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The tale of how 'Wonder Woman' was created to justify bigamy and kink

When all of 2017's accounting – financial AND cultural – is over, it's a fair bet that Patty Jenkins' "Wonder Woman" starring Gal Gadot will turn out to be the film of the year.

It's certainly one of them.

For years, Wonder Woman had been consigned to pop cultural history and nostalgia for a camp TV show starring Lynda Carter. Then, finally, came a Big Budget movie which gave us back the greatest female superhero of them all. Indications are she's going to be with us now for a long time.

And now, in one of the more eccentric cinematic pleasures of the year, we have what ought to be the requisite companion piece of that movie for the most sophisticated older audiences: "Professor Marston and the Wonder Women."

It's based on Jill Lepore's book "The Secret History of Wonder Woman" which was one of the books of 2014, when the sweeping smash success of "Wonder Woman" in movie theaters was just a gleam in the eye of executives at DC comics.

"Wonder Woman" the comic was created by William Moulton Marston, a rakish professor of psychology at Harvard and Radcliffe. He was also an ardent feminist and the inventor of the lie detector. Add all of that to the invention of the most popular female superhero of them all and you still have only half of what makes a film about his life so entertaining.

Marston lived just about the most eccentric intimate life of any American author of any kind that you'll be able to think of off the top of your head. He lived bigamously in a menage a trois with what were essentially two wives and all of their mutual children.

Wait. We're not finished yet.

Marston and his two wives eventually got deep into sadomasochism. Marston's theory of how to live life involved inducement (i.e. seduction), submission and compliance.

It is a truly wonderful moment in this film when his lovely younger second wife (Bella Heathcote) fully immerses herself in the family's first foray into the world of S&M and suddenly appears before her two life partners in a costume very much like the costume the world now knows as the working duds of Wonder Woman.

I should add that when "Wonder Woman" first went on the CBS network in prime time, I asked a female journalist friend at Lynda Carter's press conference to ask her if, in fact, her costume isn't just a wee bit uncomfortable. Carter's answer was a vigorous yes and nod of the head which indicated that, yeah, sometimes her tight, cinched in costume hurt like the dickens.

So as you watch this movie about this extraordinary menage from Lepore's book, you'll find it smart, witty, sexy, and kinky but also preachy and self-righteous before it finally settles into being sentimental and moving at the end.

In its small whip-smart way, this is about as much merry domestic radicalism as a film of its sort can  contain without collapsing into guffaws and knee slaps.

I prefer when it's witty and funny to when it's being melodramatic. The musical score, in particular, seems so second-rate that it seems to be trying to "normalize" people who shouldn't be normalized. But then, as the good professor puts it in one scene, "What is normal?"

Everyone in the cast is fine – especially Heathcote, who's every bit as beautiful as the film claims she is and Rebecca Hall as Marston's "legitimate" wife. Just about all of this movie's wit and style comes from Hall and Hall alone. She's terrific.


"Professor Marston and the Wonder Women"

3 1/2 stars (out of four)

Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Oliver Platt and Connie Britton in Angela Robinson's wildly eccentric private life of the man who invented Wonder Woman. 106 minutes. Rated R for strong sexual content and language.


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