50 Years of The Way Of The Dragon

Originally released back in December of 1972 (hey, this can be my Christmas article for this year as I don’t have time to do a proper one), Bruce Lee’s The Way of the Dragon (Return of the Dragon in the US) was the best film he made. Now, this isn’t my favourite film of Lee’s, that would be Fist of Fury. I’d even say that the iconic Enter the Dragon was Bruce Lee’s most popular and most famous film too. However, I would happily argue that The Way of the Dragon was his best film.

Bruce Lee always wanted to tell stories that were deeper than your average kung-fu flick at the time. His opus would’ve been The Game of Death, which was to delve into the teachings of martial arts and Lee’s own philosophies. Alas, as you know, Bruce Lee died before he could finish work on that film and his vision died with him. The closest we would ever get to a deeper Bruce Lee film was The Way of the Dragon. For this picture, Lee didn’t just star in it. He wrote, produced and even directed the film, this gave him full creative control over the project. The end result was a film that had some great fight scenes and served as a showcase for Asian culture to the rest of the world.

Okay, sure, the plot of The Way of the Dragon isn’t exactly stellar. If anything, the plot is the weakest part of the film. Clichéd, trite and crammed with Italian caricatures and stereotypes (an Italian character actually exclaims ‘Mamma Mia!’ at one point). Basically, Bruce Lee travels from China to Italy to help protect his uncle’s friend’s restaurant from an evil mob boss who wants to take over the property by force. However, under that paper-thin story is a film with layers that many people miss. By the time 1972 came around and when The Way of the Dragon was released, Bruce Lee was a big star in China. A far cry from just a few years earlier when he was a struggling bit-part player in American TV shows. Lee changed Asian cinema forever and his influence is still felt today.

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With this film, Lee got to show off his comedy chops, it wasn’t all about kicking bad guys in the face. See the opening of the film with Lee’s character, Tang Lung arriving in Rome. When Lung goes to the restaurant to get some food, he can’t speak or read Italian. So he just randomly points at the menu and ends up ordering loads of bowls of soup. It’s the type of gag that you might find in a Charlie Chaplin flick, but given a Bruce Lee twist. Unfortunately, if you watch the English dub of the film, the joke is lost as both Lee’s character and the server are speaking in English, meaning that the miscommunication gag does not work as originally, he is speaking in Cantonese and she in Italian. There’s a lot of this ‘fish out of water’ humour in the film and all of it is lost with the English dubbing. Always watch these films with the original dialogue, trust me.

One of Bruce Lee’s aims with this film was to show an Asian audience a bit of European culture. Bearing in mind that when The Way of the Dragon was being filmed, Lee was not an international superstar, yet. Enter the Dragon had not been released, or even filmed in 1972 and Bruce Lee was still very much only known in China. Asian films back then were only ever made in Asia and for an Asian audience. And so, the audience had never really seen much of the world outside of their own front door. Hence the film’s Italian setting and this is why there are a lot of establishing shots (a few too many), shots of the streets of Rome, plazas, statues, the famous Colosseum and more. These were used to help show off Rome to the audience back in China, who would never have seen anything like that before. Nora Miao’s Chen Ching-hua character taking Bruce Lee’s Tang Lung on a tour to see the sights was done more so for the Asian audience so they could see Rome, more so than for any kind of character or story point.

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Lee even managed to inject some of his own philosophies into the film and especially the Tang Lung character that he plays. Lung is humble, honest, loyal and above all else, tough. He only uses his skills if absolutely necessary. If anything, this was the closest that Bruce Lee got to playing himself on screen. Lee had become a bit ‘dismayed’ by how his last two films were made. Produced by the legendary studio Golden Harvest, Lee was never allowed to be as creative as he wanted to be. The studio picked the writers, directors and actors. As great as The Big Boss and Fist of Fury (my favourite) were, they weren’t really Bruce Lee films. They were just films with Bruce Lee in them. For The Way of the Dragon, Lee teamed up with (also legendary) film producer  Raymond Chow and founded Concord Production Inc. together.

