On paper, the concept of this failed, feature-length pilot for a pre-Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series looks incredibly promising, and wholly in keeping with the television fare of its time. Here, William M. Marston’s ass-kicking Amazonian princess of DC Comics is reimagined as an international super spy in the employ of the American government. She still has her gold bracelets, her invisible jet, and she even originates from Paradise Island (although the details of her origin are never made clear), but writer John D.F. Black, who actually co-wrote Shaft (1971) with Ernest Tidyman, adds an espionage spin to the whole affair. Still, the movie failed to spawn a series, and not without good reason, which I’ll come to at length. As a cultural artifact, however, 1974’s Wonder Woman is significant in that it marks, to my knowledge, the very first made-for-TV movie adaption of a comic book property. And as someone deeply invested in the format’s forays into comic book territory, I was understandably thrilled to learn of the release of the movie on MOD DVD from the Warner Archive Collection.
Where the movie fails is not necessarily in its reworking of Wonder Woman as a spy, but in its ultimate failure to endear us to the character. Her origins as an Amazonian of Paradise Island are as unclear as the heavily-filtered imagery of the sequence that introduce this plot point, and it’s never revealed to us how she came to be in the employ of top government agent Steve Trevor or how Steve knows of her powers. We have to make a lot of assumptions about her role in the government here that could easily have been addressed in about 10 minutes or so and should not have gone unanswered. Moreover, her Paradise Island origin adds nothing to the movie in this or any other respect, and thus feels wholly unnecessary. We simply don’t understand the character. She comes across either as too mysterious or 2-dimensial, depending on how you read her, and it’s easy to see how audiences failed to get behind a series. Additionally, it’s difficult to see her as an empowering female figure as intended when she is at once the government’s top agent (although unofficially so, we are led to assume) and Steve Trevor’s secretary. There are definitely some mixed messages here!
That said, the movie still has a lot going for it, even beyond its historical value. Cathy Lee Crosby is decent as Wonder Woman, although no Lynda Carter, but among the movies stable of villains are Anitra Ford of Jack Hill’s The Big Bird Cage (1972) and Ricardo Montalban! Of course, the producers attempt to conceal Montalban’s face throughout the first hour of the movie, but who are they kidding? That voice is unmistakable. Another notable feature of the movie is that the plot revolves around Wonder Woman’s attempt to recover a list of the names of America’s top spies abroad, which had been split into pieces to prevent its theft. This, of course, smacks of Mission: Impossible’s (1996) NOC List.
Warner Archive’s release of Wonder Woman boasts some terrifically-1970’s cover art and has been transferred from a print of the movie that’s in surprisingly good condition given its age and relative obscurity. However, like most MOD DVDs, there are no special features here, but since that’s the norm, you can’t hold really hold it against them.