharine Ross) and her husband, Walter (Peter Masteron) leave dangerous New York City and move to the idyllic suburb of Stepford, Connecticut.  Walter is immediately invited to join the exclusive Stepford Men’s Association but Joanna finds it far more difficult to fit in with the citizens of Stepford.  As Joanna discovers, all of the women of Stepford are oddly submissive and obsessively domestic.  When Joanna and her friend Bobbie (Paula Prentiss) attempt to hold a consciousness raising meeting, they quickly discover that the other women of Stepford would rather talk about cleaning products than women’s lib.

The more that Joanna investigates the social structure of Stepford, the more convinced she becomes that something sinister is being done to keep the Stepford Wives from desiring a life outside of pleasing their husbands.  The more disturbed Joanna is by Stepford, the more Walter loves it…

One of the many reasons why I love my boyfriend is because he knows that I’m not perfect.  He knows that I’m often a neurotic mess.  He knows that I’m just as obsessively insecure about my big nose as I’m obsessively vain about my red hair.  He knows that I tend to take on too much and that I get defensive whenever I’m told that I need to slow down.  He knows that I can be emotional and silly.  He also knows how much I value my independence.  He’s knows that I need to have a life of my own and, instead of being threatened, he has always been there to encourage me, to cheer for me when things go right and to hold me when things go wrong and, most importantly, to never judge me regardless of whether I succeed or fail.  He knows that I’m not perfect and that I’ll never be perfect and he loves me anyway.

That hasn’t always been the case with some of the guys that I’ve gone out with in the past.  For the longest time, I always thought I was the only girl who had a hundred men trying to change her but I’ve discovered that my experiences were hardly unique.  All of my friends have stories about men who have tried to change them.  There seems to be something inherent in the mentality of many men that leads them to assume that they can make any woman into a robot.

Perhaps that’s why The Stepford Wives resonated with me.  Most husbands may not be able to literally turn their wives into robots but it’s certainly not for lack of trying.  The Stepford Wives is a flawed film — the pace often drags and the performances are uneven — but it’s one that rings true for many women.

(And don’t worry, boys!  The men in this film are such pigs that there’s no way you won’t look better by comparison.)

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge

3 responses to “44 Days of Paranoia #33: The Stepford Wives (dir by Bryan Forbes)

  1. I gather from your review, Lisa Marie, this was the first time you’d encountered “The Stepford Wives” by Bryan Forbes (please tell me if this was not the case). This would be quite surprising, as I have long felt that “The Stepford Wives” is definitely your type of film.

    “The Stepford Wives”, which was made for and did enjoy theatrical release, actually reminds me of one of those old made-for-television movies from the 1970s that I would watch as a child. I think the photography (courtesy of Owen Roizman, who would work on “Network” the following year) has a lot to do with it, not to mention the opening and closing credits of the film. Perhaps most fittingly, it did spawn numerous made-for-television sequels, THREE, in fact—“Revenge of The Stepford Wives” (1980),“The Stepford Children” (1987) and “The Stepford Husbands”(1996)—prior to the horrendous theatrically-released remake in 2004—the less said about that, the better. I’ve been on the look out for the “Stepford” sequels, either on television or video, for many years—I don’t expect them to be so great as the original, but I bet they’d be pretty enjoyable.

    (“The Revenge of The Stepford Wives” is actually available to watch online—it also features a pre-“Miami Vice” Don Johnson and Julie Kavner, better known as the voice of Marge Simpson)

    I have a copy of the original cinematic version of “The Stepford Wives” on DVD, plus I’ve read the book from Ira Levin. I feel the book is more specifically referential to the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s—not that there’s any shortage of women’s lib sentiment in the film—but to me, in its cinematic form, “The Stepford Wives” is more broadly about the loss of identity. You don’t need to be a women in order to connect to it (not that you need to be a woman to relate to the book, but I digress). When Joanna Eberhart speaks about only wanting to be remembered, I think that’s something to which anybody can relate. I love the scene in the film where Joanna says how one day, she wants somebody to look at her photography and say “That’s an Engels” (this being her maiden name). This is the desire of the artist, to leave something of importance behind. I also find it quite telling that she wants her artwork to be recognised in connection with her maiden name “Engels”as opposed to her married name “Eberhart”—as if she is trying to reclaim something that she feels she lost when she entered into marriage with her husband Walter (and of course “Eberhart” must remind her of what a bastard her husband is). Joanna’s would-be career as a photographer, one that she seems destined to never achieve, is look upon with disdain from Walter—photography is more than just a career, it’s a way that Joanna can leave behind a part of her identity in ths world, a means of self-expression–something that is a big no-no for a Stepford wife.

    “The Stepford Wives” goes so strongly against the grain of your typical horror film, which is one of the reasons why I consider it to be one of the best films I’ve seen from the genre—or any genre, for that matter. For example, when Joanna stabs one of the Stepford wives—we expect to see blood, but it’s the lack of blood that is so disconcerting–in fact, there is very little bloodletting in the film. Seemingly innocuous events have a sinister air about them—for example, the tennis court being excavated to make way for a swimming pool—the story is remarkable in leading its audience and so that ordinarily mundane happenings have real significance—and real horror–beyond their surface.

    Okay, so the climax has Joanna entering a mansion with thunder, lightning and buckets of rain—a cliche, I grant you–but for the most part, “The Stepford Wives” takes place in broad daylight—how many horror films can you name that take place mostly in the daytime?

    Finally, Nanette Newman, wife of Bryan Forbes, plays the role of Carol Van Sant—the Stepford wife who proclaims “I’ll just die if I don’t get this recipe!”. How surprised I was to discover that behind that accent, Nanette Newman is a native Englishwoman! Apparently, numerous critics weren’t too fond of Forbes casting his wife in this role, but what do they know?

    Like

  2. Pingback: 44 Days of Paranoia #36: The Fugitive (dir by Andrew Davis) | Through the Shattered Lens

  3. Pingback: A Movie A Day #75: Wanted: The Sundance Woman (1976, directed by Lee Philips) | Through the Shattered Lens

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