Now a co-founder of his own film production company, Bruce Lee would be the creative driving force and Raymond Chow would be the head of the admin. Long story short and after Lee’s death, Linda Lee sold her husband’s shares in the company to Chow and Concord Production went bust by 1976. The studio only had two completed films too, The Way of the Dragon and Enter the Dragon (co-produced and distributed by Warner Bros.). Okay, so Concord also owned the original, unfinished footage from The Game of Death and produced a documentary called Bruce Lee: the Man and the Legend following his death. And I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent here. The point is that Bruce Lee had full creative control with The Way of the Dragon, something that he didn’t have with his previous films.

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As a director, Lee’s first film is far from perfect. There are scenes where characters literally line up to deliver their dialogue (you can even see them look at the floor for their marks) and it feels a bit over-practised and more than a tad ‘stage play-ish’. Very unnatural. But, Lee does use some great camerawork and includes some very interesting shots and angles. Taking a few ideas that he picked up while working in America and blending them with more traditional Asian filming techniques. The Way of the Dragon was a real coming together of cultures and styles.

The Way of the Dragon was a low-budget flick too. Remember, this was the first film for a new production studio. Both Bruce Lee and Raymond Chow had to put up their own money to found Concord Production Inc. and pay for this film themselves. Originally, Lee wanted to set the film in the United States, but the budget wasn’t there to cover the cost and Italy was cheaper. That low-budget does show a few times throughout the film. Another reason that there are plenty of establishing and lingering shots of Italy and Italian fountains, etc (other than to show an Asian audience some European culture) was due to those budget constraints. A lot of the time, Lee didn’t have filming permits or permission to film on location. So, he would often linger on a statue (as an example) just to get as much on film as possible before anyone came asking for a filming permit. He had to use what he could and as much of it as possible, for free.

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As previously mentioned, Bruce Lee chose to use a bit of comedy for the film. The scene where Tang Lung inadvertently picks up a (I’m not sure if she was or not) prostitute. They go back to her place and she disappears for a few moments, while we get a brief sample of Tang Lung’s kung-fu skills. The (maybe?) prostitute reappears and is now (almost) butt-naked. Lee’s comic timing here is wonderful as he makes a swift exit out of embarrassment. This more light-hearted tone is vastly different to the mostly humourless The Big Boss and Fist of Fury. The comedy also sets up Lee’s character well and lets you know that he is a likeable guy under the fact that he could kick your bum-cheeks with ease.

Also, to help give the film a wider appeal, Lee hired several non-Asian martial artists. Bob Wall (later to appear in Enter the Dragon) was one such casting choice. Then, of course, there was the casting of the living legend that is Carlos Ray ‘Chuck’ Norris. Norris was (at the time) multiple All-American Karate Champion and very much respected within the martial arts world. He and Lee first met at a karate competition while Lee was in America working on The Green Hornet in the late 60s. They struck up a friendship, worked out and trained together. When Bruce Lee became a co-owner of a film production studio and began working on The Way of the Dragon, he knew that he wanted his friend Chuck Norris as the big bad guy for the film’s climactic fight. Also, having such a well-known and respected American martial artist in his film, Bruce Lee knew that would help gain some international praise and help sell the film outside of China.

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There was another angle to using American fighters in this film. It gave Brue Lee an opportunity to express one of his many philosophies:

“Using no way as a way, having no limitation as limitation.”

Having the bigger and more brute-like, heavier fighters go up against the smaller but sleeker, more fluid fighting style of Lee was a way for him to show that there were no limits. No matter how small you are, you can overcome even the biggest opponents Or, to use Lee’s much better and more poetic example of this:

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash.

Be water, my friend.”

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Let’s get into the action now and look at how Bruce Lee shot the fights themselves. Again, using a mix of classic Asian and American filming styles, Lee created something very unique for the time. A double nunchaku fight is all well and good. But you need good choreography and a keen eye for what makes a great shot to make it look impressive on film. With his previous flicks, Lee couldn’t even do his own fight choreography. It was Han Ying Chieh who did the fight choreography on The Big Boss and Fists of Fury. Though Lee did get to make ‘suggestions’ with Fists of Fury and did influence several of the scenes. But with The Way of the Dragon, Bruce Lee was in full control.

