DVD Review – Professor Marsden and the Wonder Woman

The origin of Wonder Woman is the topic of Professor Marsden and the Wonder Woman, and it’s quite a strange story. Marsden was a Harvard psychologist who also developed a version of the lie detector and a behaviour assessment tool. He and his wife Elizabeth started a polyamorous relationship with Olive Byrne, the daughter of Ethyl Byrne and niece of Margaret Sanger, who early feminists in the 1920s. Olive had his kid as well. Eventually Harvard found out what they were up to and fired Marsden and Byrne, and he ended up pitching the original version of Wonder Woman.

He stumbles into a shop run by Charles Guyette, the first person to mass produce and distribute fetish art in the US. They get into some kinky stuff, and Marsden comes up with the idea of an Amazonian superheroine. And so the original Wonder Woman character was born, but it was very different to the version we have now—the idea of Thmyscira as a land of warrior women was there, but the female domination subtext was more prominent, and early versions included characters whipping each other. A few years later the first big comic book moral panic occurred in the US. He was one the first targeted, and had to give testimony in defence of his work. Wonder Woman was quickly changed, and the lesbian and S&M subtext disappeared, never to really return. Even her super-powers were withdrawn until the 1970s.

It’s fair to say that the film puts Wonder Woman in a new light. Director Angela Robinson had been working on the script for years, but when it was announced that Wonder Woman was coming to the big screen, that certainly helped her get it made. The film owes much to the work of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who have done a lot with biopics of fringe pop-culture people like Ed Wood and Larry Flynt. It has strong performances from the cast, which includes Luke Evans as William Marsden, Rebecca Hall as Elizabeth Marsden, and Bella Healthcote as Olive Byrne.

It was made on a small budget so it’s not perfect, but it’s an interesting story and a solid biopic that’s worth a watch. Two short featurettes are included on the disc but they’re really nothing special.

★★★½

Ian Schultz

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