I saw the 1975 Stepford Wives last night. It was an slow, creepy, smartly made film. I was particularly struck by this:

The two main leads are off to the left there: Katharine Ross as Joanne and Paula Prentiss as Bobbie. You can tell them apart because Prentiss, at 5″10, is a full five inches taller than Ross at least. When they’re shot together, Prentiss often looks like a giant.

Of course, in real life, you see big people and short people together all the time. In movies, though, you (or at least I) rarely notice discrepancies like this when they aren’t directly related to the plot or power disparities. You might have a looming evil villain being monstrous, but the two best friends are usually cast (or at least placed) so you’re not always noticing that one of them is gigantic and the other is tiny.

So the height differential here really stands out…which is I think quite clever thematically. The film is about the erasure of difference; the women all become identical drones — and, moreover, they all become mere appendages of their husbands. It seems right, then, that the film emphasize what is being lost by accentuating the visual disparity between, and visual individuality of, the two women. It’s especially effective, too, in that second scene above, where Bobbie has been transformed into Robot Bobbie, so that her height is a kind of frightening, looming reminder of difference past — a nightmarish Brobdingnagian shell left behind after the insides have been vacuumed out.

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