You can really tell too as there is a real step up in quality when it comes to the action here. This may have been Bruce Lee’s first (and only completed) film as a director. But, when you look at the fight scenes from his previous films and compare it to The Way of the Dragon, there’s a real feeling that Lee wanted to push what made a good action scene. Take a look at the climatic fight at the Colosseum. Now, while establishing shots of the Colosseum were genuine the interior was not. You don’t need to be an expert to tell that the end fight took place on a set and not in the actual Colosseum itself. A rather poor-looking set, if I am being honest. Again, this goes back to the fact that the film was low-budget and that they didn’t have filming permits. It was cheaper (and safer) to shoot the scene in a controlled set than pay to film a lengthy action scene in the Colosseum itself.

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Now, some The Way of the Dragon fans would probably point out to me that there are some brief shots inside the Colosseum itself. Yup, there are. But, they were filmed illegally. Bruce Lee and his crew had to sneak cameras in, pretending to be tourists and they shot what little they could without being caught. When you watch the film these days, with a good HD transfer, you can really tell the set and matte-painted backgrounds from the real Colosseum footage.

Anyway, the fight itself. It has been suggested that Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris had a ‘real’ fight. Real as in that they actually hit each other but it was still choreographed, not that they had a falling out and decided to punch each other in the face. The two were good friends and trained together in the 60s, so there must’ve been a lot of trust between the two. Some of the hits do look like they connect (several, not so much), it is possible that some of the final fight was really a vigorous sparring session with some camerawork and editing to make it look more real than it was. Or, it could’ve been a real fight, of course. Chuck Norris has been asked about the fight and he said that:

“I enjoyed working with Bruce Lee in the film. It was a lot of fun, the fight scene is considered the classic martial arts fight scene of all time. So, it’s nice to be involved in a fight scene that everyone loves.”

Honestly, nobody knows if they did really fight and the only person who can answer that (Norris) never fully answers the question when asked. He just says it was great to work on it. I kind of like that though, it’s a nice little movie mythology.

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The big fight took up almost a quarter of the shooting script because Bruce Lee put so much detail into the choreography. It has been said that the climatic fight took around a collective 45 hours to shoot too, as Lee wanted it to be as perfect as it could be and did multiple takes until he was 100% satisfied. That’s a lot of punching and kicking each other in the face… if they did fight for real. Arguably, it is the best Bruce Lee fight on film and lasts over 10 minutes of screen time. All of that work that he put in really does pay off.

One of the things that I adore about the final fight is how they don’t just face each other and get into it right away. There’s a slow build-up, from Bruce Lee running around the Colosseum, looking for Chuck Norris. To, when they finally meet, face-to-face, then there’s the disrobing and warming up as these two giants, or gladiators of martial arts, ready themselves for battle. It’s a fantastic build up of tension that Bruce Lee uses here. At the time, with most Asian kung-fu flicks, the good guy just goes in fists flying and takes the bad guy out. Even Lee’s previous, films were guilty of this. Here, we the viewer are teased, tormented and made to wait for the big showdown. Before a single blow is landed, you know that you are in for something special because Lee builds the excitement and anticipation.

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This climatic fight is where Bruce Lee’s direction is at its finest. He may have been a bit stiff with some of the dialogue scenes earlier in the film and directed his actors as if they were in a stage play. But here with this fight, the martial arts master showed us how to shoot a great fight scene. There are a few times when Lee’s direction does slip back into typical Asian kung-fu fare. The snap-zoom, where the camera suddenly zooms in on an actor’s face, is a staple of Asian cinema at the time and Bruce Lee does use it quite a bit too. But then he also does things that were unheard of at the time.

There’s a decent portion of the fight that is shown in full slow-motion and with a good medium-distance camera, keeping both men in frame, so we can see these two titans actually fight. If you think about modern cinema now, that is never really used. Most of the time with fights these days, it’s all fast, frantic and close-up camera work. This is done to hide any possible imperfections and (usually) the fact that the actors are not fighters. Throw in a load of jump cuts and you have pretty much any modern-day fight scene. Here though, Lee wanted you to see everything, to see him and Chuck Norris display actual martial arts skills and in slo-mo too. Lee had confidence in both himself and Norris to deliver a fight that looked like a fight.

