Remembering Mary Whitehouse: The Queen Of The Snowflakes

This is an article that I have been thinking about writing for many months now. Mostly inspired by the fact that the world is slowly beginning to be filled with Karens and the rise of the snowflakes. You know, those people who endlessly complain and moan, while pissing on the cornflakes of people who just want to enjoy what they want to (legally) enjoy in terms of entertainment.

Pretty much every day, I hear of a story about a TV show or film being censored and edited, or steaming services removing episodes of a show because 6 people on Twitter complained about nothing. Comedians being ‘forced’ to apologise for telling a joke and more. In my eyes, if you don’t like something, then don’t watch it. Yet, it is the vast minority that is being heard over the majority. Let us adults decide what our delicate little brains can or can not handle. Still, all of these Karens and snowflakes are hardly a new thing, at least not for us Brits of a certain age. We’ve already lived through the dark ages of TV and film censorship. We had a Mary Whitehouse.

MARY WHITEHOUSE 1

Seeing as it is 21 years to the day since Mary Whitehouse shuffled off this mortal coil, I thought I’d write this article of ‘remembrance’. Not to honour or respect Whitehouse in any way. But more of a look back on her reign of terror as one of the most annoying and unpleasant people to ever force her opinions onto anyone.

Early Life

Mary Whitehouse was an art teacher in the 1950s. Her first foray into coming across as a complete bitch was when she wrote a lengthy article for The Sunday Times newspaper where she lambasted homosexuality and damned gay people with plenty of vitriol, real fire and brimstone stuff. Bearing in mind that homosexuality was illegal in the UK until 1967 and that gay people had no rights or voice then. So, her outburst wasn’t seen as shocking and blatant bigotry-filled hate speech back then as it would be today. In fact, it got a lot of support. Whitehouse continued her teaching career until 1964 when she gave up teaching to concentrate on her ranting full-time.

It Begins

Becoming angry with what was being shown on TV (well, the BBC mainly), Mary Whitehouse teamed up with Norah Buckland (the wife of a vicar) and created her CUTV (Clean Up TV) campaign in January 1964. Hugh Greene, who was the director-general of the BBC at the time, soon became her nemesis. In fact, Whitehouse described him as ‘the devil incarnate’ and blamed Greene and the BBC’s programs for (in her opinion) the decline of the country. Whitehouse said of Greene that:

“If you were to ask me to name the one man who more than anybody else had been responsible for the moral collapse in this country, I would name Greene.”

Any and anything would set Mary Whitehouse off. If the BBC aired a show that even dared to suggest the very possible idea of pre-martial sex (or even marital sex), she would reel off one of her many letters to the BBC and complain. She’d even get pissed off if a program dared to show characters drinking alcohol.

MARY WHITEHOUSE LETTERS

Mary Whitehouse set up a petition, which gained over 500,000 signatures, to be sent to the BBC over their ‘obscene’ TV programs. Her CUTV campaign was gathering some momentum and Whitehouse, as its figurehead, was becoming well-known in her own right. Regularly holding talks at Birmingham Town Hall, which were attended by 1000s, she would speak out against the ‘filth’ being shown on the BBC. At one such meeting, local writer David Turner, stood up and berated Mary Whitehouse for her views. Turner claimed that Whitehouse was a threat to the integrity of legitimate art. If only he knew that this was just the beginning.

Not too long after David Turner gave Mary Whitehouse a piece of his mind at that meeting, the comedy-drama Swizzlewick (which Turner created and wrote for) featured a character called Mrs Smallgood, an obvious parody of Whitehouse. This would be the start of a long line of TV shows calling Mary Whitehouse out and highlighting her forced opinions.

In 1965, Hugh Greene delivered a speech in which he spoke out against certain campaigners. He never mentioned Mary Whitehouse or her CUTV campaign by name. Still, it was pretty obvious who and what his words were aimed at. During that speech, Greene said that such campaigns could lead to:

“a dangerous form of censorship, which works by causing artists and writers not to take risks.”

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Mary Whitehouse’s CUTV thing only lasted until the end of 1965. Oh, don’t worry. She was not done yet, not by a long chalk. See, Whitehouse founded the National Viewers and Listeners Association (NVALA) which just replaced CUTV. It was the same shit, just with a different name. With the name change came some semblance of legitimacy too. With CUTV, Whitehouse mainly attracted supporters from bored housewives who were as annoyingly pathetic as she was. With NVALA, she got politicians involved. People like the former cabinet minister, Bill Deedes and Quintin Hogg (AKA Lord Hailsham) became supporters.

Mary Whitehouse would still hound the BBC with letters whenever she found a program to be ‘offensive’. Due to her political connections, she began to send similar letters to the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. Whitehouse and the NVALA were growing daily. Her letters to the PM were so frequent that it has been said that the staff at 10 Downing Street would often ‘accidentally’ lose her letters just so that they didn’t have to reply to them.

NAZI CAMP

In 1965, the current affairs show Panorama aired an episode where they covered the liberation of the Nazi Belsen concentration camp on its 20th anniversary. The same concentration camp where Anne Frank died. Of course, Mary Whitehouse found something to complain about. She said that the program was ‘bound to shock and offend’ and called it ‘filth’. She really did like to use the word ‘filth’ as a descriptive. How and why a program celebrating the anniversary of British soldiers liberating a Nazi concentration camp and saving 1000s of innocent lives could be described as ‘filth’ by anyone, I have no idea… unless you were a Nazi yourself. Not that I am suggesting in any way that Mary Whitehouse was a Nazi, honest.

