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Monday, December 26, 2016

Wonder Woman (1974) – Pilot Review

The second attempt at a live action Wonder Woman television show, that is if you can count the terrible 1967 Wonder Woman screen test as an attempt, was a combined effort by ABC and Warner Brothers to bring Wonder Woman to life, but if possible it had even less to do with the Wonder Woman of the comics than that idiotic screen test did. Now to be fair during this time period Wonder Woman was going through her “I Ching” phase in the comics where she was de-powered in favour of learning martial arts, but why the producers thought a non-powered version was the way to go is beyond me. Just a year previous Universal Television got huge ratings with their first Six Million Dollar Man pilot movie, and as this version of Wonder Woman was going to be a “secret agent” I can’t see the reasoning for ditching her superpowers. Instead we are left with what is basically a female James Bond, but one who dresses up in a goofy costume for no particular reason.


The pilot opens with several sets of code books containing classified information about U.S. government field agents being stolen from various secured locations around the world. We know the contents of the books contain valuable information because on the spine of each book the words “Most Secret” is emblazoned in bold text.  So the basic plot here is that a mysterious and nefarious villain is blackmailing the United States government for a $15 million dollar ransom in return for the books, and if the money is not paid the information will be released which would result in the exposure and presumed deaths of thirty-nine undercover agents. How does Wonder Woman fit into all this you ask? Well after this thrilling opening we cut to what one assumes to be Paradise Island where we are told via narration that, “It was perhaps inevitable that the manmade world would one day require a unique woman, a wonder woman…that day has come.”


You can tell it’s a magical island because of the Vaseline soaked lens.

Diana (Cathy Lee Crosby) says goodbye to her “sisters” and mother as she is sent off to her new life where she will bring the justice and light of the Amazons to the horrible world of man. Her mother tells her that there is sadness in her leaving, “But there is also joy that the hope that your presence in the world of man will open closed eyes to the genuine value of women.” I’m sure Gloria Steinem was relieved to hear this. We then abruptly cut to Washington DC where Diana Prince is found working as a secretary for Steve Trevor (Kaz Garas), and how she got this job is left to our imaginations. I do like to think the interview process went something like this…

Trevor: “How many words a minute can you type?”
Diana: “I bring justice and right to the world of men.”
Trevor: “Uh, that’s great. Can you handle our phone system?”
Diana: “I bring joy and hope to a weary world.”
Trevor: “Whatever, you’re attractive, consider the job yours.”


Diana Prince, Super Secretary.

The show sets Diana Prince up as some kind of secret agent, but then fails to have anything really secret about her. When Steve Trevor calls a meeting with all the heads of various intelligence agencies Diana uses the intercom to listen in, and then after the meeting she tells Steve that she has a “dentist appointment” that could take a few days. It’s clear in this scene that Steve Trevor is completely aware of her role as Wonder Woman, he wishes her good luck when she heads off to track down a key suspect, but when she arrives in France she is spotted in the lobby of the hotel by one of the villain’s henchmen who quickly warns his boss, “Wonder Woman, she’s here.”


She is recognized as Wonder Woman dressed like this.

So apparently Steve Trevor knows Diana Prince is Wonder Woman, yet he keeps this secret from the United States Government, but a random henchmen spotting Diana Prince in civilian garb recognizes her instantly as Wonder Woman. What the hell is going on here, is Wonder Woman a secret identity or not? This almost makes me forgive agent 007 wandering around announcing he is “Bond, James Bond” everywhere he goes. But just who is the mastermind behind this blackmail scheme? Diana has come to France to track down a Frenchman by the name of Abner Smith (Ricardo Montalban)…wait, what? The villain is a French dude named “Abner Smith” and he’s being played by the silky smooth Latin matinee idol Ricardo Montalban?  That is some bizarre shit right there. Abner Smith does kind of fit the James Bond villain role rather well; he’s elegant, charming, has a hidden underground lair, and keeps in the shadows for the majority of the movie.


All he’s missing is the white cat.

What’s interesting about Abner Smith is that though he’s a villainous mastermind he’s not a ruthless one as he intends to carry out this plan with the least amount of bloodshed possible, preferably none. Unfortunately his number one assistant George Calvin (Andrew Pine) doesn’t seem to be on the same page as he has his pair of leashed killers murder the hired thieves who stole the code books in the first place (less people to split the blackmail money with don't you see), and when he is told by Abner to detain not kill Wonder Woman he proceeds to try and kill her at every turn. Throughout the first thirty minutes or so of the movie Diana Prince must survive an assault in an elevator, a hit and run while making a call from phone booth, abduction in her hotel room, an electrified gate, and a poisonous snake hidden in her room. To make his boss happy George does try bribery and seduction but those attempts fail even faster.