There’s also a great touch in this fight where Lee’s Tang Lung character is seemingly losing. Or, at least, struggling to win. This is because he starts the fight using a fixed martial art, Chinese boxing. After realising that this style is not working against the man-mountain that is Colt (Norris), he switches to a more fluid style of fighting. He starts bouncing around on his toes and becomes more ‘Bruce Lee-like’ and then, the fight begins to change. This (again) was Lee using his philosophy of adapting, using no way as way… being water, my friend. It even gets to the point where Colt tries to adapt to a more ‘relaxed’ form of martial arts, you see him bounce around on his toes a bit too as he tries to match his opponent. Of course, it does him no good because, well, he’s not Bruce Lee, is he?

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In the end, Colt’s face is blooded, his bones get broken and yet, he still tries to fight. That is when Tang Lung realises that this fight isn’t going to end in a knockout, this was to be a fight to the death. He even does a little shake of the head, a warning to Colt to not do this… yet he does. Left with no choice, Tang Lung breaks Colt’s neck. The camera zooms in on his face and there’s a look of disbelief and regret. A great bit of subtle acting from Bruce Lee that says a lot without a word of dialogue. Still, it’s a very fitting end that a fight to the death was held in the historic Colosseum (or a set of it). This fight really was very brutal for the time. It also felt realistic in terms of kung-fu cinema of the 1970s. Yeah, it’s a bit hokey now, a tad silly in places. But for 1972 this fight was truly ground-breaking and remains one of the best fight scenes caught on film.

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Now, 50 years later as I write this article and reflecting on The Way of the Dragon, only now does the massive loss of talent that was Bruce Lee hit me. This film was far from perfect but it does showcase that the man could write and direct a film, outside of the punching and kicking that he was famed for. As I said at the start of this, Fist of Fury is my favourite Bruce Lee picture and Enter the Dragon is, by far, his most popular. But The Way of the Dragon was his best. The melding of American and Asian film-making, the use of humour and Lee’s foresight to use the sights of Rome and respected martial artists to be his opponents was a stroke of genius. Then, let’s not forget his subtle use of his philosophies.

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It’s a damn shame that he died when he did, that we will never get to see Bruce Lee’s vision for The Game of Death as he wanted it to be. His opus that would’ve delved even deeper into his own philosophies and love for marital arts. I think that Lee would’ve gone on to have had a great filmmaking career if he had lived. Just imagine all of those 80s and 90s action films written and directed by Bruce Lee and starring Brandon Lee that we will never get to see. We will just have to take solace in his only completed film as a director, The Way of the Dragon. Bruce Lee’s flawed masterpiece.


Well, that is almost it from me for this year. I have one more article I’ll be publishing between Christmas and New Year, my now annual Indie Game Round Up 2022. But until then, I hope you have a good Christmas

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.

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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.

MARY WHITEHOUSE 3

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.

MARY WHITEHOUSE 4

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.

MARY WHITEHOUSE 5

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.

UNFORGIVEN MUNNY 2

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.

What Was The First Released Film To Use CGI?

What was the first released film to use CGI? That was a question I asked a while back and got some ‘interesting’ answers. 1993’s Jurassic Park was one of the answers. A good call as it did feature some early CGI work, but not the first. Someone mentioned the owl in the intro to Labyrinth from 1986 too. Yup, that was CGI, not the first though. The stained glass window scene in Young Sherlock Holmes from 1985 is another one often mentioned, and still not the first.

YOUNG SHERLOCK

So then, what was the first released film to use CGI? Well, before I get to that (and other notable flicks), I just want to get my feelings on CGI down. Today, people seem to be quick to dismiss CGI work as being ‘easy’ or ‘lazy’ when compared to practical effects. ‘It looks fake’ is one comment I see popping up a lot in regards to CGI. Well yeah, it does look fake… because it’s fake. Practical effects are fake too, that is why they are called effects. CGI is far from easy or lazy and, more often than not, actually takes up a great many more man hours to produce than practical effects work.

Yes, some CGI can look pretty poor. Some practical effects can look dire too. That is because it is not the medium of the effects being used that is the issue. It is the time, money and talent that work on it. You can have really great CGI work, just as you can have really great practical effects. You can also have some truly awful CGI and practical effects work. It all depends on what went on behind the scenes. Some of my favourite effects work is practical. The werewolf transformation in An American Werewolf in London is one example, there’s a reason Rick Baker won an Oscar for it. Just as CGI work is also some of my favourites. I still think the T-1000 effects from Terminator 2: Judgment Day is impressive now.