Mary Whitehouse’s letters were usually epic rants about the ‘filth’ and ‘smut’ that the BBC would show. She would count unsavoury language in TV shows and list it. Now, this was the mid-1960s, so the language was pretty ‘off-colour’. Words like ‘bloody’, Whitehouse would count each and every use and record it in her letters. The classic sitcom Till Death Us Do Part was one of her main targets. Alf Garnett and his very ‘un-PC’ ways often rubbed Mary Whitehouse up the wrong way. In one of the many, many letters, she said of the show that:

“I doubt if many people would use 121 bloodies in half-an-hour.”

Johnny Speight, who created and wrote Till Death Us Do Part, had to pay Whitehouse and the NVALA ‘substantial damages’ and give a full apology after he suggested, in an interview, that NVALA members were fascists.

In the Alf’s Dilemma episode of Till Death Us Do Part from 1967, Speight had Garnett reading a copy of Whitehouse’s book, Cleaning Up TV. Seemingly on the side of Mary Whitehouse, Alf Garnett began to agree with everything that she said. This, of course, just pissed Whitehouse off even more. It was a clever and deft bit of writing. A lesser writer would’ve had the character ranting and raving at Whitehouse. But instead, a character that she despised of and continually complained about was now praising and defending her. How could she damn a character that thought she was right, as that would make her wrong? Though, the episode does end with her book being burnt.

MARY WHITEHOUSE BOOK

In 1969, Mary Whitehouse’s nemesis, Hugh Greene, left the BBC as its director-general. Whitehouse took great pleasure in taking credit for Greene leaving. Her continual letters must’ve eventually worn him down eh? Well no, Greene leaving the BBC had nothing to do with Whitehouse. In 1967 the chairman of the BBC, Norman Brook died. Brook and Greene were good friends and had a great working relationship. Anyway, Brook was replaced by Charles Hill, somebody that Hugh Greene really didn’t get on with at all. Still, Greene just wanted to retire anyway, so he did. His stepping down as the BBC’s director-general had nothing to do with Mary Whitehouse, even if she liked to claim that it did.

The Liberating 70s

The 1970s bought a whole load of more TV ‘filth’ for Mary Whitehouse to get writing letters about. The bawdy comedy stylings of Benny Hill became a major target for her and her letter-writing pen. Hill was famed for his use of sexy young women that were known as the ‘Hill’s Angels’ (yes, that lass off Frasier was one). These young lasses would often be wearing nowt much more than lingerie and swimsuits as they sang and danced on The Benny Hill Show. Out would come Mary Whitehouse’s pen and the angry letters began. It wasn’t just TV though as Whitehouse began to broaden her disdain for well, pretty much any and everything related to entertainment.

HILLS ANGELS

Music was another one of her targets. My Ding-a-Ling by Chuck Berry became a song that Whitehouse had an issue with. The song had always been a bit of a joke, a novelty song, a bit of fun. The story in the song is said to be about someone receiving a toy of ‘silver bells hanging on a string’. Look, here are the opening lyrics:

“When I was a little bitty boy
My grandmother bought me a cute little toy
Silver bells hanging on a string
She told me it was my ding-a-ling-a-ling, oh”

See, the song is about a boy getting a gift from his grandmother. Obviously, one could misconstrue the lyrics as being something more sexual and I am sure that was the intention of the song too. So obviously, Mary Whitehouse did see the song as being sexual and she tried to get the BBC to ban the song from being played on TV or the radio. As far as I can tell, she didn’t succeed. If going after Chuck Berry wasn’t enough, Whitehouse turned her attention to shock-rocker, Alice Cooper.

Cooper’s School’ s Out was slowly climbing the charts in 1972 and he was asked to perform the song on BBC’s premo music show at the time, Top of the Pops. Of course, Mary Whitehouse was having none of it. She began one of her campaigns to have the song and even Alice Copper himself banned from the BBC. The letters and the public speaking began, ‘filth’, ban this song and its singer! Whitehouse was outraged that such a ‘disgusting’ song and act could get publicity and be promoted by the BBC. However, her campaign backfired and if anything, actually helped School’ s Out in the long run. In fact, it reached number 1 in the charts here in the UK in 1972 and that certainly popularised Cooper himself. So happy with the result Alice Copper was, that he ended up sending a bunch of flowers to Mary Whitehouse to say ‘thank you’ for helping him become such a hit.

ALICE COOPER

Even cinema was not safe from the Whitehouse wrath. Everyone knows the story of Stanley Kubrick pulling A Clockwork Orange from the cinema in the UK, right? Apparently, Kubrick voluntarily had the film pulled because he was worried that copycats would try to be the next Alex DeLarge. That’s only a half-truth. Stanley Kubrick actually pulled the film because he was getting tired of a campaign against the film that had been building in the UK. I’ll give you one guess as to who started the campaign against the film, to begin with.

Now, A Clockwork Orange was supposedly linked to a handful of crimes by the press, including murder and rape. However, there was never any proof that the film was to blame. At least, I can’t find any. Oh, I can find snippets from the press back then blaming the film, but no actual proof that those claims were true.

There was even something called a ‘Clockwork Orange defence’ used in some court cases back then, where the lawyer of the accused would put the blame on the film, even if there was no link. In fact, in one case an old homeless man, David McManus, was beaten and killed by a 16-year-old boy, Richard Palmer. The press said the film was to blame. However, Palmer admitted that he had never even seen A Clockwork Orange to be influenced by it. But that didn’t stop the press at the time as they were the ones making the links, even if there were none.

