Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, February 19, 2006
      ( 2/19/2006 07:32:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"EAT FIRST, SAVE THE FREE WORLD LATER!" – Was going through some tapes of kiddie matinee movies that'd been sent to me by Aaron "Third Banana" Neathery and realized that I hadn't fully watched one of 'em. Though he hadn't indicated there was any more material on the tape, Aaron had apparently decided to fill one out with a set of unaired comic book teleseries pilots.

The first was a four-minute pilot commissioned back in 1967 by Batman produced William Dozier for a Wonder Woman series. Purportedly written by Mad magazine regulars Stan Hart & Larry Siegel – and revamped by Stanley Ralph Ross, who would later have a hand in the better known Lynda Carter version – the would-be sitcom (subtitled "Who's Afraid of Diana Prince?" in reference to the 1966 Taylor & Burton Oscar winner) starred Ellie Wood Walker as a Plain Jane version of Diana Prince. She lives at home with her domineering battle-axe of a mother, and the short basically is a one-set "comic" interchange between mother and daughter.

When I first started watching this painful little test reel, my first impression was that I was seeing another one of Barry Mahon's cheesy no-budgeters. It looks like it was shot quickly in one take – even producer Dozier's trademark stentorian narration sounds like it could've used a few more minutes in the recording booth. A slapstick bit where Walker's Diana falls off a couch was so poorly established that for a second I was wondering whether we were meant to take the character as a paraplegic; a second sequence where the ordinary looking Diana takes a gander at herself in a mirror and sees a gorgeous Wonder Woman drags on excruciatingly. Say what you will about the teevee Batman; it wasn't as blatantly condescending to its hero as this poorly played would-be sitcom.

Aaron followed this mercifully brief snippet with a half-hour Dick Tracy pilot, also put out by Dozier's production company in the sixties. Not as bad as Wonder Woman, but you can really see Dozier's campy formula growing over-familiar: instead of using the cartoon of a spinning bat symbol to indicate scene changes, for instance, the show had a spinning version of Tracy's fedora. At least we got an actual adversary in this show (a more-somnolent-than-usual Victor Buono) plus a cool kitschy theme song by the Ventures. ("Dick . . . Tracy . . . he's a good cop!") I'd heard the instrumental version of this number before (it's available as a "Legendary Masters" CD collection, Walk - Don't Run), but this is the first time I've experienced it with its deliberately dippy lyrics . . .

Note: For more on the Wonder Woman test reel, check out this Hidden Heroes column.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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