Viking Night: The Stepford Wives
By Bruce Hall
March 8, 2017
“Daddy, I just saw a man carrying a naked lady!”
And just like that, Walter (Peter Masterson) and Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross), move with their young son to the scenic town of Stepford, Connecticut. It’s 1975, and if I remember my history, the crime rate in Manhattan was roughly 3,000 percent what it is today. Late night comedians literally made fortunes on “Have you heard about the crime in New York” jokes. So it’s no surprise that the Eberhart family decides to tap out and move when they do.
If the big city is no place to raise a child, Norman Rockwell and Dr. Seuss at their best couldn’t design a better place than Stepford. It’s a quiet, picturesque community where the lawns are always cut, the streets are always clean, and newcomers are greeted with smiles and casserole. Walter, a successful lawyer, is already in love with the place, which seems bathed in perpetual sunshine. It also doesn’t hurt that the men are all Alpha Males and the women are all quiet, submissive MILFs that look like underwear models. Joanna, an aspiring photographer, finds the place sterile, secluded and suffocating.
It doesn’t help that she speaks her mind, is anything but submissive and...also looks like an underwear model.
But hey, Walter’s not a bad guy, by 1970s standards. By that I men he’s a balding, middle aged guy with a creepy underbite who spends a little too much time Mansplaining his job and whining about his constant desire to bone her over the couch. His somewhat younger wife becomes suspicious about the town’s oddly friendly inhabitants. And spending days on end alone in their cavernous new house begins to wear on her. Yes, this is directly related to Walter’s simmering trouser troubles. To be sure, The Stepford Wives starts out feeling like the long wind up to a slightly upmarket Lifetime Original Movie.
Not to mention, it’s a fun little time capsule of the age. When it’s time for coffee, some people ask for a mysterious beverage called Sanka. At the grocery stores, the kid who bags your groceries actually puts them in your car for you. Telephones are the size of newborn infants. Walter walks around looking like a tool with his t-shirt tucked in. He also spends nearly every night at something called the Men’s Association, while Joanna whiles away her days with new best friend Bobbie (Paula Prentiss), the only other person in Stepford who finds the community so unsettling.
With little else to do, Joanna and Bobbie try putting together a competing club for the ladies, and actually manage to find a couple of other women who feel the way they do. Unfortunately the remaining wives stick to acting as though they’re all slightly whacked out on Xanax, or whatever bored housewives used to kill time in the 1970s. What’s worse, the dissenters all show up within days, whacked out and submissive, with no memory of their time in the Women’s Liberation ball pit. Now, The Stepford Wives stops being a Lifetime Original and turns into your parents’ version of Black Mirror.