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review added: 8/13/01



The Stepford Wives
Silver Anniversary Edition - 1975 (2001) - Anchor Bay Entertainment

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Stepford Wives: Silver Anniversary Edition Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/C-

Specs and Features

115 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:06:00, at start of chapter 17), The Stepford Life featurette, original theatrical trailer, two 30-second radio spots, biography & filmography for director Bryan Forbes, animated film-themed menus with music, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English & French (Dolby Digital mono), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned


"I'll just die if I don't get this recipe."

Originally released to yawns of indifference at the height of the women's movement of the 1970s, The Stepford Wives has since become a cult favorite, spawning multiple TV-movie sequels and spin-offs (none of which are really worth watching) and being referenced in countless movies and TV shows. Unlike a lot of cult movies from the decade that taste forgot, The Stepford Wives actually deserves its reputation. Stepford is a sly and thoughtful science-fiction/horror movie, that seems more prophetic all the time.

Not wanting to raise a family in the cesspool that is New York City, Walter Eberhart (Peter Masterson, whose daughter, Mary Stuart, makes an early film appearance here as his onscreen daughter) moves his wife and family to the idyllic Connecticut town of Stepford. Walter quickly feels right at home in Stepford, making friends and joining the Men's Association. But his wife, Joanna (Katharine Ross), feels alienated from the entire community. She's disturbed by the other wives and their single-minded devotion to pleasing their husbands, keeping a perfect house and baking the perfect cake. The only friend she makes is Bobbie (Paula Prentiss), like herself a recent arrival to Stepford. Joanna and Bobbie begin to suspect that all is not right behind the closed doors of the Men's Association... and they may just have reason for concern. Sure enough, it turns out that the Stepford husbands are replacing their wives with (spoiler warning in case you haven't got a clue by now) robotic replacements, under the watchful eye of the head of the Men's Association (Patrick O'Neal), a former Disney employee (and in light of Disney's recent release of The Princess Diaries, how ironic is that?).

The Stepford Wives is a refreshingly low-tech science-fiction movie with no real special effects to speak of. Makeup wizard Dick Smith provides some subtle but creepy touches towards the end, but most of the movie's eeriness comes from the placid performances of Nanette Newman and Tina Louise, from Michael Small's effective score and from Bryan Forbes' direction, which is full of subtle humor, nuance and innuendo. Stepford isn't a flawless movie by any stretch of the imagination. At 115 minutes, it's about twenty minutes too long, draining some of the suspense from Joanna's climactic invasion of the Men's Association. However, while it may be a failure as a horror movie, The Stepford Wives is an extremely effective social satire and should definitely be seen by anyone with an interest in the rise of modern feminism.

Anchor Bay originally released The Stepford Wives a few years back as a bare bones disc (this was back when Anchor Bay was drawing a lot of heat for the generally poor quality of their releases). They've now revisited the title with a somewhat belated Silver Anniversary Edition (I guess calling it the Silver Plus One Edition wouldn't have had quite the same ring to it). The disc is okay, but it's hardly what I would consider a special edition. The picture is really a mixed bag. On the plus side, it is in anamorphic widescreen (a definite improvement over the unenhanced original disc) and the print is fairly clean, with no major tears or dirt problems. Even so, the image is often soft and grainy and the colors seem washed out. The final grocery store scene (chapter 27) is a good example, looking a lot dimmer than the pastel colors of the costumes and the store itself would suggest. The mono sound, on the other hand, is perfectly acceptable, if unremarkable. Anchor Bay has provided both English and French soundtracks and allotted the film an extremely generous 28 chapters.

The special features are also a bit disappointing. The highlight is a 17-minute featurette entitled The Stepford Life, consisting of recent video interviews with director Forbes, producer Edgar J. Scherick, Katharine Ross, Peter Masterson, Paula Prentiss and Nanette Newman. Despite its brevity, the piece is well constructed and contains plenty of interesting bits of trivia about the making of the movie. The only major voice missing is screenwriter William Goldman (who adapted the novel by Ira Levin). Goldman seems to have essentially disowned the movie, so his absence is not too surprising. But considering how much time is spent discussing his work on the film, and how much of his script was actually used in the final movie, his contribution would have provided a somewhat more well-rounded look at the process. The featurette also suggests that a commentary track would have been somewhat redundant, since everyone maintains that the actual production of the movie was amazingly pleasant and seemingly problem-free.

Rounding out the package are two 30-second radio spots (Anchor Bay and Criterion seem to be the only two companies that consistently put these rarities on their titles and I guess they should be commended for that, if only because it's such an obscure thing to include), the original theatrical trailer, and a lengthy bio and filmography for Bryan Forbes. The insert includes a reproduction of the original poster (another Anchor Bay signature) and a superfluous essay by Jay Marks that basically just repeats much of the same information as the featurette and the Forbes bio.

The Stepford Wives gained much of its cult following after repeatedly being shown on television and, despite the anamorphic widescreen presentation, it still looks completely at home on the small screen. Anchor Bay's re-release is a step up from their original disc but fans looking for the definitive treatment of this movie may want to hold off. For your silver anniversary, you expect something like jewelry. Anchor Bay has given us a blender. That's disappointing by anybody's standards... even in Stepford.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com




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