This came out in 1975, and I watched it once before on TV. It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained the screen shots. It’s The Stepford Wives, and if you never heard of it, then you’ve been vacationing on the moon. In the intervening 43 years this film has added to our lexicon. A Stepford Wife is the ultimate subservient domestic partner. In modern terms, this is The Handmaid’s Tale writ small, as though Gilead were shrunk into the tight (presumably) Connecticut village of Stepford.
For those just back from the moon, here is a sketch of the plot with a lot omitted. First we see the Eberharts leaving their Manhattan digs and moving to Stepford, where husband Walter (Peter Masterson) hopes to get away from the clamorous city life to a place where he feels more in charge. Joanna (Katharine Ross) has not been consulted on the move, and she is not thrilled.
It definitely is a change of pace. Joanna takes some time getting used to the new digs.
She takes a lot of time getting used to the stiffness of Stepford society. The wives mainly walk around like robots, always immaculately dressed, always soft spoken, always polite, always stiff. Then Joanna meets a kindred soul in Bobbie Markowe (Paula Prentiss) a free spirit, also new to Stepford. Together they decide to take Stepford society head on and turn it around. They fail absolutely. Something sinister is in complete control.
What they observe is breathtaking. Exemplifying Stepford women is Carol van Sant (Nanette Newman). She is the complete domestic, and almost totally mindless. She goes off kilter and has to be carted away in an ambulance after a small bump car event at a shopping center. Joanna notices with alarm that the ambulance does not take Carol in the direction of the hospital. Suspicions grow.
Later at a party Joanna and Bobbie become alarmed at Carol’s actions. She walks around with a blank expression saying to each person she meets, “I’ll just die if I don’t get this recipe.”
Joanna gets ever closer to the truth. When Carol and her husband go away for a weekend, she comes back much changed. Now she’s glassy-eyed like all the rest, she is fashionably dressed, even in her own kitchen, and her house is spotless. Nothing is out of place.
Joanna guesses what has happened. She grabs a kitchen knife and plunges it into Carol’s abdomen. Carol’s only response is to pull it out, wipe it off, and replace it on the rack. Then she starts to go bonkers, moving and speaking in a loop, taking a cups from the shelf and dropping them on the floor.
In the end Joanna confronts the mastermind of the scheme, Dale “Diz” Coba (Patrick O’Neal) in a mansion used by the Men’s Associatoin. There she enters a room that’s a mock-up of her own bedroom, and she meets her artificial replacement, wearing a blank stare and a see-through nightgown. Every husband’s dream woman. The replacement Joanna advances on her holding a nylon stocking, presumably to be employed as a garrote.
The final scene shows the Stepford Wives, Joanna included, shopping in a grocery market. They are all dressed to perfection, and they move slowly with grace, speaking in soft tones, staring blankly.
Fade to black.
It was a scary movie. The implication is these men are bringing their wives to Stepford, there to have them disposed of and replaced by complacent automatons. Once you get over that hurdle there are more mundane considerations to ponder.
- Hundreds of men are having their wives murdered, and nobody is getting wise?
- The children are growing up in this society. What’s going to happen to them?
- Here is a conspiracy theory on a grand scale, historically a recipe for disaster. A quote from the Russian revolution goes, “When three men sit at a table to plot revolution, two of them are fools, and the third is a police spy.” That has not changed in 100 years.
- The Eberharts have a runty little dog, and we see him in a cage in the back of a truck, driven supposedly out of town. Where does this fit into the plot?
- What kind of person wants a wife like that, anyhow?
Before you are too quick to dismiss this kind of attitude, let me tell you that I knew such a person. I worked with him, and once on lunch break we went to where he was purchasing some art. The artist was a woman who worked at home, producing pieces out of copper. One of our party remarked on leaving how amazing it was she was able to do that. My friend remarked he would prefer a clean house.
The same friend watched this movie, rather part of it. He said he quit watching, because it became apparent Joanna was planning on having an affair. He never caught on to the plot that involved men having their wives killed.