The Stepford Wives (1975) Review
What is so interesting about science fiction films is the notion that behind the exciting indulgence of a world removed from our own, a secondary notion can be uncovered, and this usually demonstrates some of the problematic facets of contemporary society. Soylent Green was a futuristic man-against-corporation thriller deliberately harbouring a grotesque vision of a world whereby birth control, recycling and ecological preservation had ceased to be utilised with terrible results. Blade Runner depicted a postmodern world whereby in pursuit of pleasure humans sacrificed their own reality in real space and cyber space, thus the erosion of the boundaries between human and machine.
All science-fiction films that illustrate futuristic worlds with futuristic problems are in essence reacting against measures of their own time. The Stepford Wives is a very good example of this. What is again in essence a one man (or in this case woman) against society thriller is actually a pro-feminist piece of propaganda. Yes, it is highly entertaining, but The Stepford Wives is essentially nothing more than a cash-in on the spreading feminist movement of the late sixties and early seventies.
Katharine Ross stars as Joanna, an attractive housewife who decides to move with her husband (Peter Masterson) and daughter (Mary Stuart Masterson in her debut) to a small suburban community known as Stepford. Joanna finds Stepford to be extremely old-fashioned in its beliefs - women are confined to the house and seem perfectly happy to accept the mundane chores their housewifery brings. The men on the other hand are extremely chauvinistic and belong to a secret men's society in which women are not allowed. The embargo on Women in the society angers Joanna, and with her new found friend Bobby (Paula Prentiss) decide to investigate how Stepford has failed to move out of the sexual equality dark ages. Soon enough however, Joanna and Bobby convince themselves that the men of Stepford are involved in a shocking conspiracy which will explain the Stepford Wives ready compliance of their 'imprisonment' to the house.
The Stepford Wives would not have worked in any decade other than the seventies. The eerie minimalist dialogue and chilling music, totally contemporary at the time, perfectly suit the mood of a paranoid thriller. The acting isn't top notch and Brit Nanette Newman lets proceedings down a little (although she was married to the director Bryan Forbes). The directing by Forbes is adequate in places but suffers in dialogue situations. This could be explained by the fact that he is English and is directing a very American film. The script by acclaimed writer William Goldman conjures up enough interesting topics to chew on without letting them bog the film down. What is refreshing to note is the fact that although the film has been championed by the feminists and female chauvinists of the world, it was written by a man and based on an original novel by a man (Ira Levin of Rosemary's Baby fame).
The film is dated in both style and subject, but will clearly satisfy any fan of paranoid seventies thrillers or cult science-fiction.
Anchor Bay's first UK release does not disappoint in the transfer department. The colours are a little dated and faded but this is only a minor problem when compared with the pleasant transfer which has relatively few glitches and is the best presentation the film ever received. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Presented in Dolby Surround and in mono, the sound is extensively mono with a few artificial surround effects. The sound is recorded at quite a low volume and some of the dialogue appears muffled. Compared to the transfer, this is disappointing.
Featurette: The featurette is over seventeen minutes long and covers a lot of ground in such a short space of time, such as how most of the cast didn't approve of the hiring of a British director and how Brian DePalma was hired to direct until William Goldman objected. The only problem with the featurette, and this is a major one, is that it is composed in 4:3 mode but is presented in anamorphic widescreen, which is very annoying considering the interviews have black bars on the sides and the film clips are presented as letterbox within a letterbox!
Trailer: A very good and chilling trailer which if anything heightens up the tension much more than the film managed to.
The Stepford Wives isn't anything spectacular and will cause many people to snigger at it's blatant feminism and seventies paranoia approach. However, it is enjoyable and has become something of a cult film now, which shows its specialist appeal.