CLOCKWORK ORANGE

All of the negative press coverage that A Clockwork Orange was receiving at the time (true or not) was what spurred Mary Whitehouse to launch her campaign against it. That campaign grew and grew, to the point where Kubrick and his family began to receive death threats (the irony eh?) and he even had protesters outside of his home. Fearing what these people could do, Stanley Kubrick got pissed off with all the negativity and had the film pulled. Pulled not because he was concerned about copycats, but concerned for the safety of his family, a concern that was created and stirred up by Mary Whitehouse and her NVALA group. When he was asked about the possibility of his film creating copycat crimes, Kubrick said:

“To try and fasten any responsibility on art as the cause of life seems to me to put the case the wrong way around. Art consists of reshaping life, but it does not create life, nor cause life. Furthermore, to attribute powerful suggestive qualities to a film is at odds with the scientifically accepted view that, even after deep hypnosis in a posthypnotic state, people cannot be made to do things which are at odds with their natures”

If there was one thing that really rubbed Mary Whitehouse up the wrong way in the 1970s, that thing was Doctor Who. Whitehouse’s main issue with the program was that it was too violent for children. The fact that Doctor Who wasn’t a kid’s TV show seemed to completely go over her head. Yeah, I guess children could watch the show, but that doesn’t make it a kid’s TV show, does it? Children can watch the news, but it’s not aimed at them and you wouldn’t consider it children’s television.

Whitehouse once described Doctor Who as being ‘teatime brutality for tots’ and that it contained ‘some of the sickest and most horrific material seen on children’s television’. It wasn’t children’s television though. I’ve never watched Doctor Who and even I know that. It got to a point where Philip Hinchcliffe, who was the producer of Doctor Who in the late 70s said:

“I always felt that Mary Whitehouse thought of Doctor Who as a children’s programme, for little children, and it wasn’t, so she was really coming at the show from the wrong starting-point.”

DR WHO SEEDS OF DOOM

There was one episode of Doctor Who called The Seeds of Doom where the then Doctor, Tom Baker, was attacked by a plant monster. Mary Whitehouse was so incensed by the violence that she went on to say:

“Strangulation by hand, by claw, by obscene vegetable matter is the latest gimmick, sufficiently close up so they get the point. And just for a little variety, show the children how to make a Molotov cocktail.”

I had to seek out this episode just so I could see for myself just how graphic it was… it’s not. As for the whole teaching children how to make a Molotov cocktail bit. Doctor Who was not a kid’s show, so it taught them nothing. It’s not like Doctor Who was trying to be Blue Peter. The episode doesn’t teach anyone how to make a Molotov cocktail. Even if it did, what kid in 1976 had open and easy access to glass bottles and paraffin liquid?

In another episode called The Deadly Assassin, Whitehouse made a complaint about the ending. To be more accurate, this was a four-part special and at the finale of part three, the Doctor is seemingly drowned and killed in a cliffhanger ending. It was this ending that got Mary Whitehouse’s dander up. She wrote one of her classic letters of complaint to the BBC saying that the drowning of the Doctor was too intense for children (in this, not a children’s TV show). The BBC showed that they had no backbone by giving Whitehouse an apology and they edited the master tape to remove the ending. This meant that whenever the episode was repeated, the Mary Whitehouse safe version had to be shown instead because the original no longer existed. For a while, it was believed that the unedited ending was lost. It was found years later and put back in for the DVD release in 2009.

DR WHO ASASSIN

Throughout most of the 1970s, Mary Whitehouse and her NVALA  protest group boasted more than 150,000 members. Considering the time, and as this was way before the Internet and social media gave any and everyone a voice, that was a hell of  a lot of miserable people moaning about music, TV and films. But, as the end of the 1970s came about, NVALA members dropped to around 30,000 members. Those dwindling numbers have never really been explained. Perhaps people’s perceptions were changed and all of those things that Whitehouse liked to describe as ‘filth’ slowly became the norm? Perhaps people just got tired of her ramblings and chose to ignore her? Either way, Mary Whitehouse still had a lot to bitch about as the 1980s began.

The Hateful 80s

Easily, the biggest impact that Mary Whitehouse and the NVALA had in the 1980s was the whole ‘Video Nasties’ movement. Now, I’m not going to go into great detail here, as this one thing alone could take up its own very lengthy article. But, the basics were that before Whitehouse got involved, VHS releases didn’t need to be passed for clarification by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) due to a loophole. This meant that before the 80s, videotapes of films were released fully uncensored and (usually) without age restrictions. Of course, Whitehouse didn’t like this one bit and a campaign was born to introduce a law that the BBFC would now have to classify VHS releases of films the result was the Video Recordings Act 1984.

VIDEO NASTY

This act tied with the Obscene Publications Act 1959 led to a lot of VHS films being heavily censored in the UK or even outright banned and soon became known as the Video Nasty list. 72 films were on the original list and a further 82 films were added to that list later in what became known as the (Director of Public Prosecutions) DPP List.

Now, while I am dead against censorship, I do agree that age restrictions should apply. However, if something is rated for adults, don’t go censoring (or even banning it) when it is for an adult audience. The Video Recordings Act 1984 had far stricter rules for films released on video than if that same film had been released in the cinema. So, even when films were released on VHS after a cinema run, they would still be edited a lot of the time.

Numerous films were given the ‘Video Nasty’ label and were cut or outright banned from release. It took until 1998 when the director of the BBFC, James Ferman, retired before the rules were relaxed. A slew of films from 1999 onwards began to see full and uncut releases here in the UK. Still, it was a dark time for entertainment here, an age of over-the-top censorship that lasted for almost 20 years. One that was headed up by Mary Whitehouse.

MARY WHITEHOUSE VHS

When Whitehouse was not busy getting films banned in the UK, she still had time to show her disdain for TV. In the 1980s, she had more channels to moan about too. Channel 4 launched in the UK in 1982 and Mary Whitehouse found plenty to get writing letters of ‘disgust’ about.

