Katharine Ross headlines in William Goldman’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel, which is the next stop on the Sci-Fi Chronicles book.
Ross is Joanna Eberhart, a smart, beautiful woman, who is much put-upon by her husband, Walter (Peter Masterson), who wants his wife to be more ‘ahem’ traditional. Packing up the family, they leave the progressive, and liberal city of New York to move to the tiny town of Stepford.
But there is something sinister going on here behind the picket fences, pretty houses, and smiling faces. All the wives are ‘perfect’ in that they fit the repressed, 50s version of the good little woman, supportive of her husband in every way, happy to work in the kitchen, cleans the home, and is there for her husband’s every beck and call.
And they all have a secret, and Walter wants to get Joanna in on it. After he joins the local men’s association, he is made privy to the secrets of the town, and can’t wait to have Joanna signed up for it.
Joanna begins to investigate, alongside her new friend Bobbie (Paula Prentiss), herself a new resident, after an incident at a party, and every woman she encounters proclaims she has no time to socialise, she has to bake, or clean, or look after the children.
When Bobbie seems to fall victim of whatever has caused the wives of Stepford to lose their individuality, their passions, their independent views and desires, Joanna’s life begins to spiral out of control.
The last half of the film is dark, thrilling, and by turns terrifying as Joanna discovers the truth, and realises she’s not insane, which means things are worse than she believed! The reveal, and her encounters as the film draws to its climax are frightening, especially when you try to figure out what was done with the original wives.
Themes of conformity, repression, control, are all at work here. Alternately filled with dark humour and horrific realisations, the film, and novel, established themselves as cult classics immediately, and the film still stands up today, due in no small part to Ross’ performance, passionate, intelligent and completely captivating on screen.
It’s very bothersome that the men of Stepford think so little of the women that they have chosen to spend their lives with, that they are more than happy to create replacements for them, ‘perfecting’ them to some perceived, repressed, 50s ere, Republican norm. Not a single male character has a redeeming characteristic, including Walter as he seems to feel the same way.
Also making an appearance in the film is Tina Louise, perhaps best known as Ginger from Gilligan’s Island!
Even knowing the reveal before I watched it didn’t change the impact of the film, mainly because Ross is simply so believable in the role, and Joanna’s fear, her drive to be herself and not some carbon copy image of perfection makes the film pretty damned enjoyable, even so many years on.