Monday, April 29, 2013

Wonder Woman Extra: “Wonder Woman,” the Cathy Lee Crosby TV Movie (1974)

Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman was not the first time our awesome Amazon graced the TV airwaves in the 70’s; in 1974, about a year and a half before the TV series pilot, Cathy Lee Crosby donned the… well, a suit, and foiled a villainous plot wearing the ol’ red, white, and blue as WW. And the results? Not exactly gangbuster ratings, and so the idea for a series was put the shelf for a while. The folks at Warner Archives have just released this hidden treasure on DVD, and so I figured it’s worth having a look-see for completion’s sake.

The setting: America, present day (nope, no Nazis as villains here), and Steve Trevor, evidently a head CIA agent, has learned of the
coordinated theft of a set of code books containing secret information about a group of field agents, which puts all their lives at risk. (Hey, wasn’t this the plot of Skyfall?) He discusses the incident with his assistant, Diana Prince, after
briefing his men on the crisis, and, through his inquiry of which country’s “dentist” she’ll be seeing on her break, it’s clear he knows the identity of her alter-ego.  Correctly suspecting that the culprit is wealthy European magnate Abner Smith (Ricardo Montalban), she tramps to France and faces off against head henchman George Calvin (Andrew Prine, who looks like a cross between Keith Carradine and Police drummer Stewart Copeland). Of course, her face offs with men seem to resemble flirty pick-up lines at cocktail parties, so the formula appears to be: a) Diana and (bad guy) drink wine and have a coy tet-e-tete; b) Diana is left alone for a brief interlude; c) Diana’s life is immediately threatened either by speeding car, rattlesnake, or the good-old-fashioned attack by leather-clad thugs.

At about the halfway point, Diana dons her superhero threads, technically becoming Wonder Woman, although her actions now don’t seem much different from when she was Diana. Perhaps it’s because she’s closing in on the villian’s fortress, somewhere near the Grand Canyon. Steve had gotten a message to pay 15 million dollars in ransom money to retrieve the stolen code books, and to load the money on a burro to be abandoned in some ghost town that looks like the leftover set from Gunsmoke. Following the mule prints, WW finds Abner in his secret lair, and, after overcoming a series of traps (including a weird, trippy wall of dripping, tri-color sludge), confronts him, at which time we finally see his heretofore obscured face. After some more flirty dialogue, Abner allows WW to take the code books but absconds with the money. He tries to make a getaway on an inflatable raft but WW swims up and simply tells him he’s through. The henchman have all killed each other so only Abner is arrested; as he is driven away in a police car he gleams at WW and moons, “Wonder Woman, I love you.”

With no real special powers, skills or transformation scenes from one persona to another, Crosby’s WW is “more superspy than superhero,” according to the write-up on the DVD case, which seems a bit like a disclaimer. Nevertheless, this incarnation of the DC heroine is solidly diverting entertainment. Smack dab in the middle of the disco and polyester suit decade, this movie bears all the marks of a delightfully dated era, replete with freeze frames, acid trip commercial break bumpers, syntho-funk score, and more polyester than you can shake a stick at. The pacing and plotting is at a clip, so there’s no real time to mock the dated production values. And though Cathy Lee Crosby can never claim to be the “real” Wonder Woman, her combination of doe-eyed beauty and proto-feminist moxie is well able to sustain the film’s 90-minute running time (presaging Charlie’s Angels in many ways).

Some good supporting characters round out the cast, but the most interesting is probably Ahnjayla, one of Wonder Woman’s Paradise Island sisters, played by Anitra Ford. A turncoat, she joins George Calvin in fighting WW, but loses. Her life spared, she vows to repay her debt to WW, who only asks of Abner’s whereabouts.

PETA endorsed: Wonder Woman defeats a venomous snake by calling room service for a saucer of milk so the snake can feed while she escapes. You gotta respect such a humane, if not exactly action-packed, solution, at the expense of a good 3 minutes of airtime! 

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