When it originally launched, Channel 4 was always seen as and intended to be a channel that pushed broadcasting boundaries (nowadays, they censor episodes of The Simpsons). They showed films and TV shows that the other channels wouldn’t dare to. Brookside was one of Channel 4’s flagship shows, a soap opera set in Liverpool that had a much harder edge than other soaps of the day. Stories involving, sex, violence and more. Very tame by today’s standards but in 1982, this was a red rag to a bull for Mary Whitehouse. She objected to Brookside using (what is now and even then) very mild swearing. Just as she did in the 1960s with Alf Garnett, Whitehouse would sit there, watch Brookside and list all of the swearing and then write a letter of complaint to Channel 4 and her political friends. It got to the point where Mary Whitehouse called for the resignation of Jeremy Isaacs, who was the founding chief executive of Channel 4 at the time. He stayed at Channel 4 until 1987 when he left to become the General Director of the Royal Opera House. And no, his leaving had nothing to do with Mary Whitehouse or her letters.

BROOKSIDE

Mary Whitehouse even had issues with the ITV show, Robin of Sherwood. A more up-to-date (for the time) version of the Robin Hood tale. It was a popular and very watchable show that was for family viewing, not children’s TV. This is where Whitehouse and the NVALA made the same mistakes that they did with Doctor Who, it wasn’t a kid’s show. Still, that didn’t stop Whitehouse from labelling the show as being ‘unsuitable for children’. Robin of Sherwood had things like sword fights in it, but no blood or any real or detailed violence to speak of. Think of it as a Robin Hood version of The A-Team, with far fewer cabbage cannons. But of course, Whitehouse became incensed by the ‘violence’ and felt that the show was anti-Christian too. The episode called The Swords of Wayland angered Whitehouse because she felt that it had a Satanic plot and villains. Then, The Greatest Enemy episode depicted a ‘resurrection’ of the Robin Hood character (not really) and Mary Whitehouse said that it was disrespectful to Christianity.

ROBIN OF SHERWOOD

During one of her many public rants, Mary Whitehouse was doing her usual of telling everyone that TV was evil and ‘filth’. Little did she know that Richard Carpenter, the writer of Robin of Sherwood, was in the audience. After Whitehouse had finished ranting about TV and the evils of the Robin of Sherwood show, Carpenter stood up and said:

“I’m Richard Carpenter, and I’m a professional writer. And you’re a professional… what?”

Apparently, the gathered crowd and Mary Whitehouse herself fell deathly quiet. He had a point though, she may have had some clout but Whitehouse was a nobody. Just a bitter old woman trying to tell people what they could or couldn’t watch.

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In 1989, Mary Whitehouse got herself into a bit of trouble. She was on the BBC Radio show In the Psychiatrist’s Chair and was talking about celebrated writer Dennis Potter and his controversial drama, The Singing Detective. For those not in the know, Potter suffered from psoriatic arthropathy and The Singing Detective’s main character also suffered from the same disease. The drama infamously featured a scene where a young boy saw his own mother having sex. So, Whitehouse made a connection that the reason why Dennis Potter suffered from psoriatic arthropathy was that he, as a young boy, saw his mother having sex with a stranger. I guess she had issues with differentiating between fiction and real life? Or, to use Mary Whitehouse’s own words, Potter’s mother:

“…committed adultery with a strange man and that the shock of witnessing this had caused her son to be afflicted.”

Now, I’m not a medical expert and I know very little about psoriatic arthritis, other than it being a disease that is very painful on the joints and can cause the skin to go scaly and itchy. I may know little about the disease, but I am 100% sure that you can’t contract it by seeing your mother having sex. Even if you could, Whitehouse just outright saying that was how Denis Potter came down with psoriatic arthritis was complete bullshit and based on absolutely nothing. Mrs Potter went on to sue Mary Whitehouse and the BBC for libel in 1990 and she won too. As an excuse, Whitehouse claimed that she had a ‘blackout’ during the interview and had no idea what she was saying at the time.

The End Of An Era, The Beginning Of Another

In 1988, Mary Whitehouse suffered a fall while gardening and injured her spine. She had to take it easy and began to step away from her anti-everything campaigns over the years. Eventually, she left the NVALA in 1994, after 30 years of moaning because a fictional character in a sitcom said ‘bloody’ on the TV. Mary Whitehouse lived out the rest of he life in a nursing home in Colchester before passing away 21 years ago today, aged 91.

Even though this is a pretty lengthy article, I have only lightly dusted off a few of Mary Whitehouse’s rants and raves. Trust me, she did a lot more than this brief highlight reel here.

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Over the years, a lot of people have made fun of Mary Whitehouse, even when she was alive. The Monty Python team had a pop with this animation. Barry Humphries’ iconic Dame Edna Everage character was partly inspired by Whitehouse. Caroline Aherne’s Mrs Merton character also came from Mary Whitehouse. In fact, Whitehouse was even a guest on The Mrs Merton Show in the first series.

Of course, there was also the BBC 2 topical comedy show, The Mary Whitehouse Experience. Not only named after the useless busybody, but the show was specifically given that title as it featured near-the-knuckle humour that would purposely rub Whitehouse up the wrong way. The Deep Purple song, Mary Long, is about Mary Whitehouse too. Really, Mary Whitehouse and the NVALA became more of the butt of a joke in the later years and were largely forgotten about.

STRIPE GREMLINS

It may be 21 years since Mary Whitehouse died, but she’s still here. You know that scene in Gremlins when the evil Stripe jumps into a swimming pool to make many more evil offspring gremlins? That is what happened to Whitehouse. She fell into the swimming pool and ‘birthed’ the snowflakes that we have now. Only, where Mary Whitehouse had to rely on letters and the postal service to force her cancel culture opinions onto others. Now, people have the Internet and (let’s be honest, mainly) Twitter. All of these little Whitehouses can now directly @ performer or a company and instantly vent their displeasure.

