Wonder Woman 1974
Continuing my month of the more obscure and cult superhero films I’m taking a look at probably the least well known version of a popular superhero going back to the first TV pilot of the Wonder Woman TV show. Most people are familiar with the popular Lynda Carter show from the 70’s, but before they cast Carter they actually shot, filmed, and aired a very different version of the show with actress Cathy Lee Crosby as Diana Prince. And while I haven’t really seen any full episodes of the Carter version aside from a few clips, this felt very different than what I would imagine the later show went on to be. It had much more of a serious tone to it and felt more like a detective show rather than a superhero show. She barely wore the costume, there were no special effects to show off any super powers to speak of, and there was actually quite a bit of death and danger. It was quite fascinating to look back at this version of the character even though it barely resembled anything I knew about Wonder Woman aside from her name and the name of Steve Trevor.
A few things to note about this pilot movie before getting into some of the nitty gritty elements of the plot. In the hour and ten minute run time, we don’t get to see Wonder Woman in her costume until the forty minute mark, and when we do, it’s nothing like any version of her costume from the comics at all. Instead, it’s more like a star spangled track suit. And she gets hit on by men no less than five times during the course of the movie from five different men. One she even has to shut down by pretending she has a husband. Throughout the entire movie, there’s only one action scene to speak of and only two other moments where Wonder Woman gets to show off her fighting skills, albeit briefly. A man jumps down into her elevator and she opens the doors and kicks him out with a single kick. Later on, she’s in the sights of two henchmen with sniper rifles when she ducks behind some boxes, then appears behind them to knock them out. The one fight scene is between Diana and Angela who had escaped from Themyscara. They’re fighting with javelins, but they’re using them more like quarterstaffs in one of the most slow moving fight scenes ever, where it was obvious that neither actress had any martial arts training or choreography.
As for the main villain and conflict of the film, there’s a mysterious Frenchman played by Ricardo Montelban whose name is in the opening credits, yet they spend most of the run time keeping his face obscured in favor of his hand and his cigar. His second in command is a pretty boy named George who is surprisingly trigger happy. Their ultimate plan goes off in the opening moments where we see a half dozen pairs of books get stolen from across the world. They bring them all to George who then kills all the messengers. It’s not until a little while later that we find out that the books are actually code books used by this government agency to communicate with a series of 38 spies, and this means the cover of all of those agents are in danger for the next 72 hours before their next check-in. Their plan is to sell those books back to the government for a sum of $15 million. Luckily agent Steve Trevor is on the case, and his secretary is none other than D, which they oddly call her instead of Diana. It’s also bizarre that Steve apparently knows that D is Wonder Woman, but all of their conversations are in code as if they were either pretending not to for some reason, or they are worried that their conversations would be overheard which is never explicitly stated. The villains also seem to be acutely aware of Wonder Woman’s secret identity as they know when she checks into the same hotel they are staying at.
The film also spends plenty of time supposedly hopping the globe, and yet it rarely feels like it takes place anywhere other than a sound studio. Though the Grand Canyon at the end does feel a bit closer to being a different location than all the offices and hotel rooms since they do manage to at least go outside. Aside from the brief action scenes, there are a couple deathtraps that Wonder Woman gets into. The first is when George unleashes a remote controlled snake-in-a-box into Diana’s hotel room where it coils around her leg while she is talking on the phone. This was actually a nice moment where Diana uses her intelligence to get out of the situation rather than her strength. Instead of merely grabbing the snake and killing it with her bare hands or something similar, she remains calm and still so it won’t attack and lures it away by calling for a pitcher of milk of all things from the hotel’s room service. Who knows if that would actually accomplish luring away a snake in real life, but it works for the film. The other trap is when she’s tracking a burro with the two saddlebags filled with the ransom money. The burro disappears from this room and when she follows, the room seals shut, tri-colored mud starts pouring over one wall which seems like it would start filling the room, but the wall also starts closing in on her, and if that weren’t enough, smoke starts filling the room which one would assume to be poison gas.
This is far from an action oriented Wonder Woman show or movie, there’s a lot more time dedicated to the investigation and conversations. Even when Wonder Woman finally confronts Ricardo Montelban, they don’t fight each other. Instead, they have a very polite conversation while Diana gets the chance to blow up their helicopter with one of her bracelets that are never used to deflect bullets, though she does use the other one as a makeshift grappling hook using rope pulled from her belt. It almost felt like she was intended to be more of a Batman character than anything actually resembling Wonder Woman. It wasn’t a great pilot, but it was fascinating to see such a different take on this character with so much more talking and without her lasso, tiara, and a different version of her bracers. The invisible jet does get a pseudo appearance and a shout-out at the end at least. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.