The Stepmother (1972)

Director: Howard Avedis
Also known as: Impulsion
Tagline: “She forced her husband’s son to commit the ultimate sin!”

Plot: Insanely jealous Mexican businessman Alejandro Rey suspects his wife Katherine Justice of being unfaithful, and with good reason. When he comes home early from a trip and meets Justice’s lover leaving his house in the middle of the night, he strangles the man and buries him in the desert. Unable to bring himself to make love to Justice in the wake of her infidelity, Rey inadvertently drives her into the arms of one of their friends, Larry Linville. (Yep, Frank Burns himself.) So Rey kills Linville too. 

Before that happens, though, The Stepmother turns into a middle-aged beach-party movie for a while, with Rey, Justice, and their over-the-hill counterculture friends dancing like teenagers…

…and splashing around in the ocean as though someone were standing offscreen, prepared to shoot them in the head if the don’t yelp like maniacs.

Eventually, the cops arrive to question Rey, but he catches a break when another man strangles a woman out in the desert near Rey’s first victim, and gets blamed for both murders. After Linville’s death, the heat gets more intense, so Rey takes off to Acapulco for a business trip with Linville’s widow (thus making the police even more suspicious), and leaves his wife with his teenage son, Rudy Herrera. Justice and Herrera have an awkward conversation about their cultural differences and old family squabbles…

…but later, after Rey makes out with a topless Justice for a few minutes and leaves abruptly, she gulps champagne, smokes pot, reads a copy of Playboy, and jumps Herrera’s bones. Finally, with 20 minutes to go in the movie, The Stepmother lives up to its tagline.

So what will Rey do now? Is his jealousy so all-consuming that he’d kill his own son for cuckolding him? Actually, no. He’s prepared to forgive, forget, and even turn himself in, but doesn’t get the chance because the cops pull up out of the blue and shoot him dead.

Racist pigs.

Key scenes: While everyone else is having a ball on the beach, Rey is wracked with guilt and imagining the man he killed running across the sand after him in slow-motion, in Hitchcockian fashion.

Or perhaps he’s just wishing he’d dispatched the loverboy with more style, the way he did with Linville, whom he pushed off a roof.

Whatever the circumstance or the scene though, you can count on Rey to out-stiff every other wooden performer on the screen.

Can easily be distinguished by: Between the beautiful locations and slow-paced murder plot, The Stepmother is like an episode of Columbo with occasional nudity and unnecessarily jarring freeze-frames.

Sign that it was made in 1972: The lounge-y theme song “Strange Are The Ways Of Love” was nominated for an Oscar, because this was the era when the Academy recognized any movie song that sounded hip but not too edgy.  

Timeless message: Love is best when it’s foisted upon the unwilling.

Memorable quotes: When Linville’s wife says she’s barbecuing chickens, Linville asks, lasciviously, “Hens or cocks?” It’s ribald and nonsensical—just like this movie.

Available on DVD from BCI/Navarre.

Filed Under: DVD

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