The Archivist Volume XVII — Adam West and Cathy Lee Crosby Star In Goofy DC Television

Welcome to the Archive. Following the infamous “Format Wars” (R.I.P. VHS), a multitude of films found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their admittedly niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Disc On Demand and Streaming service devoted to some of the more idiosyncratic pieces of cinema ever made. Being big fans of the label, we here at Cinapse thought it prudent to establish a column devoted to these unusual gems. Thus “The Archivist” was born — a biweekly look at some of the best, boldest and most batshit motion pictures the Shield has to offer. Some of these will be recent additions to the collection, while others will be titles that have been available for awhile. With over 1,500 pictures procurable on Warner Archive (and more being added every month), there’s no possible way we’ll get to all of them. But trust me when we say we’re sure going to try.

Welcome back, Archivists! This week, with another Marvel Cinematic Universe episode hitting theaters, I thought it would be a good idea to explore some of the many DC properties The Warner Archives has available for your viewing… pleasure? I can’t say I found my experience with these two titles very pleasurable. I could hardly muddle through one of them. Apparently the label’s characters weren’t always so well represented as they are on today’s popular television shows. The early days weren’t all bad, of course. You probably know and love the Adam West Batman show from the 60s, but did you know he also played the role in a pair of variety show-style “comedy” romps complete with a laugh track? You probably know, and might love, the 70s Wonder Woman series, starring Lynda Carter, but did you know tennis pro Cathy Lee Crosby actually originated the role in a failed pilot? You might find it interesting to see that character’s live-action origins, or think it’s neat to see Mr. West and Burt Ward reprise their iconic roles almost a decade after they had hung up their capes, but I will have a hard time recommending either of these ridiculous trifles.

Let’s get this week’s mega-stinker out of the way. I had heard about Legends Of The Superheroes from multiple trusted sources. 70s babies remember it fondly, and they claimed I had to see it because it was both bizarre and hilarious. It’s bizarre, all right, but not only is it completely unfunny, it is so stagey and stale, it becomes painfully hard to watch. This is the kind of horrible that makes me feel embarrassed. That isn’t embarrassment on behalf of the people involved, I mean I start to think to myself, “God… at least nobody knows I’m watching this.”

In the first episode, The Challenge, The Legion of Doom, lead by Mordru, has created a doomsday device, and commissioned The Riddler (Frank Gorshin!) to devise a series of clues to keep The Justice League busy on their mission to save the proverbial day. Each clue is a setup for another stupid gag, including The Riddler posing as a Freud-like psychiatrist, and the dynamic duo racing Mordru on jet skis. In the second TV special, The Roast, the sad situation gets even worse. Ed MacMahon (the only cast member capable of culling a couple limp laughs) hosts a roast. That’s right: a Friar’s Club Roast between The Justice League and The Legion of Doom. Think about how awful that sounds. Now, turn the stupid up to ten and you might come close to how terrible it really is. These actors couldn’t make the comedy happen in a more straight-ahead, good vs. evil comic book story set up, how could they possibly do it when they are expected to tell jokes? It makes the bomb gag from Batman: The Movie look like classic comedy gold (which… it kind of already was).

The almost-worst thing about these specials is, if it weren’t for the laugh track, it would play like bad high school theater. The worst-worst thing about it is a character called Ghetto Man who struts onto the stage and does uncomfortable racial humor. “The Green Lantern don’t qualify for ‘colored people’.” Do I need to go on? It’s unbelievable.

The 1974 Wonder Woman Pilot, on the other hand, was kind enough to at least begin with some promise. It features a funky acid jazz theme song, the acting is surprisingly strong (could we expect anything but strength from Ricardo Montalban as the primary antagonist?), and the script is solid… until it isn’t. Cathy Lee Crosby’s version is still an Amazon, but along with a sans-tiara and lasso costume, she is also more of a highly skilled double-agent than a superhero. After books containing the secret identities of her fellow agents are stolen, she must travel to France and retrieve them.

The movie opens with some women’s lib convictions, but abandons them completely about 20 minutes in. I was kind of happy about that, only because it was taking a sort of condescending tone with the theme. Wonder Woman’s tribal leader on Paradise Island spouts a monologue about how important it is to show men how strong women can be, but reminds her to also show their most important value: sensitivity. Once you muscle past that silliness, and the sillier/creepier father-daughter relationship she seems to have with her boss at the agency, there is some good shooting and witty dialogue to enjoy. Then, the action takes off… like a half-inflated balloon.

I was willing to forgive a few illogical steps in plotting and character motivations until our hero has to fight, bow staff to bow staff, against one of her greedy Amazon sisters. It was like watching two people go at it with weapons they don’t know how to use, and choreography they forgot to memorize. The awkward sequence is clumsily sewn together by a kind of slow motion close up patchwork. Just like the rest of the film, this scene just doesn’t quite come together. Only a year later, the iconic Wonder Woman series we know today premiered on ABC.

Normally I have some dumb joke here that ties the movies together with snack food, but… I really have to say you should watch the original Adam West Batman movie, and… anything else, instead.

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