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The Stepford Wives (1974) - Film Review
Director: Bryan Forbes
Starring: Katharine Ross & Paula Prentiss
Approaching this "cult classic" without the benefit of nostalgia, repeat viewing, or complete ignorance of the script is an interesting experience. For one thing, the contemporary setting of early 70s America, both in the urban and suburban settings immediately demonstrate how much things have changed in forty-odd years. This is especially apparent with the latest ladies fashions and hairstyles on display. It could be easy to instantly dismiss this film as a dated relic of the pro-feminism movement, but do so at your peril, because William Goldman and Bryan Forbe's adaptation Ira Levin's novel remains an absolutely compelling piece of entertainment.
Katharine Ross' plays Joanna, a young wife with two kids who reluctantly moves away from the big city (and her emerging photographic career) to the suburban tranquillity of Stepford. She finds this utopian environment a difficult transition, not least because many of the young wives she meets seem strangely absorbed with the mundane life of being a homemaker and don't seem to have the time to, well, have any fun. Compounding her unease is the sinister men's society, who her husband enthusiastically joins, yet becomes more and more distant from her as the film progresses. Eventually solice is found when she encounters Bobby (Paula Prentiss), another new arrival, who shares her passion for life, and suspicions about their new home town. When, in the final act, Bobby herself changes character, Joanna becomes terrified that she is either going mad or worse still, the life she knows and loves will somehow, mysteriously, be erased.
The Stepford Wives is technically science fiction, since science is the key motivator behind the behavioural transformations amongst the town's women, and to some degree, as was common by the late 1960s and early 70s, the fear that technology might somehow destroy or change lives is very pervasive and persuasive. Science isn't the enemy here though, but merely the means. The greatest danger to the wives comes from that traditional bastion of power, the male. Yes, if ever you ladies have felt that the men in your lives were acting a bit too self-important and authoritative - and especially if you are a Stepford wife - then this should be a real cause for concern. You see, all men really want, apparently, is a perfect wife - obedient, loving and a great cook - and that's all. If ever there was a film that was subtly critical of men, then this is it. It's slightly far-fetched, and I imagine it's perhaps not as eerie or spine-tingling as it was on first release, but at nearly forty years old, The Stepford Wives still makes for great entertainment, and is well worth a watch if you've got a few hours to spare one evening.
© 2018 Chris Sandles