A comedian tells a joke that someone didn’t like and instead of just letting it wash over, they now send a Tweet. @ the comedian, their agent, the platform they told the joke on and there you go. Next comes the forced (and faux) apology, the grovelling from whoever was involved with the joke. TV shows from the past are now heavily edited with huge chunks of dialogue and even plot removed. Sometimes, the show itself is removed in its entirety. Yeah, some shows from the 60s, 70s and 80s (even some of the 90s) would not work now… but that’s the point. They were not made in the 2020s. They serve as a snapshot of those times. So, editing (or outright removing) these shows now makes zero sense. If you are going to be ‘offended’ by certain words and situations, then don’t watch.

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The thing is that Whitehouse’s NVALA still exists to this day Given a name change to Mediawatch-UK in 2001 after Mary Whitehouse’s death. The group no longer boasts the impressive number of members it did in its heydays of the 1960s and 70s. There are only around 5,000 registered members of Mediawatch-UK these days… but they do still try to piss on people’s cornflakes regardless.

Even so, I may not have agreed with Whitehouse and I do detest censorship and everything that comes with it. However, I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t admit to some kind of admiration for her and what she was trying to do. There is something to be said for someone who is willing to dedicate 30 years of their life to a cause (right or wrong), it’s commendable and shows a lot of determination.

Here’s to you Mary Whitehouse, the Mother of the Twitter moaners and the Queen of the snowflakes. Just look at what you have wrought.

It’s A Hell Of A Thing, Killin’ A Man: Unforgiven At 30.

The Western genre was huge decades ago. It really all began in the 1950s. Oh, I know that there were Westerns before the 1950s and the genre dates back to the early 1900s with The Great Train Robbery from 1903 being one of the first (there were even some Westerns from around 1895). However, it was in the 1950s and when John Wayne was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, that the Western genre really began to gain popularity.

JOHN WAYNE

By the 1960s, the genre had plateaued and began to fall out of favour as tastes changed… at least in America. In Europe, the Western was still a major draw and so the subgenre of the Spaghetti Western was born. These were a mix of various production companies over Europe working together to make classic Westerns with a more modern and European edge. I really should write a more detailed look at the Spaghetti Western subgenre one day. Anyway, Italian director Sergio Leone was one of the big Spaghetti Western filmmakers working in Europe in the 60s. Meanwhile, in America, a young bit-part actor by the name of Clint Eastwood, was struggling to find roles. At the time, Eastwood was appearing in the TV show Rawhide but could not break into movies. Long story short and Eastwood was suggested to play the lead in a new Spaghetti Western that Sergio Leone was making in Europe. That film was Per un pugno di dollari or, A Fistful of Dollars.

An even longer story short and Clint Eastwood stayed in Europe, did a few more Spaghetti Westerns and when they were eventually released in America a few years later, Eastwood became a major Hollywood star and the Western was reborn. From then, there was no stopping him as Eastwood ruled the box office for decades. Taking on iconic role after iconic role. I mean, Dirty Harry anyone? It was in the 70s when Eastwood also turned his hand to directing for the first time with the 1971 psychological thriller, Play Misty for Me. It turned out that not only was Eastwood a great actor, he was a damn fine director too. He began directing more and more films and his latest film as a director, Cry Macho, was released in 2021 when Eastwood was 91 years old. That’s a directing career of 50 years and more than thirty films. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t land a lead role in America in the 1960s.

Still, if I were to pick just one film that showcases Clint Eastwood’s talent as an actor and director, that film would have to be Unforgiven. Not only Eastwood’s best film but perhaps one of the greatest Western to ever be made too. Released back in 1992, Unforgiven is now 30 years old and I’m writing this article to celebrate its genius and take a look at just why it is so damn good.

While Unforgiven was released in 1992, it dates back a little further than that. David Webb Peoples was a film editor in the 70s as his main job, but he loved to write. In his spare time between editing jobs, he would sit down and pen screenplays. He got his first big job as a writer when Ridley Scott hired him to write Blade Runner in 1982. Still, back in the 70s when David Webb Peoples was working as an editor and writing in his spare time, he penned a Western film script with a harder edge than was being made at the time and that script had two working titles, The Cut-Whore Killings and The William Munny Killings. The script eventually found its way to Clint Eastwood in the 80s. However, he didn’t read it.

Instead, long-time associate of Eastwood, Sonia Chernus (she worked on Rawhide and The Outlaw Josey Wales with Eastwood) read the script and hated it. The script was overly violent and bloody with not much of a plot. Chernus told Eastwood that:

“We would have been far better off not to have accepted trash like this piece of inferior work. I can’t think of one good thing to say about it. Except maybe, get rid of it fast.”

Clint Eastwood trusted his associate’s judgement and didn’t read the script himself but, he didn’t follow her advice to ‘get rid of it fast’. Instead, he just put it to one side. A while later and when looking for a new project to work on, Eastwood picked up David Webb Peoples’ The Cut-Whore Killings/The William Munny Killings script and liked it. He recognised that it was rough and still need a lot of work, but he liked it. In fact, Clint Eastwood liked it so much that he felt not only should he play the lead but that he should direct it too. It was about 1986 and while Eastwood loved the script, he felt he was a bit too young to take it on. He decided to leave it for a few years and in that time, the script could be reworked and polished. Eventually, it became the shooting script for Unforgiven. From that rough script, Unforgiven went on to win four Oscars. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Gene Hackman) and Best Film Editing. Not bad for a flick that was once deemed so bad that it should be thrown away.

