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Wonder Woman 1.5 – The Feminum Mystique (part two)

So some Nazis attack Paradise Island. The reality of seventies television means that we didn’t get what modern superhero teevee would do in this sort of situation. I can totally imagine the team that makes those four shows on the CW pulling off a full-scale pitched battle, with Amazon archers bringing down German soldiers on the beaches. Here, bizarrely, the expeditionary force happens to choose to land on the remote part of the island where the Amazons mine feminum, from which they forge their bracelets. And so the eight soldiers run into Diana’s group of unarmed (!!!) Amazons, and they overcome the women with gas grenades.

No, nobody gets an arrow or a javelin in the chest. The Amazons are content to… well, throw the villains into the water. Oh, the seventies, how you disappoint us so. Even before the Nazis get their minds wiped before being shipped into Allied hands, they have no idea that the island has a large population.

On the other hand, our son was incredibly pleased by the stunts and the tame violence. He loved seeing the villains tossed into the pond, as well as the climax, in which Wonder Woman stops an experimental jet from being stolen by an agent by grabbing a wing and letting it spin in circles. Full credit to the producers and Lynda Carter for pulling that off: it wasn’t a stuntwoman, and it looked pretty dangerous.

Honestly, my favorite part of the episode came when John Saxon’s villainous character briefly justified the Nazi cause to Carolyn Jones’s Queen Hippolyta. I say this not because of the scene’s content, but because these are two really great actors working extremely well together. Saxon is still working; he has nearly 200 credits at IMDB and I notice that we’ll be seeing him again down the line in other projects.

Overall, it’s a good story, with some very intelligent bits – watching the villains determine Paradise Island’s location based on Drusilla’s recounting of constellations is really clever – and some very good acting, from the veterans as well as from newcomer Debra Winger. Times have changed and expectations have evolved, but for its day, this was not bad at all.

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Wonder Woman 1.4 – The Feminum Mystique (part one)

The first two-part episode of Wonder Woman is another that everybody remembers. It introduces Debra Winger as Diana’s younger sister Drusilla. In other Paradise Island news, Carolyn Jones takes over the role of Queen Hippolyta, and Erica Hagen, who had been in a couple of first season Land of the Lost episodes, plays another Amazon named Dalma.

The Queen has decided that Diana has spent enough time in America and should return home to fulfill her duties. This is set in June 1942. I was saying the other week that this show would make more sense if it had been set in ’43, but now we’re meant to believe that Major Trevor washed ashore on the island in the spring and the queen thinks Diana should have ended the war already? Oddly, that’s precisely what John Saxon’s bosses in Germany say this week: a proactive Wonder Woman would end the war within weeks.

The original story was written by Barbara Avedon and Barbara Corday, who would later create the iconic cop drama Cagney & Lacey, and the teleplay credited to regular Hammer Films scribe Jimmy Sangster, who had moved to California in the early seventies and was popping around various studios writing TV episodes. The title is a cute pun on Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, but it doesn’t make any sense in this show yet. “Feminum” is the name of the indestructible metal that the Amazons use for their bracelets, but that is not explained in part one of the story.

Our son really enjoyed this one, and was excited when Drusilla does a spin and turns into a costumed hero. He was less happy when she gets into trouble and is captured by John Saxon’s gang. I enjoyed the way that Drusilla is shown to be naive and doesn’t understand our culture, the way that Wonder Woman was all too briefly in the original film. But our son is still learning our culture as well, and I had to pause a couple of times to explain things like code phrases and how Drusilla’s yellow dress is garishly unlike what teens in 1942 were wearing.

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Wonder Woman 1.3 – Beauty on Parade

Our son was mostly baffled by this episode, because he had no idea what a beauty pageant was. Surprisingly, considering the inevitability of an “undercover at a beauty pageant” episode of any TV show made in the 1970s with a female lead, this one was actually pretty intelligent, with a good twist about what the saboteur in the story is actually after. Guest stars for the story included Eight is Enough‘s Dick Van Patten and Honey West‘s Anne Francis.

I’ve previously joked about how Wonder Woman was always filmed on the other side of the hill from M*A*S*H, but another similarity is how both shows went to the expense of hiring vintage automobiles and costumes but didn’t tell their stylists and hairdressers to give any of the actors or extras period haircuts. This was most egregious on M*A*S*H toward the end of its run when they were running so far out of steam that Loretta Swit had a ’70s Farrah do and Mike Farrell had a mustache that nobody in the Korean war would grow for at least fifteen years.

On this show, I insist that Lyle Waggoner’s hair is a little too long for 1942, but the extras or two-line actresses in the “Miss GI Dreamgirl” contest are really, really hilarious. They gave Lynda Carter a ’40s-looking red wig for her undercover gig as “Diana Paradise,” but about half the girls in the bathing suit portion of the pageant would look totally natural on a bedroom wall poster right next to the one of Cheryl Tiegs.

I guess we’re not meant to look too closely. After all, the cutaway shots of the audience in the officers’ club theater are all from stock footage of some World War Two movie, and all those soldiers are clearly in an outdoor pavilion.

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Wonder Woman 1.2 – Fausta, the Nazi Wonder Woman

Here’s a bit of television that I can imagine anybody my age remembering vividly. When people like me say that the wartime season of Wonder Woman was its best, we’re remembering pretty much the events of this episode, with small variations, every week. It’s Nazi spies, secret bases, double agents, Steve Trevor needing to be rescued at least twice, trap doors – also twice – and one of those rooms where the walls move in to crush you like that trash compactor in Star Wars.