T2 T-1000

In short, I’m not one of those ‘CGI sucks’ people. I don’t think that one is ‘better’ than the other and it all depends on what the effects are being used for. I don’t think there is such a thing as an overuse of CGI in a film, depending on what the film is, CGI is often the only viable option. Just going back to Jurassic Park for a second. I don’t expect the film-makers to invent time travel and go back to when dinosaurs ruled the Earth to capture real footage. So, in cases like that, CGI is a must. Yes, they use practical effects too and there had been examples of such effects in previous films with dinosaurs. Still, as much as I adore and respect Ray Harryhausen, growing up watching his work. Jurassic Park’s CGI looked better than anything he ever did on a practical level.

JURASSIC PARK

Anyway, I’m going off on a bit of a tangent now. I’m here to look at the history of CGI in films. So then, where did it all start and what was the first film to use CGI? We know it wasn’t the 90s, many people think the first film to use CGI came from the 80s. Possible, there were some great examples of CGI in 80s flicks. Tron, Flight of the Navigator? How about the 70s? Sounds a bit far-fetched to younger readers who didn’t even know that computers existed in the 70s. But yeah, there was CGI in films in the 70s. The awesome and classic Westworld from 1973 used CGI. For those not in the know or have only seen the recent TV show. Westworld was a film about a futuristic theme park going wrong when the attractions kill the visitors. Think Jurassic Park but with androids. Well, they were both written by Michael Crichton.

WESTWORLD

So yeah, CGI existed in the 70s. Westworld used computers to depict the vision of Yul Brynner’s gunslinging android. If you do a Google search for ‘first CGI in film’, then Westworld is the answer you will get. Many places have written articles similar to this one and credit Westworld as being the first too. Here’s one from Empire, one from Insider and YouTube is full of people making videos stating that 1973’s Westworld was the first film to use CGI. So, there you go, CGI in film dates back to the early 70s, many sites and even Google are happy to tell you that too. Except for one tiny problem, they’re all wrong. CGI in film dates back before 1973 and before Westworld was released. I’m not talking about a few days or weeks before Westworld either.

What if I told you that the first film to use CGI was pre-70s? What if I told you it was pre-60s? Yup, you’ll have to go back to the 1950s to find the first film that used CGI. 1958, in fact. The Alfred Hitchcock directed Vertigo used CGI first. John Whitney was the man who came up with the effect too. He used a World War II targeting computer (yes younger readers, computers existed back then) to create the film’s opening titles. Working with Saul Bass, the opening featured various spirals and they were all created using that WW II targeting computer.

There you go folks, the first use of CGI in a film. One could get pedantic and say that the CGI is not ‘in’ the film but just used for the title sequence. Still, the first film to use CGI was 1958’s Vertigo. Kind-of-CGI dates back even further though. There were few proto-computer animated short films that used oscilloscopes to create visuals. Titles like Around is Around (1951) Eneri (1953) and Abstronic (1954, which I couldn’t find a good video for) all used an oscilloscope. I think these three earlier examples really boil down to if one thinks that a short animation is a ‘film’ or even if an oscilloscope is a computer. Those last three may be debatable but one can not deny that Vertigo was the first to use CGI in a feature film.

What was the first fully CGI animated film? Pixar’s Toy Story, right? Again, debatable. If we were to say the first fully CGI animated ‘feature’ film, then Toy Story seems to be the rightful claimant. However, there were animated CGI short films way before Pixar even got into the game. As far as I can tell, Catalog (1961) seems to be the first fully CGI animated (short) film. It looks more like a basic screensaver by today’s standards but back in 1961, this was groundbreaking and made of very early and simple computers.

60s COMPUTER

I don’t know if this counts but also from 1961 was Rendering of a Planned Highway. Again, not a feature film. This was actually a computer generated animation to show what a proposed new highway in Sweden would look like and was created by the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology. It was the world’s first fully digitally created ‘real’ environment. So impressive was it, at the time, that it was even broadcast on Swedish national TV on the 9th of November 1961. So ‘technically’ it was publicly released.