UNFORGIVEN POSTER

Unforgiven really is a wonderful piece of cinema that turned the Western genre on its head. Going back to classic films of the genre, the plots were always pretty basic. You had a good guy and a bad guy storyline and the Sheriff was always the good guy. With Unforgiven, Gene Hackman’s Sheriff ‘Little’ Bill Daggett was the bad guy, a really nasty bad guy too who was responsible for some of the most evil acts in the film. Daggett is even more violent than the cowboys that are responsible for kick-starting the plot of the film. Then, Clint Eastwood’s William Munny wasn’t exactly the hero in the white hat either. He had a history, a pretty bleak history. The film makes it clear that Munny is not or has not been a nice person and can never be redeemed for his past actions. The opening text crawl tells you that he is a known thief and murderer. William Munny will never be Unforgiven and there was this blurring of the line between being a good or bad guy in a Western.

Outside of the main two characters, Unforgiven is crammed with some amazing characters and performances. Richard Harris as English Bob, the legendary and ageing gunslinger is only in a few scenes, but those scenes stick with you. With Bob being followed around by Saul Rubinek’s W.W. Beauchamp, a very nervous writer wanting to capture the story of English Bob on the page. The whores that kick-start the story and their lust for revenge is so well crafted for such a simple plot. The Schofield Kid, played by Jaimz Woolvett is a wonderfully realised character that has all the bluster and front of a hardened killer, only for the exact opposite to be true. Of course, you can’t talk about the cast and characters of Unforgiven without mentioning Morgan Freeman as Ned Logan. One of William Munny’s oldest and best friends and an ex-outlaw with his own questionable past.

UNFORGIVEN NED

One of the great things about Unforgiven is how it handles the violence. There is no doubt that this is a violent flick, but it doesn’t necessarily take glory in that fact. If anything, it questions violence. Just going back to The Schofield Kid character and when he finally admits to having never killed anyone before and the whole ‘It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have’ speech. It’s a very powerful scene and I don’t think a film had ever brought up killing in such a way before, especially in the Western genre. Even before that iconic scene and before the ‘heroes’ are about to kill one of the cowboys who cut up Delilah Fitzgerald at the start of the film. You have the Ned Logan character tell William Munny that he can’t kill anyone. There’s a morality here and several times through the film, violence is questioned as characters try to make sense of what they are doing. The film almost feels anti-violence even when it is at its most violent.

UNFORGIVEN KID

All through that violence, we are rooting for a bad guy. Clint Eastwood’s William Munny was a horrible character with many flaws. As mentioned, the opening text crawl tells you that he was a murderer. Then, at the end of the film, we learn so much more as Munny even admits as much himself.

“I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed everything that walks or crawls at one time or another.” 

He’s a child killer and we, the viewer, are on his side. He’s not a nice person, or at least he wasn’t. A retired outlaw turned pig farmer, trying to look after his two children since his wife died. Yet, he can’t escape his old life. We, the viewer, are caught in a trap with William Munny. We want him to go back to his farm and take care of his children. But, we also want to see him get bloody revenge. We know that he’s been responsible for some despicable acts in the past and yet, we can’t help but support him. It takes some impressive writing to get the viewer on side with a self-confessed child killer. But it works because (as I said before) the supposed good guy, Sheriff Bill Daggett is evil. Really, there are no ‘good guys’ in Unforgiven, just different levels of bad guys and it gives us one of the most honest depictions of the Wild West on film.

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Then there is the pacing. Unforgiven comes in at over 2 hours and there are scenes that are slow, plodding. Very talky to help build characters. There are even times when the main plot just stops, as we learn more about William Munny. See the scene when he is talking to the cut-up whore, Delilah Fitzgerald and turning down her offer of a ‘free one’. For a good while, the main plot ceases to exist as Munny’s life and history become the focus. There are several scenes like this, where everything is slowed down and yet, the film never feels boring. It is constantly moving forwards, there is always something going on and the 2-hour runtime flies by, even when the film applies the breaks. You can really tell why this film won the Best Film Editing Oscar. Unforgiven has many a slow scene, but the film itself never feels slow and every single scene in the film deserves to be in the film. There’s not one wasted frame here.

UNFORGIVEN OPENING

You can’t talk about Unforgiven and not mention the cinematography. A lot of Westerns look good, purely based on the fact of their setting. With Unforgiven, you get that times a thousand. I mean, just look at the opening shot above. The scenery used and how it is shot is stunning all through the film. We get shots of beautiful scenery, sunsets and vistas that seem to go on forever. Scenes of people riding horses and talking, while awe-inspiring visuals engulf your eyes. But, there’s a wonderful juxtaposition going on as those beautiful shots are intercut with scenes from the film’s town setting of Big Whiskey. You can go from a prepossessing mountain range to the horseshit-filled streets of Big Whiskey. No more does this become apparent than in the film’s finale, shot at night and in the pouring rain. The use of light and shadow to show the good and bad sides of William Munny. The cinematography is astonishing.

And about that finale. Everything has been building to this for the last hour and 50 minutes. It’s been a slow but engrossing journey and we get to see William Munny as he was before he became a pig farmer. Cold, calculated and an unashamed killer. The last 10 minutes or so of Unforgiven are some of the greatest that you will find in any film. It’s dark, it’s moody and yet, there is still room for some light humour… before the slaughter of Sheriff Bill Daggett and his men. Brutal and brilliantly shot. then we get the closing shot, a mirror of the opening shot and Munny is back home on his farm and looking after his children.

UNFORGIVEN MUNNY

This ladies and gentlemen, this is why Unforgiven is the greatest Western film ever made. Even now, 30 years later, it is still a powerful and emotive picture.

(Mini) Game Review: Grapple Dog

I think that I have said this before, but sometimes, I put a review request in, just based on the title of a game alone. Grapple Dog, from developer Medallion Games and publisher Super Rare Games, is one of those instances. I honestly had no idea what the game was about. The option to put in a review request popped up in my emails and even before opening said email, just from the title alone, I knew I wanted to review this one. Then I saw the trailer and I was sold.

