“Wonder Woman” (1974)
by A.J. Hakari
You really can’t stress enough how great Lynda Carter was as Wonder Woman. In appearance and personality, she truly brought William Moulton Marston’s superheroine to life and stands as one of the best match-ups of live performer to comic book counterpart in history. So thank Hera that it was her version of the character that took off and not the one played by Cathy Lee Crosby in a 1974 Wonder Woman TV pilot. In testing the waters to see how viewers would accept the property a year before Carter would swing the famous lasso, this Wonder Woman plays it safe and suffers for it, supplying a dreary spy game that’s the very antithesis of “super.”
A former athlete herself, Crosby at least has the build to combat evil as the star-spangled Wonder Woman, though her origins have been tweaked here. She still hails from an Amazonian island paradise, but when she’s compelled to join modern society, it’s to immediately go working for Uncle Sam. Under dapper g-man Steve Trevor (Kaz Garas), “Diana Prince” is a secret agent who’s dispatched when the going gets particularly tough. That happens when mystery man Abner Smith (Ricardo Montalban) gets his hands on some secret code books that could endanger the lives of numerous government operatives. Armed with explosive bracelets, gymnastics training, and a snazzy jumpsuit, Diana/Wonder Woman is on the case, putting herself on the line in service of the red, white, and blue.
Seeing as how it features a significantly de-powered depiction of the character, you’d think that Wonder Woman veered dramatically from the source material. That’s not entirely true, for in the years preceding this pilot, DC’s comics did show us a Wonder Woman who was less superhuman and more adept at martial arts than anything else. In that respect, this vehicle wasn’t a bad way to introduce Diana to a viewing public, keeping effects costs low and focusing on espionage-based adventures. But there’s a reason she was a hit on the printed page, and it wasn’t because kids loved seeing her sip champagne and trade weak bon mots with leering henchmen. Wonder Woman’s at her best when her full strength is on display, and when you take that away to send her sneaking after donkeys in a Wild West ghost town, you defeat the purpose of giving her a show to begin with.
It was a dark time before Richard Donner got heroes right with 1978’s Superman, and Wonder Woman is no exception. The film just can’t work up any genuine excitement about itself, siccing Diana after generic bad guys and so condensing her beginnings that there’s no reason for her to hang around in our world at all. We just sleepwalk through her hunt for Montalban’s antagonist, who’s suave and gentlemanly to the point of coming across as pretty dense. Crosby tries her best and, if nothing else, at least looks like she can handle herself in a scrape. Her updated costume isn’t too shabby, and during the flick’s many, many inactive lulls, there’s still a funky ’70s soundtrack to tide us over. But everything else about the pilot is so basic and boring, from Wonder Woman’s boilerplate mission to the drowsy heroics she employs to save the day.
1974’s Wonder Woman is a curio whose only worth is to show superhero fans how far the genre has come on film since its release. Devoid of even any nuttiness to liven up the proceedings, it’s a drawn-out slog that makes you appreciate how much the Carter show embraced the fantastic. I can think of worse comic-based capers, but this Wonder Woman is best left in obscurity’s iron grip.