Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wonder Woman (1974) & The New Original Wonder Woman (1975)

          Plans to put DC Comics’ iconic heroine onto the small screen began in the mid-’60s, when the campy Batman show was peaking in popularity. All that remains of the 1967 Wonder Woman is an excruciatingly awful five-minute presentation reel titled “Who’s Afraid of Diana Prince?” and featuring a mousy woman who imagines she’s a voluptuous goddess. (YouTube it if you’re feeling masochistic.) Seven years later, a full-length pilot movie took a deadly serious approach and delivered deadly dull results.
          Starring athlete-turned-actress Cathy Lee Crosby (above left), Wonder Woman is only interesting for how many things it gets wrong. Rather than presenting Wonder Woman as a superhero, the movie shows her as a secret agent in a star-spangled track suit, working at a leisurely pace to foil the plans of an international criminal (Ricardo Montalban) who is ransoming the identities of undercover operatives. Thanks to Crosby’s lifeless performance and sluggish action sequences, the 1974 Wonder Woman movie is drab in every respect. The highlight, such as it is, features Wonder Woman trapped in a tiny room as geysers of rainbow-colored sludge ooze from the walls, threatening to trap her until she improbably kicks open the room’s Plexiglas door. In the end, a defeated Montalban coos, “Wonder Woman, I love you”—but at least as far as this version of the character is concerned, he’s alone in that opinion.
          A year and a half after the Crosby misfire, ABC broadcast the awkwardly titled The New Original Wonder Woman, which introduced viewers to the impressive spectacle of Lynda Carter (above right) crammed into a skimpy costume—although the 1975 movie introduces many kitschy flourishes, including the series’ memorably disco-flavored theme song and a colorful World War II milieu taken straight from the first Wonder Woman comics of the 1940s, Carter’s sex appeal is the main attraction.
          Developed and written by Stanley Ralph Ross, a veteran of the ’60s Batman series, The New Original Wonder Woman tries to recapture the previous series’ tongue-in-cheek quality, but instead comes across as insipid because the script isnt witty enough to trigger an ironic response. Even with comedy pros Henry Gibson, Cloris Leachman, and Kenneth Mars in the cast, The New Original Wonder Woman is tedious, with flaws like cheap-looking sets and schlocky special effects exacerbating the stiff lead performances by Carter and costar Lyle Waggoner. The only time the pilot reaches the desired level of camp is the finale, during which Carter has a catfight with guest star Stella Stevens.
          Nonetheless, Wonder Woman the series finally was off and running, though only one season was set in World War II. After the first run of episodes, the series migrated to CBS and became The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, with stories set in the present day; that version ran for two seasons. In the years since, Wonder Woman has thrived in animation, various attempts at a feature film have stalled, and super-producer David E. Kelley’s 2011 pilot for a new Wonder Woman series didn’t even get on the air. So, for the time being, in addition to being remembered as one of the sexiest pinup queens of the ’70s, Carter remains the world’s live-action Wonder Woman of choice.

Wonder Woman: LAME
The New Original Wonder Woman: FUNKY

1 comment:

Ben Rogers said...

The Crosby version was modeled on the then current version of Wonder Woman in the comics: deprived of her superhuman powers and familiar weapons, she became something of a riff on Emma Peel, Riggs character from TV's The Avengers. The Carter film and series caused the comic to shift back to her origins, so much so that her life during WWII was an extended storyline for a time.