This has been a busy couple of weeks. I worked, went camping, met up with old friends, had a dentist appointment, got a tattoo, housesat with my sister, resisted all impulses to murder my cat, and watched the original The Stepford Wives.
It’s creepy. I highly approve.
Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) and her husband Walter (Peter Masterson) move with their two young children to Stepford, Conneticut. Joanna hates it there, disturbed by all of the other creepy housewives who seem to only live for cleaning and making their husbands happy. Joanna teams up with outspoken Bobbie (Paula Prentiss) to investigate what’s turning these women into kitchen zombies. Slowly, they start to suspect that they might be next. (Dun dun dun.)
1. I am not at all surprised to see that this film is based on an Ira Levin novel. Between this and Rosemary’s Baby, I’m starting to wonder about that man’s experiences with marriage. They may not have been particularly joyous.
2. As a heroine, Joanna works for me. There are a couple of times her character annoys me a little, but it’s certainly nothing that makes me root for her slow, gruesome demise or anything. Overall, she’s funny and bright with realistic, alternating moments of weakness and strength. She’s not fierce with a capital ‘F’, but she’s not a born victim, either, and that makes her much more sympathetic to me than other female protagonists (cough, cough, Rosemary).
3. Of course, her friend Bobbie is actually way more awesome. Because a weird rule of the cinematic jungle is that the sidekick is often way more fun than the hero or heroine.
As Bobbie, Paula Prentiss is pretty awesome. She has almost all of the best lines in the film, and there’s simply something appealing about her frank delivery. I really enjoyed watching her work opposite Katharine Ross—their chemistry together was great, and I definitely bought them as friends.
4. While watching the movie, I thought one of Joanna’s kids looked familiar, but I figured I was making up connections that weren’t really there and moved on. Later, I looked at the imdb trivia and discovered that I had been right in the first place. The little girl is Mary Stuart Masterson, playing the daughter of her real-life father, Peter Masterson. Ha!
5. Also in casting: apparently, Dee Wallace is somewhere in The Stepford Wives as a maid. I totally missed it.
6. I’m having trouble going into specifics because everything I want to talk about seems to be a spoiler. I can say that I like how the film develops, though. Admittedly, it’s a slow build, but I never found the movie boring or needlessly lengthy. The pacing seems well thought-out. I saw some nice examples of foreshadowing . . . but I should mention, I knew where the film was going before I even started it. It’s hard to know how I would have viewed the film if I hadn’t known what was going on. That’s kind of one of the problems with watching classic films 36 years after they’re initially released . . . there aren’t usually a lot of surprises.
7. I’m also somewhat curious to hear how men perceive this movie. As a woman, I certainly find it creepy . . . but I’m not sure if men would find it so.
I also read that the original intent was to have the Stepford wives look and act like Playboy bunnies, but due to some casting choices, it became more like 50’s housewives instead. While the Playboy bunny thing certainly makes more literal sense for the story, there’s something so much creepier about the giant ugly dresses and the obsession with housework to me.
8. Finally, a few quotes I like before we get into spoilers.
Kid: “Daddy, I just saw a man carrying a naked lady.”
Walter: “Well, that’s why we’re moving to Stepford.”
Bobbie: “I can’t figure out this burg. It’s like maids have been declared illegal, and the housewife with the neatest place gets Robert Redford for Christmas. And believe me, if that’s the prize, I’d enter, but nobody will tell me what the contest rules are.”
Joanna: “I can’t just call him up and say, ‘Hi! I used to be Joanna Ingalls. You deflowered me twelve years ago. Would you test my water?'”
Joanna: “I guess I want to be remembered.”
Now, for those of you who wish to follow me into Spoilerland . . .
Not unlike Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives features an asshole of a husband who colludes with other assholes to totally fuck over his wife. Here, Walter joins up with The Association, the prestigious gentleman’s club of Stepford, and I guess one of the rules of being a member is that you have to sacrifice your wife for a robot wife. To his credit, Walter does appear to have a few moments of anxiety about this—he sits in armchair, teary-eyed and practically gnawing at his own fingernails—but then he just gets over it, I guess. Cause this club is, like, really cool. And, anyway, who doesn’t want a wife who complies with your ever whim?
May I introduce you to Walter, Chief Asshat of the Week:
Walter tries to convince Joanna that she’s going nuts, but she’s not having any of it. Especially not after Bobbie, her partner in crime, goes away for the weekend with her husband and returns all domesticated and super creepy like everyone else in their community. Joanna demands that they move away, and Walter strikes a deal with her: if she’ll go see a psychologist to make sure she’s not going bonkers, Walter will close up shop and leave. (Spoilers: Walter is lying.)
Joanna, showing some refreshing common sense, refuses to see anybody in Stepford for her counseling session. She goes to New York instead, I think, and meets up with a woman shrink who tells her to grab her kids and leave town without telling anybody. I like the woman shrink. She clearly can’t tell if Joanna is crazy or not, but she doesn’t dismiss her fear out of hand, either, and there’s just something interesting about how the actress chose to play the role. It’s a five minute part, but there’s a sincerity to her performance that I really enjoy.
So, Joanna goes home to grab the kids. Unfortunately, they aren’t at home. She thinks maybe they’re at Bobbie’s place and goes there to confront her old friend. And by confront, I mean she stabs Bobbie in the stomach to see if she’s even human. So, you know, thank God Bobbie’s not. I mean, Joanna slices her own hand to prove that she actually bleeds, but she apparently doesn’t feel the need to be so cautious with the new and improved Bobbie. Just full on stabs her in the gut. Good thing she wasn’t, like, just mildly brainwashed or anything.
But it turns out that Bobbie’s a robot, so no harm done there. Bobbie starts repeatedly circling around the kitchen, breaking coffee cups and pouring coffee grounds all over the floor while saying things like, “How you could do a thing like that” and “I thought we were friends” over and over again. I must mention, Paula Prentiss is awesome in this scene. She manages to be both creepy and funny at the same time. It’s easily my favorite scene in the whole movie.
Joanna, appropriately horrified, returns home to pretty much beat the location of her children out of her husband. It’s a good plan, but unfortunately, Walter isn’t as stupid and spineless as you’d expect him to be. He tells her the children are at the Association’s Headquarters, and when she goes there, she finds out that it’s a trap. The Leader of the Bad Guys, Diz, talks like the Creepy Old Guy that he is for awhile, before finally telling her that the men are substituting the wives for robots just because they can. Dick.
Joanna runs off, trying to escape, only to run into Robot Joanna with her creepy, incomplete black eyes.
Robot Joanna gets up and comes towards Joanna like she’s about to strangle her. The screen goes dark. And then . . .
Then we go to the grocery store, where all the housewives (wearing their gigantic sun hats) are shopping. They each greet each other, making virtually the same identical three lines of small talk, until we finally get to Bobbie and Joanna, robots like all the rest. It’s a great ending scene. A bit depressing, I’ll grant you, but still a great scene.
Overall, I really liked this film. Neat story, good script, decent acting. I’ve seen criticisms of how unrealistic the movie is, that men would never really do this to their wives without fear of consequence, but I guess I thought the movie spoke to less literal fears, anxieties about being forced to change into something you’re not for the sake of a man, especially after marriage.
Plus, you know, killer robots. I’m a big fan of killer robots.