DVD Review: Wonder Woman (1974)

There was a period of time when studios didn’t spread out lavish budgets for superhero projects. This is a startling fact since today’s lamest of comicbook adaptations cost $100 million. After the success and fast burnout of Adam West’s Batman, the genre wasn’t considered that hot. When Warners wanted to make a TV series out of Wonder Woman in 1974, they didn’t feel obligated to make it more expensive than an episode of Cannon. Wonder Woman is the feature length pilot for the original attempt to turn it into a series. This is not the Wonder Woman you grew up watching and loving.

Wonder Woman (Cathy Lee Crosby) in her disguise as Diane Prince works for a secret government agency under Steve Trevor (Kaz Garas). Somebody has masterminded the theft of numerous secret code books. Trevor need to get back the books and stop the organization. Who could have done such a dastardly deed? The ringleader is the ruthless Abner Smith (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan‘s Ricardo Montalban). His main henchman is the suave George (Andrew Prine). Their muscle is a brother-sister act that looks like refuges from Andy Warhol’s factory. He has also hired a rouge amazon from Paradise Island played by Anitra Ford (The Price Is Right). Diane Prince needs to deliver the ransom for the books. Instead of merely depositing the money in a old stump, the exchange involves a burro dangling from a helicopter. Can Wonder Woman save the world?

The TV pilot really seems less like Wonder Woman and more of a Honey West update. She’s a blond rather than Wonder Woman’s black hair. Cathy Lee Crosby’s outfit appears to have been designed to not offend Amish viewers. Instead of the classic revealing outfit, Crosby wears a patriotic sweatsuit that might have been a prototype for the ’76 Olympic gymnastic team. Her only real super power appears to jump up and swing over things. Her golden bracelets seem more of a spy gadget with their ability to be GPS locators and explosives. Director Vincent McEveety (Superdad) made the unusual choice of hiding Smith’s identity by filming him with bad angles in his limo and hideout. But who couldn’t guess it’s really Ricardo Montalban? They didn’t disguise his accent. There’s no major shock when his identity is revealed. Viewers get a preview of what he’ll look like on Fantasy Island when he wears a white suit during the climax. The battle between Anitra Ford and Crosby isn’t quite as hot as her time with Pam Grier in The Big Bird Cage. She almost takes Crosby’s head off with a javelin pole. You might want to slo-mo this moment.

What’s remarkable watching Wonder Woman is how Warners got it right a year later for the second pilot movie. They cast the dark haired Lynda Carter, restored her traditional wardrobe and made it a World War II period piece. They took the comic book business seriously and it paid off. There’s quite a bit of daring ’70s fashions to keep the first attempt at Wonder Woman entertaining. Crosby shouldn’t feel disappointed that she couldn’t hack it as Wonder Woman since she’d also become a TV icon as the hostess of That’s Incredible. In the end, it’s win-win for everyone involved even the burro that learned to fly.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers bring out the details in those classic ’70s fabrics. The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. The levels are good enough that you never forget it’s Ricardo Montalban as the villain.

No bonus features.

Wonder Woman is a freakish artifact of the 1974. There are people upset that this wasn’t a bonus feature in the Wonder Woman season sets, but it’s so different from Lynda Carter’s hit series that it needs to be set apart. Cathy Lee Crosby is hilarious in her depiction of a superhero since she acts like a character on Mannix. Anitra Ford does bring the goods in her javelin battle with Crosby. This is essential viewing for fans of freakish ’70s TV. This is a MOD DVD-R which might not play well on your computer’s DVD drive.

Warner Archive presents Wonder Woman. Directed by: Vincent McEveety. Screenplay by: John D. F. Black. Starring: Cathy Lee Crosby, Ricardo Montalban, Andrew Prine and Anitra Ford. Running Time: 75 minutes. Released: December 11, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.

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