by Bryan Forbes
1975 film The Stepford
Wives is based on Ira
Levin's novel of the same
name. It is the story of a woman who moves to a small town where things
just don't seem right with the local ladies who are all just a mite too
keen on keeping house and keeping their husbands happy. They are so
dedicated to the duster, in fact, that it is downright creepy.
The shining star of the film is Katharine Ross who plays
Stepford newcomer, Joanna Eberhart, who has just moved to the town with
her husband and two small daughters. Although Ross was not the
producer's first choice for the role of Joanna, it is hard for me to
imagine that anyone else could have done a better job of bringing the
character to life. The scene where Joanna seeks psychiatric advice
about her fear of being changed by Stepford is very well acted. The
worst thing for Joanna is that she knows how crazy her story sounds and
she says so: "If I'm wrong then I'm crazy, but if I'm right then it's
worse." It is a powerful scene.
Paula Prentiss is excellent as Bobbie, who is a fun, fun, fun character
who, like Joanna, is new to the town and just can't seem to work up
that traditional Stepford cleaning spirit. Something that makes it all
the more unnerving when, later on in the film, she finally succumbs and
becomes proud to be house-proud and even gets herself a nice long,
The other characters are very well cast too, and Patrick O'Neal is
particularly menacing as Dale (Diz) Coba the head of the Stepford's
Men's Association. He doesn't actually do a lot to be menacing; but
nevertheless he exudes menace in his every scene. He is calm, cold and
calculating and from the first moment that you see him looking at
Joanna you just know that whatever it is that is on his mind it isn't
There are a few differences between the book and the film and one of
the scenes that was added to the film is quite entertaining:
Joanna and Bobbie are trying to drum up a little enthusiasm for
creating a women's lib group—dream on girls. They go from door to
door and at one point they enter someone's house without knocking. At
first it seems like no one is home, but the girls quickly discover that
the homeowners are very much at home. They are just a little
preoccupied. Upstairs. In the bedroom. "You're the best Frank. You're
the champion. Ooh, you're the master" the Stepford wife keeps telling
her husband and she is getting quite breathless with all that
talking. Joanna and Bobbie decide that they have not perhaps chosen the
best of times to call and they beat a hasty retreat with big smiles on
The rest of the Stepford wives are available to speak to, but none of
them are interested in women's lib. Why would they be when they have a
great alternative like their daily chores? In the end the girls do find
one other like-minded soul in the form of Charmaine. Charmaine, like
Joanna and Bobbie is a newcomer to Stepford. And she has a maid to do
her cleaning! She also has her own tennis court behind the house and
although she loves the game she can never find anyone to play with her
and so is very glad to meet Joanna, who, although out of practice plays
a very good game.
It is a great relief for the girls when they find Charmaine, but it is
an even greater scare for them when the lover all things tennis
suddenly sacks her maid, turns in her racket and becomes a typical
Stepford wife, even allowing her husband to dig up her treasured tennis
court in favour of his much wanted and soon to be had swimming pool.
When they see what has happened to Charmaine, Joanna and Bobbie want to
leave Stepford as soon as possible. Before Bobbie can get out of the
town though, she becomes a changed perosn and Joanna is all alone.
Worse still, it is pretty obvious by this point that Walter is a true
Stepford husband who wants to make a new woman out of Joanna.
The film ends a little differently from the book and Joanna finally
finds out what the future holds for her in rather a scary scene in
which Dale Coba stalks her through the dark passages of the Men's
Association, before finally herding her into a room where she can only
look at her destiny and say: "God!"
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Runtime 110 mins
Certificate: 15 (UK), PG (USA)
Stepford Life. A documentary
on the making of the film (17 minute runtime). Cast and crew comment on
the making of the film.