There’s actually a slew of released CGI created short films in the 60s. I’m not going to name them all here, but here are a few. Hypercube (1965) was the first stereoscopic 3D computer animation. Computer Ballet (1965) had the first ever CGI human animation. Mr. Computer Image (1968) had the first voiced CGI character. Even the 70s, before Westworld, had some impressive CGI shorts. Computer Animated Hand (1972) was the first film to feature polygonal 3D animation and shading. As a side note, the creator of this animation, Edwin Catmull, went on to co-found Pixar. So technically, this was the first ever Pixar film. Then we get into 1973 and Westworld.

VERTIGO

Of course, those examples were all short films. Still, my initial question was: What was the first released film to use CGI? I never said feature film. In terms of CGI in released films, there were a lot before Westworld was released through the 60s and 70s. Around 25 or so short animated CGI films before Westworld reached the cinemas, in fact. In terms of feature films, then Hitchcock’s Vertigo definitely predates Westworld though and Google need correcting.

Movie Sequels We Never Got: Timothy Dalton’s Third James Bond Film

The James Bond movie franchise is 60 years old this year. I have already done a little celebration looking at films within the Bond franchise that celebrated their own anniversaries this year. Including the Timothy Dalton led, The Living Daylights, which is 35 this year. All of which, brings me to the point of this article.  Timothy Dalton (the best James Bond actor ever) only made two films in the Bond franchise. But, a third (and even more) film(s) was on the cards. Obviously, we never did get a third Dalton starring James Bond flick, but why?

Now, you may have heard that Timothy Dalton’s third Bond outing was going to be an adaption of Ian Fleming’s short Bond story, The Property of a Lady. I’ve seen a few articles and videos covering this very story. Well… it wasn’t. The Property of a Lady was never even considered as being a Bond film, as far as I can tell. This just seems to be an internet rumour that has spread recently. But before I do get into all of that, I do want to cover why Timothy Dalton only made the two Bond films.

LIVING DAYLIGHTS POSTER

As mentioned, a third film was most definitely on the cards, there was even an outline of the story (which I will get to soon enough). Dalton was all set to be in the next film too. However, there were legal issues going on behind the scenes at the time and this prevented any more Bond films from being made for a while. It is a very lengthy story that I’m not going to cover here, but the info on the whole thing is easy enough to find. Anyway, at the time, Bond films were being released at a steady pace. The gap between The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill was 2 years, which was pretty much standard in the franchise and had been for a while. The gap between Licence to Kill and GoldenEye was 6 years. With the exception of the filmed but multiple Covid-delayed No Time to Die, that is the longest gap between James Bond films ever.

NO TIME TO DIE POSTER

Set to be released in 1991, another 2-year gap between films, Timothy Dalton’s third film was being worked on. Then, the previously mentioned legal issues arose and everything ground to a halt. So, why didn’t Dalton return as Bond once the legal issues were sorted? The truth is that he wanted to and the legendary Bond film producer, Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli wanted Dalton back too. Only Cubby wanted a bit too much, as Dalton recalled when talking to theweek.com:

“I think that I’d love to do one. Try and take the best of the two that I have done, and consolidate them into a third. And he [Cubby] said, quite rightly, ‘Look, Tim. You can’t do one. There’s no way, after a five-year gap between movies, that you can come back and just do one. You’d have to plan on four or five.’ And I thought, oh, no, that would be the rest of my life. Too much. Too long. So I respectfully declined.”

So yeah, Cubby wanted Dalton to commit to multiple films. But after having to wait for several years while the legal issues were sorted, Timothy Dalton felt that he just couldn’t do that. If the legal issues hadn’t stopped production on the films, we most probably would’ve had two or three more Dalton-starring Bond films, at least. As for that third film that wasn’t? Pretty much all of the following information has come from either Charles Helfenstein’s The Making of The Living Daylights or Mark Edlitz’s The Lost Adventures of James Bond: Timothy Dalton’s Third and Fourth Bond Films books.

LICENSE TO KILL POSTER

Timothy Dalton’s last Bond film, Licence to Kill, ‘under performed’ at the box office. I didn’t flop. In fact, it made more than 4 times its budget back. However, it did make the least amount of money of all of the Bond films to date. Reviews of the film, at the time, probably didn’t help much. A lot of them called the film out as being too ‘serious’ and that perhaps, the franchise was getting a bit long in the tooth. That lack of ‘enthusiasm’ for the film panicked the Bond producers. They began to worry that they had made the films too gritty, too dark, too serious. In order to get the franchise back to its former (debatable) glory, they thought that they should make the next film more ‘light-hearted’.