I don’t know how she managed to resist him.

Eventually Steve Trevor is forced to go through with the delivery of the $15 million dollars, and Abner Smith has a rather unique deliver method, the money is to be put into the saddle bags of a burro which would then be let loose in an old deserted Ghost Town. Of course Steve Trevor is taking no chances and the burro is coated in an ultraviolet fluid so that it can be tracked by air, and each of its hooves has a hidden transmitter. The money itself isn’t marked but in the saddlebags are pressure sensitive tear gas dispensers (Note: The tear gas was placed there because Abner Smith would expect no less, if that makes any sense.) Also backing his play is Wonder Woman whose plan seems to be to just show up at the Ghost Town and blatantly follow the burro to the blackmailers, and for this she must have the proper attire.


Finally, Wonder Woman in all her glory.

Why they decided her costume should look more like an American Olympic athlete’s warmup outfit and not her more recognizable comic book costume is another one of those Hollywood secrets that may never be known, but that she only dons the costume for the last act clearly shows the producers had no real interest in making a Wonder Woman show. Even stranger is that they gave her the Amazonian bracelets that are part of Wonder Woman’s trademark attire but instead of using them to deflect bullets they are used as either a tracking device or an explosive. This all goes towards making her more a James Bond type and not a superhero, and as this version of Wonder Woman has no superpowers we don’t get a lot of action out of her; swinging up onto a store awning to avoid the hit and run or a judo fighting a couple of thugs is about it, and her only real “deathtrap” she must escape from is a sealed room that fills with gas, as well as multi-coloured mud that pours in for some reason, and the standard closing walls.


As deathtraps go it is unique.

As unique as this trap looks it’s not all that effective as Wonder Woman is simply able to kick out the glass wall that barred her way. Super strength not required.  The real threat to Wonder Woman is the appearance of fellow Amazonian, and recent escapee from Paradise Island, Angela (Anitra Ford), who is now working for Abner Smith. Back in opening Angela was the one Amazonian who seemed jealous of Diana’s job to enter the modern world but we get no explanation as to why she so readily tries to kill Diana at George’s bidding.


Dig Angela’s super-awesome pantsuit.

That the javelin/staff fight between Diana and Angela is about as well staged kindergarten fight is only half the problem; the dialog between the two hints at some kind of animosity filled backstory, when Angela is beaten she tells her sister to, “Hold no hope that I should ever return to the Island, I’ve made my choice, I want the things this world has to offer.” I guess an eternity of girl on girl action on Paradise Island isn’t for everyone. Buts because Diana didn’t kill Angela in this fight the ex-amazon just gives up the location of Abner’s secret lair to pay her life debt, and this is why outsourcing is bad. This allows Wonder Woman to arrive at the lair before Abner and George can escape with the money, but doesn’t stop her from being immediately captured by George. Bloodthirsty George wants to kill her but Abner will here none of it, “Killing people makes people much more angry than they ever get over money, it makes them dogged, we don’t need that, and we may want to do business with again.” This entire pilot has only one saving grace, and that would be Ricardo Montalban. His screen charisma makes him a perfectly wonderful villain, and his smooth voice and charm kind of had me rooting for him to win. Maybe he could have escaped and used the money to create an island resort where he could let people live out their dreams.


“Welcome to Fantasy Island.”

Wonder Woman was able to plant one of her exploding bracelets on Abner’s escape helicopter so he is forced to exit via river exit, but not before George tries to double cross him, but then poor George ends up sprayed by the teargas booby-trap in the saddlebags, and he is then dumped in the river and drowned. Abner’s response to George screaming “Help, I can’t swim!” is a brilliantly delivered line by Montalban, “Really George? I am so sorry” as he paddles his dingy down the river. Unfortunately he left behind in his lair a motorcycle for Wonder Woman to borrow and she races ahead to intercept him.


This is not one of the more dignified escape attempts by a villain.

So the day is saved. The code books and money are recovered and the blackmailer is sent off to jail, with the Abner's bittersweet parting words, “Wonder Woman, I love you" bringing the pilot to conclusion, proving to all that Montalban is a class act right to the end. In fact without Ricardo Montalban this pilot would be one lame and dreary affair; Cathy Lee Crosby is not that gifted of an actor, there is almost nothing of the comic book hero we love brought to the screen, and the plot is your standard Mission Impossible fare but with less convincing action. Despite decent if unremarkable ratings ABC decided not to move forward with a series, but this disappointing update of the character would lead to ABC and Warner Bros thinking their strategy, which in turn would eventually lead to the Wonder Woman series starring Lynda Carter.

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