The Stepford Wives (1975)

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(out of 5)

Ira Levin’s creepy novel reaches the screen with mixed results. It’s a successfully unnerving thriller that builds slowly to a very horrifying climax, but there’s a level of commitment missing that keeps it from being as riveting as Rosemary’s Baby. Katharine Ross is excellent as a woman who moves from the bustle of Manhattan to the tiny suburb of Stepford with her husband (Peter Masterson) and two daughters (one of them played by Masterson’s daughter Mary Stuart). She is immediately frightened by the homogeneous personalities of the women in her neighbourhood, Betty Crocker wives who live for housework and pleasing their husbands. After befriending the only woman in the area (Paula Prentiss, who is terrific) who is as bewildered by this suburban nightmare as she is, the two of them start to investigate the town and discover there are some very sinister things afoot. Critics reacted to the film as either anti-feminist or male-bashing, and both were wrong. The film takes men to task for their incapable reaction to the women’s movement of the sixties and seventies, and criticizes the women who resisted it by canonizing their status as servants in their own households. Either way, the critical response that held the film as only mediocre is a fair one, thanks partly to Bryan Forbes’s lackluster direction and William Goldman’s flat screenplay adaptation. It will be an interesting experience for audiences from a historical point of view and a satisfying one for those who were bewildered by the intentionally parodist remake.

Palomar Pictures, Fadsin Cinema Associates

USA, 1975

Directed by Bryan Forbes

Screenplay by William Goldman, based on the novel by Ira Levin

Cinematography by Owen Roizman

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