I finished the 1975 version of “The Stepford Wives.” One reason I thought this was a TV-movie is because it has the low-budget look of one. And at 115 minutes it’s like a Twilight Zone episode that has run on too long.
But the setup — the first hour or so — is pretty good as you watch “normal” Katharine Ross and Paula Prentiss encounter the Good Housekeeping Seal girls and slowly begin to wonder if something is up. But unlike, say, the original Westworld, you don’t get much deeper into the sci-fi aspects of it. The final hour is rather dull as it really does offer very little new or interesting. It’s just blah blah blah. Talk talk talk.
The best moment in it was when Ross and Prentiss were going around the Stepford neighborhood trying to recruit wives to join their feminist organization. One of the wives (I think it was my favorite…Carol Van Sant played by Nanette Newman) isn’t buying what Prentiss and Ross are selling and does a very good job explaining that she is happy doing just what she is doing. She’s so genuine and convincing that Prentiss and Ross wonder if they aren’t the weird ones themselves.
Tina Louise is great in this and looks wonderful. I’ve never seen her look or act better. Her role isn’t huge but she is effective. All of the men in the film are pretty much interchangeable and forgettable, including Patrick O’Neal as the ring leader. The plot is just too thin for the men to have much to do.
But Prentiss and Louise, in particular, add some sparkle to the film. Ross is okay as the main wife getting roped into all this, but I wish (as the IMDB trivia notes) that Diane Keaton hadn’t turned down the role. I think she would have brought more to it although Ross was more than fine.
From what I’ve read, the 2004 remake is a dog. But this is a concept (based on a book…which is apparently a dark comedy) still waiting to be filmed well. This simple-minded script would have worked better in about about 90 minutes or slightly less. A longer runtime is just begging to add some intricacies to it. Maybe all of the men didn’t like the tame housewife. Maybe others liked something else.
But I guess the “social” message is that rich white men want beautiful, compliant homemaking babes. The funny thing is, from reading his biography, Frank Sinatra had just that in his first wife but chased after the problematic and definitely non-Stepford Ava Gardner. Yes, I get the feminist message in this movie. But it’s wrapped up in a very simplistic story.