The Stepford Wives (1974)
"Something strange is happening in the town of Stepford"
Upon the recommendation—indeed, the insistence—of a friend with tastes similar to my own, I tracked down and watched the original 1974 version of The Stepford Wives. As far as I can remember, I had never seen it before. However, having read the novel by Ira Levin, many years ago, I was more or less familiar with the story. Indeed, I was of the opinion that everbody must know the Stepford story—but despite that, I shall not post any unprotected spoilers. (I've had a few films spoiled because the person posting thought "everybody must have seen this by now", and it's just so difficult to unread something once you've read it...)
One of the main selling points of my friend's recommendation was her claim that The Stepford Wives boasted the most chilling ending of any movie she had seen. Certainly I would have agreed with that comment back in '75 when the movie was released (of course, I would only have been a child back then, but that is not the point.) These days, however, I have seen a few movies which literally sent shivers down my spine, something which this movie did not manage to do. Maybe if I didn't already know the story—and maybe if the back cover of the DVD hadn't given away one of the potentially chilling images, which actually quite annoyed me as I'd been looking forward to being chilled—it might have been more effective.
The Stepford Wives starts slowly, and is slow to gain momentum. However, it ramps up considerably for the last half hour or so, leading into the revelation, resolution, and that "chilling" ending.
Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) moves, with her husband Walter (Peter Masterson) and their two young daughters, from the crowded chaos of New York to the sleepy country village of Stepford, where "you don't have to lock your doors." Joanna seems to be a little—well, "unhappy" seems too strong a word, so we'll go with "downcast". Despite the obvious advantages of living in a place like Stepford, the move has taken her away from the contacts she needs to properly pursue her passion: photography. It is soon revealed that the move was Walter's idea, and that he has a habit of making decisions for both of them without ever consulting her first.
More than anything, Joanna misses the noise.
She makes friends in Stepford, however. The outspoken, eternally cheerful Bobbie (played wonderfully, if marginally over the top, by Paula Prentiss) becomes her confidante and partner in "crime", and the two women set about rectifying what they see as one of the major flaws in Stepford: it has its "creepy" Men's Association, but no corresponding group for women. They soon discover why: most of the women they speak to are more interested in housework, and in keeping their men happy, than in doing anything for themselves. Something strange is happening in Stepford, and Joanna and Bobbie want to find out what...
I loved some of the details with which this movie was strewn, minor things (like the name of Joanna's ex-boyfriend) which in most cases had little to do with the plot itself. Other details are more integral to the story, and a repeat viewing fleshed out the creepiness factor in several scenes which had, at first, seemed innocuous enough. Perhaps the wonderful ballet-like ending (or even the revealing penultimate scene) didn't chill my spine, but the more I think about it, Walter's protestations of his love for Joanna come close...
Apparently there were some protests about the film's perceived anti-woman message when it was released, but if it's anti-anything, The Stepford Wives is anti-man. One can only hope that the men portrayed in this movie are not representative of a majority...
FWIW, the friend who recommended this movie to me also warned me against going anywhere near the 2004 remake. While I admit to a certain feline curiosity, it would seem from the other reviews I've read of the remake that her warning was spot on. Whatever its flaws, the original movie hangs together pretty well, and its internal logic seems fairly consistent. Sadly the same can not be said of the remake. (Still, if (when) I finally give in to that dreadful curiosity, I'll no doubt give you my thoughts here... ;-))
Oh, and I considered giving a rating out of ten—but let's not! That's just not my cuppa tea. Instead, let's just say I found it to be an enjoyable movie, worth watching (and, apparently, worth watching more than once!)