The Stepford Wives Organization reviews “The Stepford Wives” movie 1975 (The Original Version)

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Bryan Forbes, in the original 1975 movie adaptation of Ira Levin’s novella did make certain improvements to the author’s satire.

There’s a devilish subtext to Forbes’s movie (which he rewrote over William Goldman’s screenplay against Goldman’s will) that simply wasn’t present in Ira Levin’s 1972 book. Most people have come to accept the notion of A Stepford Wife (our home site: as the zeitgeist and argument points of  the feminist 70s: it presented women who cooked, cleaned, put out, and loved their hubbies as robots created by the patriarchal imagination. However, the Forbes movie version goes further and subtly disguises the possibility that those who went against the notion of the Stepford Wife, could themselves be a product of another system of thought.

I think what really riled the women’s libbers were three critical scenes.

(1) Feminists are Crazy

The first is the constant reiteration that Joanna is somehow crazy. The first round comes when she questions her husband about joining the Stepford Men’s Association. “Am I going crazy or you keep repeating the question?” The next recurrence is when she submits her new photographs to the art gallery: “You’ve just got to tell me, am I crazy?  Aren’t they (her pictures) good?…you’re not just saying that because you are frightened I might be a crazy lady?”

In the 1975 movie, as in the novel, the yoke of the Stepford Wives story occurs during Joanna session with the psychiatrist. The latter observes “the home and garden set flock to Stepford, just like the artists go to Westport.” If you didn’t know how the movie ended, it introduced the possibility that the protagonist could herself be mad all along. No one questions why so many men hold hands in Chelsea NYC, just like no one questions why people wear white and go yachting in Hyannis Port. Joanna even said “if I’m wrong (meaning the women really did choose to be obedient wives of their freewill) then I’m insane, but if I’m right, it could be worse then if I were wrong.”

(2) Consciousness-Raising sessions are either bitching sessions or frivolous talk

When Joanna and Bobbi discovers a defunct society of women libbers, and proposes a consciousness-raising session among the Stepford women, Charmaine (Tina Louise), the most “liberated” Stepford wife says “(you mean) a bitching session.” They proceed to hold the session, which quickly dissolves into the wives discussing cleaning solutions and detergents. This definitely did not make the 2nd wave feminists all too happy.

(3) Feminists and women who yearn for liberation from the home are doing harm to their gender and women

Nothing is more shocking than the scene when Joanna goes searching for her children in the torrential rainstorm. She revisits the new and improved Bobbi, who is carrying on in the kitchen. In a fit of hysteria, Joanna screams “I bleed, do you bleed?” She takes a kitchen knife and cuts herself. Then she stabs Bobbi square on her apron. If you look carefully, the point of entry is either in the womb, or the vagina.

Forbes’ also introduces a clever inversion of Levin’s Stepford Wives, who dresses in hot sexy tight clothing to please their husbands. The movie presented instead, the “free” liberated women in hot sexy tight outfits (just look at the insanely fleshy getup Katharine Ross wears when she is taking pictures of the children (pictured below), and dressed the Stepford Wives in frumpy Victorian style cabbage patch outfits. This meta-text shows that women in whatever mode, are still sexual commodity to the omniscient male gaze, which has been further hijacked by a female photographer, now filling the shoes of the traditionally male voyeur.

Don’t get us wrong: we, at the / organization have no issues with dressing this way. But only if our husbands tell us to do so because it pleases them, and in the privacy of our homes. We would never be seen in public in such a suggestive outfit!

In the dvd extra, we learn that this huge change was made to accommodate Forbes’s wife, actress Nanette Newman, whom he insisted be included for a part in the movie if he were to come aboard. She didn’t have the figure for hot, sexy, tight clothing, so the wardrobe scheme for the entire movie was recast -according to the male director’s wishes- to suit his wife.

What price patriarchy now?

Katharine Ross plays Joanna with such a studied intensity, one almost feels the drama is real. Peter Masterson plays opposite Ross as Walter, the sympathetic husband who wants to move his family out of the city and into the picturesque suburbs of Stepford. Pay  especially close attention to the argument scenes and you will hear an omen of the feminist backlash years ahead of its time.

Walter: Just try to look at it from my point of view Joanna.

Joanna: Walter, I just want to say one thing to you:  Bobbi really has changed, believe me. Everything in her house looks like a TV commercial.

Walter: Well good. Good. She had to clean it sooner or later. It looked like a …goddamn pig sty.  I mean, when are things going to start sparkling around here, that’s what I like to know.  Just look at the way my kids are dressed. Raggamuffins!  Jeez, I work 80 hours a week.  I live in a great house, and my kids look like they belong on welfare.  Look, if you paid a little more attention to your family and a little less to your goddamn picture taking.

We girls here at the Organization ( / ) love the movie. Our favorite scene is when Joanna visits the curator at the art gallery to present her work. Just the absolute beaming look of gratitude she has when her work is received with approval from a man, remains the cornerstone of our organization. When the curator asks her what she wants from it all….she is at a lost of words.

Other favorite quotes from the 1975 movie:

Diz: (to Joanna)   “I love to watch women doing little domestic chores.”

The Pharmacist Frank’s wife: “God I just love those. Oh yes. Yes. Oh yes. Oh. Nobody’s ever touched me the way you touched me. Oh there. O you’re the best Frank. Oh god are you the best. Oh there! Oh God. God you’re the best. You’re the king Frank. You’re the champion Frank. Oh! Oh! You’re the master!”

Diz: (to Joanna) “See, think of it the other way around. Wouldn’t you like some perfect stud around the house, praising you, servicing you, whispering how your sagging flesh was beautiful no matter how you look?”

Bryan Forbes said “it’s not meant to be an attack on the women’s movement” (specific denial, to me, usually connotes indirect admission).

return to The Complete Guide to the Stepford Wives Movies

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