A very early idea for Bond 17 (as it was called) was to even go for an out-and-out comedy, using the 1967 version of Casino Royale as a template, but with the ‘real’ James Bond. That idea was quickly thrown out though as it was just a panicked knee-jerk reaction to the reviews that called out Licence to Kill for being too ‘serious’. Whether that straight-up comedy idea was even taken on board in any meaningful way seems to be debated. However, it did lead to the idea of going back to the Roger Moore era of Bond and adding more jokes, one-liners and so on. The film even had a teaser poster shown at Cannes in 1990.

BOND 17 DALTON

James Bond writer/producer Michael G. Wilson and writer Alfonse Ruggiero, Jr., known for his work on TV shows such as Miami Vice and Wiseguy, teamed up to write a draft story for Bond 17. Sticking with the idea of penning a lighter, Roger Moore-like Bond film, they wrote a rough story that involved robots going out of control that wouldn’t have felt out of place if Michael Crichton had written it. There are a few places that go over exactly what was in this story draft. Sites like mi6-hq.com and 007.info have plenty of details on this version of Bond 17. I’m just going to give you the outline of what the script entailed here.

BOND 17 STORY OUTLINE

Opening in Scotland at a chemical weapons factory. A team, led by the Minister of Defence, Nigel Yupland, discover a lab that is run completely by AI robots. One of the robots breaks down and bursts into flames and the investigating team tries to escape. The fire spreads and the factory explodes. In England, the Prime Minister ensures that an investigation of the explosion goes ahead, working with Yupland.

Cutting to M’s office. Of course, James Bond is the one brought in to find out what happened at the chemical weapons factory in Scotland. It turns out that MI6 received a letter that threatened the destruction of the factory. So, not an accident at all. Meanwhile, MI6’s Hong Kong office has also received a similar letter saying that another factory in China would also be destroyed in three days.

In Nigel Yupland’s situation room. He, Bond and Q are going over some low-quality photos and surveillance footage of possible targets, all of them have had a break-in recently. Q promises to get the images cleaned up so they can look for clues, but says that it will take 8 hours. Cutting to Tokyo, the Kohoni Industries complex is broken into by a mysterious figure. They find a crate heading to Nanking, China and swap the microchip in one of the robotic devices before making their escape.

LAMBORGHINI

An alarm sounds and the intruder is chased through Tokyo. They manage to make their escape in a Lamborghini and make their way to the docks, still being chased. They drive the Lamborghini onto a ferry and escape. But the chasing security take down the car’s license plate. Now free from their pursuers, the mysterious figure takes off their mask and is revealed to be the well-known cat-burglar, Connie Webb.

Back in England and Q has cleaned up the security footage of the other break-ins. Bond and Yupland ID the burglar as Connie Webb, revealed as being an ex-CIA agent and highly skilled. So, Bond is sent to Tokyo to track down Webb and find out who she is working for, using a new microchip that Q has created as bait to lure Webb out of wherever she is hiding. Before going to Japan, Q takes Bond to his garage where the iconic Aston Martin DB5 is kept. Q tells Bond that the car is going to be dismantled by Nigel Yupland as it is no longer in use. But Q does not want to see that happen, so he arranges for the car to be sent to Japan for Bond to use on his mission.

DB5

In Tokyo at a ski resort, Bond meets up with an ageing veteran spy heading for retirement called Denholm Crisp. Crisp has arranged for Bond to stay at the ski resort… the same resort that Connie Webb is staying at. Bond spots Webb and follows her. She gets into her Lamborghini, with Bond tailing her in his DB5. Realising that she is being tailed Webb puts her foot down and a car chase ensues. Webb heads to a helipad and makes her escape in a helicopter. Bond gets on another copter and has the pilot chase Webb.

The pursuit leads to a snowy mountain and by the time Bond gets there, Webb has already tried to make her escape on skis. Bond jumps from his copter (wearing skis) and so begins a classic ski chase with lots of typical jumps and such. Webb tries to lure Bond into a snow cornice (overhanging snow). However, she gets too close and the snow falls on top of her, she is trapped. Bond hurries over and saves Webb from her snowy tomb. The next day and they pair meet up for dinner, all while retiring agent, Denholm Crisp, watches on. Bond does what he does with his Bond girls and they go back to Webb’s room at the ski resort.

