Review Date: April 8, 2002
Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release date: 7/24/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Hey guys! Is your wife running that big mouth of hers too much? Or not keeping up with the cooking and cleaning? Maybe she's thinking about a (gasp!) career?? Well, I'm happy to say your troubles are over. Just relocate to the nice town of Stepford, Connecticut, not too far outside of New York City. There your wife will learn her proper place. And just how is that possible? Well, check out Anchor Bay's release of the cult classic 1975 film The Stepford Wives and you can see just how easily it is to turn your wife into someone much more manageable.
Walter and Joanna Eberhardt (Peter Masterson, Katharine Ross) have had enough of big scary New York City and decide to move with their two children out to the suburbs. Actually, Joanna kinda likes the city, but that's not real important, is it? After all, their new home in Stepford is spacious, it's nice and quiet, and everyone's friendly.
Joanna is unnerved from the beginning, but Walter settles in quite nicely. He even joins the Stepford Men's Association, where they discuss the merits of fund raising tag sales and barn dances. Joanna doesn't like Walter being in such an exclusive club (no women allowed, after all), and even worse, she doesn't get along well with the women of Stepford either. It seems all the women are only interested in making their husbands happy any way they can.
She finally does make a friend with Bobby (Paula Prentiss), another newcomer to Stepford. Bobby also notices the peculiarities of the townswomen, as they learn that many of the women used to lead normal lives, but after a few months become total domestic slaves. The two get really suspicious when Ginger, oops, I mean Charmaine (Tina Louise), who was quite distant from her husband, suddenly becomes a doting wife. She even tears up her beloved tennis court to make way for her husband's pool.
Joanna and Bobby look for all possible answers, even going as far as checking the water. But when Bobby returns from a weekend "away" a very different woman, Joanna realizes it's something much more sinister, and must solve the mystery before becoming the next suburban automaton.
The Stepford Wives is based on a novel by Ira Levin, who also wrote Rosemary's Baby. The two stories have a lot in common, as both center on women who become quite suspicious of their husbands' new friends. Paranoia is a central theme in both films. But in the case of Rosemary, it's Satanists who are the perceived enemy whereas in Stepford, it's the threat of becoming a walking version of June Cleaver. Not as evil as Satan, unless you're a radical Women's Libber (that's the old name for feminists). Thus, the paranoia is even more blatant, as it does not look like the Stepford wives are being harmed in any way. In fact, they seem quite happy. Is there really something wrong with the women, or is it Joanna's views on gender equality that makes her think something's wrong?
In this movie, it's feminism and individuality that are the big issues of the day, as well as the banality of the suburbs. The Stepford wives are clearly representative of the conformity of the average middle class housewife. Hell, make them "soccer moms" in minivans and SUVs (here, station wagons are the vehicle of choice), and the movie would be just as relevant today. Yes, today's "soccer moms" are likely to have full-time jobs (a concept strictly verboten in Stepford), but the basic idea is pretty much the same. No one ever sets out to become such a common stereotype, yet it happens all the time. It's interesting to see how people have always forfeited their individual personalities to become "part of the group." Joanna is not just aghast at becoming subservient to her husband; she fears losing the hobby (photography) that makes her unique.
Now, I should mention that The Stepford Wives is not a film for the impatient. It's relatively long (just under 2 hours), and features no exciting chases, dazzling special effects, not even a good murder scene (it's a PG movie in fact). The beauty of the film is in slowly building on Joanna's paranoia, and making you wonder if in fact there is something wrong with the women after all. And I think that the other asset of the movie is that many of the issues and clues all become relevant at the end of the film. But director Bryan Forbes does not go out of his way to point out what clues are important, so viewers will need to pay close attention to all the details of the story. Again, it's not for everyone, but those who do take the time to scrutinize the information will be richly rewarded at the end. For the first hour of the film I debated whether or not to even keep my copy of the movie after reviewing it, but now that I've seen all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, I'm highly considering holding on to this disc and watching it again very soon.
So those who like their movies to be a little faster paced will likely be turned off by The Stepford Wives. But one of my all-time favorite films is Rosemary's Baby, and this movie is quite similar (for obvious reasons), and in ways, even more sinister. Bryan Forbes is no Roman Polanski, but The Stepford Wives is an excellent depiction of middle class ennui and paranoia.
The Stepford Wives is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic screens. I was unimpressed with the transfer, at least at first. There is significant grain in the picture, something we don't usually get from Anchor Bay. It looks almost less theatrical, and has more of a "made for TV" appearance. But then I viewed the original Anchor Bay release, which was most likely a direct port of the Elite laserdisc, and the difference was quite significant. The older disc doesn't have the grain, but it also doesn't have anywhere near the color fidelity and detail of the new disc. This "Silver Anniversary Edition" has a much deeper and richer tone to it, giving the actors' faces a lot more character than in the washed out older version. Yes, it's a lot darker, which sometimes obscures the action, but it is also much more realistic. Now, you'd have to be a REAL fan of this film to junk the older disc in favor of the new one, but for first time buyers, I'd recommend the anamorphic presentation offered on this updated disc.
Don't be expecting 5.1 Surround Sound on this one. It's a mono mix, presented in two channels. I was a little worried at first, as the theme music was quite shrill and harsh, but that's the only time that happens. Most of the music is very soft and far in the background, so it is not as distracting as it could have been. There are no need for surround effects or left/right panning either, as it's entirely a dialogue film. And for that, it does quite well.
Extra material here is rather light, but of the high quality we've come to expect from Anchor Bay. Most prominent is an excellent 18-minute interview with the producer, director, and several cast members. Here we learn about the disagreements director Forbes had with William Goldman, the screenwriter. Also, casting proved to be rather difficult, and the makers of the film found themselves under attack from feminist groups. I gotta agree with Forbes though; I think it's MEN who look much sillier and insecure in this film. Finally, it's interesting to note that Brian DePalma was originally slated to direct the film.
The rest of the extras are pretty much standard: Trailers and radio spots, as well as a Brian Forbes bio. Since he never really worked inside the genre again, he's not exactly a household name amongst horror fans. So it's good to read a little about a director whom most of us really are unfamiliar with.
As mentioned above, The Stepford Wives is not a thrill-a-minute film in any way. It's slow and plodding, and perhaps a little too long. But it is well made, and a great study on 70s attitudes of feminism, individualism, paranoia, and suburbia. This disc from Anchor Bay is not among their other gorgeous looking releases, but it's still a good presentation nonetheless. The film has garnered a "cult" reputation, and members of that "cult" will no doubt want this in their collections.
Movie - B
Image Quality - C-
Sound - C
Supplements - B
- Running Time - 1 hour 55 minutes
- Rated PG
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- 24 Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital Mono
- French Dolby Digital Mono
- Interviews with Director Bryan Forbes, Producer Edgar J. Scherick, and Stars Katherine Ross, Paula Prentiss, Nanette Newman, and Peter Masterson
- Theatrical Trailer
- Radio Spots
- Bryan Forbes Bio