This one guest stars the married actors Lynda Day George and her husband Christopher as Nazi agents. She’s Fausta Grables, a former Olympian, and he’s a Gestapo agent called Rojack. Fausta spends the episode being essentially the only resourceful and efficient agent in all of Germany, and she would have won the day had her superiors not been a bunch of stupid clods telling her to be quiet and let the menfolk do their work. It’s kind of easy for a superhero like Wonder Woman to sow the seeds of doubt when the Nazis are making her question her loyalties in every scene.

Nevertheless, Fausta’s inevitable turning went over very well with our son. “I liked it most when the woman trying to capture Wonder Woman turned good and won’t try to capture her anymore.” He also reported being very pleased with the fights and the escapes from various traps.

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Wonder Woman 1.1 – Wonder Woman Meets Baroness Von Gunther

If Wonder Woman‘s pilot had been badly uneven, with all the guest characters twirling mustaches and playing comedy baddies, then this is much better, and far more toned down. It’s a simple, kid-friendly adventure with a script by Margaret Armen, and you have to be willing to accept secret passages out of federal prisons during wartime for this to work. For all of Batman‘s silliness, they never once pretended there were secret tunnels for the criminals to get out of Gotham State Prison.

Speaking of kid-friendly, this is the episode where Wonder Woman leaves her magic lasso in the care of a little boy whose dad is the prison’s warden. I was actually thinking this week about how I enjoyed the bit in the pilot movie where Wonder Woman didn’t understand much about American society, including money, and how the show would have been more entertaining if the character was still learning about everything. Instead, we got super-efficient Yeoman Diana Prince, with her Georgetown apartment.

Well, I say Georgetown, but that’s so California. There’s a bit at the “Old Virginia Stables,” and they were probably shooting M*A*S*H on the hill behind it and had the Dukes of Hazzard crew shooting there the next day.

Anyway, Wonder Woman is still naive enough to leave her lasso behind in a kid’s care for the Nazi saboteurs, led by Christine Belford and Bradford Dillman, to steal. Our son liked the kid, who was clearly there for the five year-olds in the audience. He said that he liked the beginning best, most likely meaning the two scenes where Wonder Woman rescues Steve from a couple of scrapes.

Casting note: this is the first episode with Richard Eastman as General Blankenship, and it pretends to introduce Beatrice Colen as Corporal Etta Candy. The character has exactly two lines and is not named, so we’ll call it a first appearance rather than an introduction.

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The New, Original Wonder Woman (1975)

Well, if Lynda Carter is untying Lyle Waggoner from another fine mess he’s gotten himself into, we must be watching Wonder Woman. Conventional wisdom has it that the first season of this show, the one on ABC that was set during World War Two, was pretty good before it devolved into yet another seventies super-agent series later on. However, this very dopey pilot movie isn’t really all that encouraging.

It could have been a lot worse. ABC had been interested in doing a Wonder Woman series for almost a decade. In 1967, with Batman beginning its tailspin, the network asked that show’s producer, William Dozier, for a very short test film. The result, with Linda Harrison as Wonder Woman, is allegedly a comedy but is the least funny thing ever taped. In 1973, Cathy Lee Crosby starred in a pilot which is notable – if that’s the right word – for having a Steve Trevor, played by Kaz Garas, who’s more interesting than the title character.

Finally, Douglas S. Cramer’s company got the go-ahead and he picked Stanley Ralph Ross to write a script that actually acknowledged an existing comic book character. It’s actually a perfectly acceptable pilot script, and both Carter and Waggoner play their roles fabulously. Unfortunately, they’re the only actors in this misbegotten seventy-five minutes who got the memo that this was an action drama. They underplay their characters and are perfectly watchable. Everybody else in the movie thinks this is an episode of Batman and they keep mugging at the camera, and delivering their lines as if they’re jokes.

And it’s a great cast, too, which is what makes this so darn painful. Kenneth Mars is the main Nazi, with Henry Gibson as his subordinate, who’s secretly a spy for the Americans. Red Buttons, Stella Stevens, and Severn Darden are Nazi spies working in the US. Everybody’s being comedy bad guys, but the script isn’t written to be funny. On the non-villain front, Cloris Leachman plays Paradise Island’s Queen Hippolyta as though there are one or two people in Burbank who couldn’t see or hear her. Both the roles of Hippolyta and General Blankenship, played here by John Randolph, would be recast when the series began a few months later.

Our son was mostly interested in the fight scenes, of course. We gave him a quick history lesson last night to get him prepped for the wartime setting, and explained that this was a time where everybody was spying on each other, and there were lots of bad guys posing as good guys. Surprisingly, though, the thing that confused him the most was a theatrical agent, played by Buttons, offering to hire Wonder Woman and do her bullets-and-bracelets trick onstage. When Buttons’ character turns out to be a spy, it feels for all the world like they already had one actor booked and didn’t want to pay a second.

Actually, I’ll tell you the strangest thing about this script: it spends the whole thing establishing Henry Gibson as the Allies’ man in Germany and he gets completely dropped after this. I cheated and looked ahead down Gibson’s insanely long list of credits, and while he did return to Wonder Woman for a week, that was once the show relocated to the present day and got lousy.

I’m really hopeful that the rest of the wartime series is better than this. It had a very odd network run; ABC ordered thirteen episodes after this pilot did well. They ran the first two as specials at the tail end of the 1975-76 season, and then the remaining eleven in 1976-77. ABC then canceled it, and CBS picked it up and brought it to the present day in a pair of 24-episode seasons.

I certainly remember enjoying the wartime Wonder Woman the most. Fingers crossed that it won’t let us down!

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