• U.S.

Cinema: Women’s Glib

3 minute read
Richard Schickel


Directed by BRYAN FORBES Screenplay by WILLIAM GOLDMAN

The best thing anyone could think up to say about Ira Levin’s novel when it came out a few years ago was that it might make a pretty good movie. The best thing you can say about the movie is that they were wrong—not wildly, but enough. Levin’s notion was that a community of commuter types might become so fed up with women’s lib—or maybe just old-fashioned female contrariness—that it would strike a bargain with a Disneyland fugitive. His idea is to do in their spouses and replace them with physically exact duplicates moved by predictable electronic impulses instead of whimsical human ones.

Writer Goldman and Director Forbes have done workmanlike jobs in pumping some life and even some entertainment into Levin’s one-gimmick book, but they are somewhat at cross-purposes. Goldman sees an opportunity to satirize middle-class mores. He scores some good points by having his living dolls talk exactly like the female humanoids in TV commercials—fretting about the need for spotless floors and coffee that tastes fresh-perked. Forbes, on the other hand, sees an opportunity for serious suspense. Will Katharine Ross and Paula Prentiss, newcomers to Stepford, realize what is afoot in this too, too peaceful Connecticut town and get out before they are traded hi for living dolls? He manages to work up some reasonable suspense over this matter. Somehow, though, the writer’s prime concern and the director’s never quite fuse.

Perhaps Goldman should have been encouraged to write more gags, create more weird confusions and confrontations between real and fake women. (How about a husband who misses the old-fashioned fights—and the making up? Why not a little less discretion about the sexuality of a grown-up Barbie?) Or perhaps the opposite tack should have been tried. The piece could have been an exercise in pure terror, avoiding overt social comment. The broad early hints about what is going on here would then build realistic suspense.

Or maybe they just should have skipped the whole thing. Obviously, The Stepford Wives aspires to be a women’s lib parable, realizing the female’s worst fears about her mate’s desire to dehumanize her. But it is too glibly on the side of the fashionable angels. Moreover, the movie never shows a single man whose feminine ideal exceeds gatefold dimensions. That too is a form of dehumanization.

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