Movie Review: The Stepford Wives (1975)

“Day” to the 2004 version’s “Night”

Directed by Bryan Forbes

Selected Cast
Katharine Ross
… Joanna Eberhart
Paula Prentiss … Bobbie Markowe
Tina Louise  … Charmaine Wimperis
Patrick O’Neal … Dale Coba
Mary Stuart Masterson … Kim Eberhart


Joanna faces a dilemma.  On the one hand she can go along with her husband—who’s already bought the new house—and kids, leave their apartment in the noise of New York City, and take up residence in the bucolic community of Stepford, Connecticut.  Or she can say no.

This might have been the time to say no.

Well, she decides to go along to get along, though not particularly happily (it’s clear Walter isn’t getting his desired water supply). 

In first scene of The Stepford Wives, at their new digs a statuesque doll-like neighbor lady delivers a casserole to them.  Then with a perfect smile and after some unblinking smalltalk, the neighbor lady turns and strolls back as if she were part of a wedding procession.

Walter’s thinking, “Odd, but look at them bazoombas.”

The town has a Men’s Association, with all the trappings of a secret society, which Walter feels privileged to join.  Joanna finds her way around town.  She notices several of these doll women, thinking, “Odd, maybe there’s something in the water.”

She soon runs into another normal woman Bobbie Markowe (Paula Prentiss).  Normal => thinking for themselves, being funloving and creative, and wanting to make a difference in the community.  I.e., in those days, strident feminists.

As Joanna and Bobbie continue to ask questions, it’s becoming obvious someone or something is turning the beautiful women of Stepford—the unattractive women seem unaffected—into voluptuous zombies.  Zombies who happen to love giving sex to their husbands or doing the dishes with equal gusto.

When Charmaine (Tina Louise) succumbs to the puppet masters, it’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  The women freak, doing their best to fight the sinister club.  And I won’t spoil the ending.

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This is the only version of the movie that is worth seeing, and it is really worth seeing.  The performances are brilliant.  The nefarious Men’s Club plot to turn their women into beautiful, mindless, domestic nymphos is convincing… even if we really don’t believe men really want that kind of woman.

The movie generates considerable conversation along those lines, namely, what person of either gender finds an automaton attractive?  It stirs some feminist thinking, too.

I find the totalitarian implications absolutely frightening, and sympathize strongly with Joanna and Bobbie as they try to escape the web.  Joanna is given some uplifting lines to speak.  She speaks tearfully to the psychologist, “I’m so afraid that I’ll be here but it won’t be ME!”

I read the book by Ira Levin, who also wrote Rosemary’s Baby and another seldom discussed anti-totalitarian book, This Perfect Day.  Levin is a master at scaring us with the horrors of losing our minds and souls to a collective power, exposing human weaknesses for analogs of communism and fascism.  He sure scares me.

His work reminds us that we must constantly assert our individuality and soulful independence, especially in these high-tech times when it would be easy to give in to facile authoritarians who want to fully control our lives in the name of fighting terror.

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