Even if you've yet to see The Stepford Wives, you're almost certainly familiar with the film's twist ending, though I'll try to be polite and avoid any nasty spoilers. Its famous twist, which carried on into no less than three TV movies, is the only reason I had any interest at all in watching The Stepford Wives. Going in with that knowledge is like trying to watch Soylent Green after decades of hearing its well-known closing line chanted. You don't want to watch a mystery slowly unfold -- you want to hear Charlie Heston shout that soylent green is made of people. If I weren't so familiar with the ending of The Stepford Wives, I very well may have enjoyed it more, but a handful of very eerie, disturbing scenes aside, it's a two hour bore. Although The Stepford Wives was previously released as a bare-bones, letterboxed disc a few years back, Anchor Bay has revisited this movie in this budget-priced Silver Anniversary Edition. Unfortunately, I found their second effort to be as disappointing as the movie itself.
Although it's a little difficult to go into any detail discussing the plot or implications of The Stepford Wives without talking about those final shots, I'll make an attempt to provide something approximating a spoiler-free summary. Walter Eberhart (Peter Masterson) is enthusiastic about moving his wife and two kids away from the bustle of big city life, settling down in the sleepy Rockwellian hamlet of Stepford. Walter's wife Joanna (Katherine Ross), a budding photographer, is taken aback when the majority of the Stepford wives seem to be little more than mindless drones, spending their day performing menial chores and pleasing their husbands. Joanna and her freewheeling sidekick Bobbie (Paula Prentiss) set out to discover the terrible secret that Stepford is hiding, but (gasp!) the answer proves to be far more terrifying than they could've possibly anticipated.
A peek at the IMDb seemed to indicate that the British version of The Stepford Wives runs an additional fifteen minutes. Before finding out that this was one in a lengthy series of errors by the IMDb, I was relieved that this additional footage wasn't included in some form, since I found the nearly two hour film enough of a chore to sit through through as it is. I don't want to come off sounding as if I have an extraordinarily short attention span and need to see spilled intestines or an eight megaton explosion for a film to grab my interest. It almost seems as if the ending was written first, then the rest of the film was added as padding to get to that point. There really aren't any subplots or other engaging characters -- just Bobbie and Joanna seeking out the truth for two hours, with revelations painfully slow in coming. The Stepford Wives is a dated, dull, one-note film that may be worth seeing once for those unfamiliar with the "surprise" at the end. Don't expect much in the way of replay value, though, and I'd shy away from a purchase.
Video: Though The Stepford Wives is presented in anamorphic widescreen, the 1.85:1 image is of surprisingly poor quality, standing out as one of the very few disappointing Anchor Bay releases of the past few years. A fair amount of grain is always present to some extent, and the grain is so heavy in some scenes that they border on unwatchable. The image is a bit on the dark side, with poor contrast and murky shadow detail. Though it's hardly unusual for films from this era to use filters to provide a soft, dream-like effect, sharpness seems far too variable to blame solely on the trends of the time. On the upside, dust and assorted specks are practically non-existent. Those unhappy with Anchor Bay's previous Stepford disc probably won't be shouting from the rafters as to how much of an improvement this silver anniversary release is.
Audio: The Dolby Digital mono track is rather timid, and I had to bump the volume up four notches or so higher than normal to fully discern any dialogue at all. That extremely minor quibble aside, the mono audio is fine, not marred by hiss or distortion of any sort. A French mono track is also available.
Supplements: The most notable extra is an 17 minute featurette compiling interviews with director Bryan Forbes, producer Edgar J. Scherick, and stars Katherine Ross, Paula Prentiss, Nanette Newman, and Peter Masterson. Though the interviews were seemingly culled from a couple of different sources (or, at the very least, shot with cameras of varying quality), they're edited together seamlessly and flow quite well. Although I'm hardly a Stepford scholar, there were a number of nuggets of information I wasn't aware of, ranging from the involvement of Sisters' Brian De Palma, the number of other actresses considered for the lead role, and just how ornery Academy Award winning screenwriter William Goldman can be. One the promotional end are two 30-second radio spots and an anamorphic trailer, and a bio of Bryan Forbes is also included.
Conclusion: I didn't much care for The Stepford Wives as a film, and its second presentation on DVD from Anchor Bay falls significantly short of what this talented and resourceful company has consistently proven they are capable of time and time again. Even at a lower-than-normal list price for Anchor Bay, falling under the $20 mark, I wouldn't recommend this disc as anything more than a rental.