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Anchor Bay presents
The Stepford Wives SE (1974)

Dale: I like to see women doing small domestic chores.
Joanna: You came to the right town.

- Patrick Neal, Katharine Ross

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: August 10, 2001

Stars: Katharine Ross, Paula Prentiss, Peter Masterson
Other Stars: Nanette Newman, Tina Louise, Carol Eve Rossen, William Prince, Carole Mallory, Toni Reid, Judith Baldwin, Barbara Rucker, George Coe, Franklin Cover, Robert Fields, Michael Higgins, Mary Stuart Masterson
Director: Bryan Forbes

Manufacturer: Crest National
MPAA Rating: PG for (thinly-veiled nudity, adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:54m:44s
Release Date: July 24, 2001
UPC: 013131168297
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Kim: Daddy, we saw a man carrying a naked lady!
Walter: That's why we are moving to Stepford!

Back in my high school days I discovered the wonders of late night television, where I could find weird cult films of all kinds. While this was long before I had any knowledge of aspect ratios or the many evils that TV, by its nature, was inflicting upon me, it did expose me to films that until that point I had never seen or heard of. One of those was The Stepford Wives, a film that was highly controversial upon its release amidst the explosion of the feminist movement in the early 1970s. I was oblivious to this at the time of course, instead finding an interesting and unorthodox science fiction/thriller, which just happened to have an appearance by heartthrob Tina Louise (Ginger from Gilligan's Island) as an added feature. The novel was penned by Ira Levin, author of such noted cult works as A Kiss Before Dying, Rosemary's Baby, The Boys From Brazil, Sliver and Deathtrap, and Englishman Bryan Forbes (Seance On A Wet Afternoon, Of Human Bondage) helmed the photoplay, set in a very American small town—an interesting combination for a darkly-humored look at the perfect family from a male perspective, through the eyes of the women in their community.

"She cooks as good as she looks, Ted" - Walter

Is there happiness in housework? Walter (Peter Masterson) and Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) and their family are moving to the suburbs, to the small community of Stepford Village in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Leaving behind the busy atmosphere of New York City, Joanna, a mother and aspiring photographer, has her reservations about this move, as her husband had pretty much gone ahead with the plans before consulting her. Adjusting to her new home life is difficult for her, as the bustle of city living certainly beats the absolute boredom found in Stepford, but her husband thinks the country will do them good. It's a perfect little town, perhaps a little too perfect. Without telling Joanna, Walter joins the local Men's Association, a group of men he would never have associated with in their former lifestyle, which she discovers when the group are brought over for one of their nightly get togethers. Among them is a former Playboy artist who renders a detailed portrait of her, a stuttering gentleman who asks her participation in a speech recording exercise, and the group's leader, Dale "Diz" Coba, a former Disneyland employee, someone Joanna comments she could never see trying to make people happy. After the local paper does a feature on the town newcomers, Joanna meets the bubbly Bobbie Markowe, another recent arrival who is also bored with life in the small community as a Stepford housewife. Having previous dabblings in feminism in the big city, Joanna suggests they form a local women's group, which Bobbie is thoroughly behind, though their recruitment efforts are met with dismal failure: all of the women in this little town seem more concerned with housekeeping. When their only hopeful candidate (Tina Louise as Charmaine Wimperis) has a sudden change of heart in favor of domestic duties, Bobbie and Joanna begin to suspect something strange is happening to the women of Stepford. While their investigations are met with dead ends, the pair are certain something is wrong. Will they somehow be transformed into blissful domestic engineers, or can they get out of Stepford before it's too late?

"I'll just die if I don't get this recipe." - Carol Van Sant

The film became an instant cult classic, with its campy style and subliminal humor, and I was long awaiting this special edition from Anchor Bay, after their earlier release of the title was somewhat of a disappointment. This isn't some slasher horror flick, though the underlying concepts are pretty creepy if you think about it. With the surge in the 1970s sexual revolution tearing down the notions of traditional female roles in society, The Stepford Wives blasts at the heart of the notion of female individualism, as a sinister backlash to the liberation movement. According to director Bryan Forbes, The Stepford Wives took a critical bashing from women's organizations as a misogynist's daydream, which Forbes disputes with a completely opposite viewpoint. His assertion is that the film is a condemnation of men and their desire to be served by their female partners, whatever the cost. I'll leave it to you to determine which side of this landmine you wish to tread, but will say that The Stepford Wives is a unique and interesting premise that deserves a place in any sci-fi collection. Well paced, with good exposition and great performances from the entire cast, I can't think of another film with quite the same atmosphere; based in horror, the use of daylight and brightly lit interiors doesn't jive with traditional films in the genre. Katherine Ross does a stellar job in her role, and Forbes' direction (and rewrite of William Goldman's script) builds the suspense in a very subdued and relaxed manner. This also marked the screen debut of Mary Stuart Masterson (daughter of Peter and star of Fried Green Tomatoes and Benny and Joon). I'd definitely place this among my "must have" sci-fi titles from the early 1970s, alongside Logan's Run, Silent Running, Slaughterhouse Five and of course Zardoz. Those who appreciate older classics will do well with this one, but just don't show it to you wife or girlfriend without being prepared for the repercussions.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Anchor Bay originally released a bare bones edition of The Stepford Wives in 1997, and while this 20th anniversary reissue features a new anamorphic transfer, unfortunately, we still don't have a version I would classify as definitive. Where the old transfer had a definite yellow cast to it, and contrast levels meant there was no really solid blacks and colors were somewhat washed out, the image had a smooth look to it, despite compression artifacts and some alising due to the nonanamorphic presentation.

With this release, the color timing looks more neutral and contrast is much higher, but as a tradeoff we have a significantly darker picture, lacking in low level detail. A comparison of the opening scene where the Eberhart car is going through the tollbooth completely loses the image of the foreground workers in shadow. The new transfer is also a significantly grainier than the previous one, and while the grain structure is well-rendered, it is noticeable compared with its predecessor. Detail is enhanced, and there are solid blacks this time around, but it's too bad we couldn't get a happy medium between this and the old transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Two-channel mono English and French tracks are available. The audio presentation is on par with the previous release, with barely discernable hiss, and an overall pleasing soundtrack. Frequency range is acceptable, though don't expect any heavy use of the subwoofer. Dialogue is occasionally hard to make out as the level fluctuates within scenes. Good, but not great.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Radio spots
Extras Review: Where this edition does excel over its predecessor is the inclusion of the supplemental features, including the 17m:23s documentary, The Stepford Life, containing recent interviews with many of the film's cast. Footage of director Bryan Forbes and producer Edgar J. Scherick accompanies clips from stars Katharine Ross, Paula Prentiss, Nanette Newman and Peter Masterson. This is an interesting look at a film that was fairly controversial for its time, and also exposes some of the resentment harbored by the director towards his screenwriter.

The film's theatrical trailer is included in anamorphic widescreen, as are two 30-second radio promos and 19 screens of biographical material on Bryan Forbes, including a selected filmography.

An essay on the film is also included in the enclosed leaflet.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

What man wouldn't kill for the perfect wife? The Stepford Wives is a brilliant story brimming with political incorrectness. Often deemed a thriller, this sci-fi entry from author Ira Levin is a hot bed for feminists. While it may seem a bit slow to modern audiences, I still think it holds up well as a sci-fi classic. Unfortunately, the image quality still isn't up to the standard I had hoped for, though I can't say with certainty where the blame for this lies.


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