“Jump, Swing and Zip your way through colourful worlds and exciting challenges in this unique 2D action-platformer! Master the power of the Grapple on your adventure to save the world!”

I never had a Sega Master System growing up, I was a Commodore 64 kid. Still, I had a school friend who owned a Master System and I did get to play on it regularly. Oh man, I spent hours playing platformers like Psycho Fox, Land of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and of course, the Alex Kidd games. That is what the trailer for Grapple Dog put me in mind of, classic Master System platformers.

GRAPPLE DOG SCREEN 1

The story is that you (Pablo the dog) has to find five mystic relics to stop a big bad from destroying the world. The plot is very typical 80s platformer fare, all that is missing is a kidnapped princess. During the intro/tutorial for Grapple Dog, you get given… wait for it… a grappling hook. Now armed with said grappling hook, you set off swinging to save the world.

What you get here are six worlds and thirty-three levels of platforming action. Levels are semi-explorable and often have a few hidden secrets to find. The main aim is to nab some (or all) of five gems that are on each of the levels. The more gems you have, the more levels open up on the map. Each world is themed and split into multiple levels and each world ends with a boss battle. It is all very typical, very 1988-like which is not a bad thing at all. Visually wise, Grapple Dog is a real treat for the eyes. Bright and colourful graphics with some nice animations and background details help add to the fun.

GRAPPLE DOG SCREEN 2

The levels are wonderfully crafted and designed with plenty of opportunity for you to use that grappling hook. This is great because using the hook and swinging through the levels is an absolute joy. There’s some great variation between levels too, to keep you on your toes. Basic swinging over gaps and between platforms is a given, but you’ll also be using it to defeat enemies and even some of the more trickier platforming aspects. It all feels really satisfying too with simple and basic mechanics (jump, wall run/climb, stomp, swim and swing) that just work really damn well. Brilliantly and clearly designed levels that leave you to explore and find secrets, but never feel too big or confusing. You’ll know where you need to go and what you need to do to keep moving forward, even if you do choose to leave the more obvious route through.

GRAPPLE DOG SCREEN 4

The difficulty curve is just perfect too. Starting out with simple and basic platforming, while using that grappling hook. The levels steadily increase in difficulty and start throwing more and more for you to deal with. When you are swinging across an insta-death pit of spikes, dodging fireballs and landing on moving platforms to get to the other side, there’s a real sense of accomplishment. The best thing is that you’ll not even notice how tricky the game gets later because by then, your platforming skills have been finely tuned by the steady difficulty curve.

There are plenty of generous checkpoints to restart from that really help with some of the more difficult areas of the levels. You’ll never feel frustrated, even when you fail. Grapple Dog also offers up a load of accessibility options. I’m a big fan of good accessibility options because it does open up the game to those who may struggle with certain elements. Effectively, you can make the game as easy or as tricky as you want. Grapple Dog can get a bit difficult later on, but never unfair. Topped off with boss fights that are fun and will often have you revisiting moments from your when childhood playing similar titles.

GRAPPLE DOG SCREEN 5

£12 is how much Grapple Dog is going to cost you. I adore this game. It’s a loving homage to classic platformers with wonderfully cheery and colourful graphics, some great level design and tip-top gameplay. That £12 price tag is worth every penny. If I had to pick a niggle or two. I would have preferred a dedicated run button. Instead, Pablo starts out with a steady jog and after heading in one direction for a second or three, he then runs. But there are times when you just need to run and a dedicated run button would’ve helped. Then, the falling controls feel a bit too ‘light’. I love everything about the controls here as they are responsive and tight… except for the falling. Pablo just becomes a bit too fiddly to control when he’s coming down from a jump or falling from height.

GRAPPLE DOG SCREEN 3

Still, niggles aside, Grapple Dog is a cracking platformer. Charming, crammed with character and gameplay, secrets and bonuses. A fair challenge, a not too original story but one with a great sense of humour. Oh, and you can pet the dog too.

(Mini) Game Review: Vampire Survivors

I just love it when an indie game comes from nowhere and slaps me in the face with how good it is. From developer/publisher Poncle comes, quite simply, the most addictive and playable game that I have enjoyed for a long, long time. Vampire Survivors is both bare basic and simple and yet, unbelievably varied and deep too.

“Mow down thousands of night creatures and survive until dawn! Vampire Survivors is a gothic horror casual game with rogue-lite elements, where your choices can allow you to quickly snowball against the hundreds of monsters that get thrown at you.”

The first time I played Vampire Survivors, I did have a WTF moment. I loaded up and started the game. It looked good, a nice retro 16-bit aesthetic that put me in mind of a SNES/Castlevania-type of title. I honestly didn’t know what to expect as I had managed to avoid any and everything to do with this game. Just from the opening few seconds, I thought I was playing some kind of retro RPG. It soon became clear that was not the case, it was more like a twin-stick shooter… without the twin-sticks. I was pressing all the buttons on my pad to see what they did… nothing. All I could do was move my character around as the game auto-fired for me.

VAMPIRE SURVIVORS SCREEN 1

I lasted about 1 minute before dying and really thought that it was shit. I couldn’t do anything other than move around as the game did most of the work with little input from me. The gameplay was light, too light but I wanted to understand the point. So, I started again. I got to grips with the bare minimal controls and lasted a bit longer. I unlocked some single-run weapons and I managed to nab some gold to buy early permanent upgrades and new characters. That was when it hit me, I’m playing a rouge-lite, and I do love a good rogue-lite. Once that snapped in my head, I understood the point.

