She is a meticulous housekeeper, flawless cook, thrifty shopper, adoring mother, perfect wife, always well groomed, always ready to please. But not, of course, a career woman, particularly if her success makes her husband feel belittled. Even today, more than thirty years after Ira Levin's bestseller startled the reading public, we are likely to refer to such a woman as "a Stepford wife"--a creature who seems both perfect and perfectly shallow.
The 1974 film version follows the Levin novel quite closely. Joanna Eberhart is a beautiful young woman of the era in which the women's moment had come of age: intelligent, forthright, and meeting her husband on equal terms. Then she, her husband, and their children move from New York to the small town of Stepford, where she is dismayed to find that most of the neighboring women seem engaged in a competition to have the neatest house, the best-groomed children, the most satisfied husband. Joanna is relieved to find women like herself in newcomers Bobbie and Charmaine, but even so, it seems... odd. So odd that she begins to question her sanity.
The film works on several levels, not the least of which is the macabre sense of humor with which director Byran Forbes endows the film: it is often very funny in a disquieting sort of way, as when Joanna and Bobbie's efforts to start a women's group results in a gathering of perfectly manicured women exchanging recipes and comparing floor polishes, or when Joanna and Bobbie accidentally overhear a Stepford couple making love. But for all the wittiness involved, THE STEPFORD WIVES is rooted in the women's movement of the 1970s, an era in which "a woman's place" was hotly debated on a national level. Just what is "a woman's place?" And to what lengths might men go to keep their women in traditional roles? Unlike many similar films, THE STEPFORD WIVES has tremendous restraint--and moreover a truly exceptional cast. Katherine Ross' talents were never before or after so well used, and Paula Prentiss gives perhaps her single most memorable performance here as Joanna's friend Bobbie. The supporting cast is equally fine, most particularly so with Patrick O'Neal as the unnerving "Diz" and a nice turn by Tina Louise as Charmaine.
Ultimately, THE STEPFORD WIVES is something of a "one trick pony:" it works best on a first viewing, when you don't know what's coming, and on subsequent viewings the film tends to read as unnecessarily slow. Even so, it is an interesting little cultural artifact, an "almost classic" that is sure to give you pause the next time your better half announces he is joining a men's club. Recommended.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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