SKI RESORT

Inside Webb’s room, Bond shows her Q’s new microchip (bait) and asks her if she knows anybody who could be interested in buying the technology. As she is holding the chip, there’s a knock on the door but it’s not room service. Bond gets up to answer it and he is knocked out. He wakes up cuffed to a chair and the Kohoni brothers (the owners of the Kohoni Industries complex that Webb broke into) are in front of him. Webb is interrogated about the robbery by one of the bothers and says that they will tazer Bond if she does not talk. She keeps quiet and Bond is given several 1000 volts of electricity, knocking him (still cuffed to the chair) to the floor. He’s hit with another blast of the tazer, only this time, he grabs the leg of one of the Kohoni brothers. The electricity passes through Bond and takes out one of his captors. Breaking free from the chair, Bond fights the other Kohoni brother before he and Webb escape through a window. Now on the streets and still being chased, Connie Webb makes it to her Lamborghini and escapes (with Q’s microchip), leaving Bond behind. He uses a nearby torchlight parade as cover to lose his pursuers.

Back with Webb and she makes contact with Otto Winkhart, the person she has been breaking into factories for. Webb tells Winkhart all about Q’s new microchip that she now has and he is very interested in getting hold of it. She agrees to sell it to Winkhart and the two meet up.

MICROCHIP

Now with the chip, Otto Winkhart flies to Hong Kong to meet Sir Henry Lee Ching a man with his finger on the pulse of technology… and someone who wants Britain to withdraw from Hong Kong. This was written before the Handover of Hong Kong in 1997. Anyway, Ching was going to use Q’s microchip to create and spread a computer virus that would disable every military and commercial computerised machine in the world. Oh, and he has a ‘girlfriend’ that is a cyborg who would fight Bond at one point and even has a car chase, featuring a high-tech supercar.

In Sir Henry Lee Ching’s situation room, he has a map of the world and he highlights the Nanking power plant (where the crate that Webb swapped the chip was heading). He hits a button and what happened in Scotland in the opening happens in Nanking. Sir Henry Lee Ching, via Otto Winkhart, via Connie Webb, was behind the whole thing. Bond eventually turns up at Ching’s base of operations and the climax of the film occurs. Bond wins and saves the world once more.

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That is the basics of what the story being Bond 17 was, as written by Michael G. Wilson and Alfonse Ruggiero, Jr. It was a rough outline of a story and it is quite clear that the aim was to make a fully original Bond film and not adapt The Property of a Lady, as others insist on claiming. I mean, that short story is about Bond getting involved with Fabérgé eggs and an auction to unveil a KGB agent. Nothing to do with robots and a megalomaniac wanting to shut down the entire planet’s computer systems. As far as I can tell, The Property of a Lady never was going to be Timothy Dalton’s third James Bond film at all.

That rough story went through various rewrites in 1990… and that was when all the legal stuff that stopped production on any Bond film happened. Work on the next Bond film didn’t pick back up until May 1993 when it was officially announced that the 17th Bond film was in production. Even then, it was still untitled and only known as Bond 17. No The Property of a Lady title anywhere. Elements of the story for Bond 17 and its several rewrites became the basis for the Pierce Brosnan era though. The not-so-serious tone, villain using advanced technology to threaten the world, etc. Even bringing back the Aston Martin DB5 made it into GoldenEye. In fact, GoldenEye was being written through 1993 and 1994 with Timothy Dalton in mind. 94 was when Dalton officially announced that he would not be returning and Pierce Brosnan was the new James Bond.

GOLDENEYE

I looked, I’ve really, really looked and can not find any official mention that Timothy Dalton’s third Bond outing was going to be The Property of a Lady anywhere. The film was only ever referred to as Bond 17 and was written as a completely new story, not based on any of Ian Fleming’s previous Bond books or short stories. I don’t know where the rumour of Dalton’s third film being The Property of a Lady began. There’s not even a slight mention of this being the title of the film through the history of the film’s development. I’m genuinely curious how this all started because there are people making videos and writing articles explicitly saying that the film was going to be called The Property of a Lady and yet, there seems to be no basis for that information at all. I think it was just something that was casually mentioned on the Internet and it soon spread like wildfire.