The aim is to survive against increasing numbers of stronger and stronger enemies. Pick your weapons carefully and experiment with different load-outs. Save up gold to buy permanent upgrades to help you last longer and longer. The premise and concept are simple, the controls even more so. You don’t aim, you don’t shoot, the game does that for you. There are no buttons to press (outside of the menu and weapon selections) and the entire game is fully controlled with the left stick alone. You can play this one-handed, or one-thumbed, to be more accurate.

VAMPIRE SURVIVORS SCREEN 2

The more I played Vampire Survivors, the more I learned. I got to grips with picking out the right weapons and upgrades to use. My efforts at surviving began to last longer, I was hooked. With each successive run, I would last a bit longer, I would learn and adapt to what the game threw at me. The once tough enemies became slightly less tough. Then, I unlocked a new level, new weapons, more upgrades and the game loop sucked me in. What’s this, I found a map. Hidden items appeared on the map for the levels. What are those mysterious ‘?’ symbols? I had to find out. Coffins surrounded by loads of monsters, I died (again). I wanted to know what the coffin was, I restarted and chose different weapons and upgrades. Wait, you can power-up weapons and evolve them? Get two specific weapons maxed out and you can combine them into a new all-powerful weapon. The game just kept opening up more and more. I began to last longer on the maps.

VAMPIRE SURVIVORS SCREEN 4

Then, I hit the 30-minute countdown (or up) and boom… Death himself darted onto the screen and destroyed me in a second. I didn’t even know what had happened at first. One second I was alive and dealing out some pretty impressive damage to hundreds of enemies via my powered-up weapons. The next second, I was dead. All of that power that I thought I had was nothing. What the fuck! Death, literal Death killed me. Can I beat him? I needed to know, I needed to experiment more with the characters I had unlocked with their varying strengths and weaknesses. I needed to experiment with different weapon load-outs and upgrades. I needed to kill Death.

Look, long story short, I put Vampire Survivors on for an hour just to see what it was like and 5 hours later, it was 2am and I was still playing. I first loaded the game up on Thursday last week, it is now Monday night as I write this and I’ve played nothing else since. I can’t stop playing this game. There is so much to this title that I’m still unlocking stuff or finding new ways to play. Just today, after 5 days of playing… I managed to kill Death! There’s still more for me to do too. There are modifiers that you can unlock that change how you can play the game, secrets to find and more.

VAMPIRE SURVIVORS SCREEN 3

Priced at just £4, Vampire Survivors is the most generous game that I have played this year. It could even be the best game I have played this year. A horde-bullet-hell game where you are the hell spitting out the bullets against the ever-increasing horde. You start out mild and meek and will die a lot, you can become all-powerful and even kill Death himself. Even though this is available on Game Pass, I love this game so much that bought it on Xbox and Steam. In short, Vampire Survivors is gaming crack and the best £4 you’ll spend this year. Currently available on PC and Xbox only, this needs to be on all platforms as everyone should play Vampire Survivors.

(Mini) Game Review: Godlike Burger

Earlier this year, I played and reviewed the rather macabre cooking-business game Ravenous Devils. A Sweeny Todd-inspired, kill people, cook them and serve them to customers type of game. Now, I’m reviewing Godlike Burger from developer Liquid Pug and publisher Daedalic Entertainment. Guess what? Yup, it’s another game about killing and cooking your customers. Only with a less-human angle.

“Godlike Burger puts you in the shoes of a maniac chef who makes the best burgers in the universe. The secret ingredient? The customers themselves! Run the restaurant, cook delicious burgers and kill lots of aliens. But be careful – leave no witnesses uncooked!”

Set in space, you run a burger joint where you serve tasty burgers to customers, before killing the very same customers to use them as the main ingredient to your tasty burgers, to sell to more customers. And the cycle repeats. Think something like Overcooked, but with a big emphasis on murder. You wait for a customer to come into your restaurant and order some food. Grab the indigents from the fridge, cook them up and then construct the burger to the customer’s requirements. Do they want cheese, tomato, etc?

GODLIKE BURGER SCREEN 1

However, you’ll need to dispatch your customers in order to keep your food supplies stocked. Now, killing folk in front of your customers would be a bad idea. Customers can and will fight back, or run away and call the police. If the police get involved, that’s a bad thing. You can travel to different planets to sell your burgers and each planet has a different race of aliens with different requirements. Moving to a new planet can also help you dodge those police if things get a bit too heated.

Throw in a load of upgrades for your restaurant’s kitchen, the ability to build traps to kill your customers and so on. There’s even a bit of a rogue-lite element as if you lose, you’ll have to start from the beginning of the game. However, you’ll keep any unlocked upgrades and (hopefully) learn something from your last run. Really, there are two sides to the business to manage here, the making and serving of the burgers and the secretly killing of the customers while trying to stay one step ahead of the police.

GODLIKE BURGER SCREEN 3

Available now for PC and all the consoles, with an £18 price tag. Personally, I felt that Godlike Burger was a bit too ‘busy’ for a game of its type. Plus, I was playing this on the Xbox with a controller and everything just felt really awkward. I’m sure this plays far better on a PC with mouse controls. There is just too much to keep your eye on and the UI is way too small, something that is often an issue when porting a game from PC to consoles. This makes reading what the customer wants pretty difficult at times, leading to mistakes that aren’t really your fault. You can only hold one burger bun at a time, so when you are preparing multiple orders, it really slows the pace down. Bearing in mind that you are always against the clock here too. This single burger bun thing is particularly strange because you can hold multiples of every other ingredient.

GODLIKE BURGER SCREEN 2

Overall, Godlike Burger is a great idea but with some poor design choices that hamper your enjoyment. Awkward controls, an unfriendly UI and it all just feels way too fiddly. Still, outside of those niggles, there is a good game here, it just needed a little bit of streamlining and some of the creases ironing out.