10 Things You Didn't Know About The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly: The Best Western Of The '60s
The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, the 1966 western starring Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef, reminds us that there are films -- and then there are Films. Capital F. Italicized. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is one of those movies. Its swagger and inherent cool almost immediately infiltrated American cinema, changing what a western could be. The look of the film, its sound and the story full of anti-heroes have informed cinema in ways that many films of the era have never been able to do. It’s impossible to talk about this thrilling Sergio Leone film without mentioning the work that Clint Eastwood does here. With barely more than a look he can telegraph an entire desert of emotion to the audience.
The concept for this movie was made up on the spot
With the success of For A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More bringing Leone's work to the shores of America it didn't take long for Hollywood executives to want a taste of that sweet Italian money cake. Leone and writer Luciano Vincenzoni brought United Artists executives Arthur Krim and Arnold Picker to Rome where they screened Leone's films in front of huge audiences.
United Artists agreed to pay $900,000 for the American rights to the films, but they wanted to know what Leone was going do next. Without skipping a beat Vincenzoni tossed off the basic idea for the film. He said:
I don’t know why, but the poster came into my mind—Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. It’s the story of three bums that go around through the Civil War looking for money.
The film is an indictment of war
As the third film in the series about the Man with No Name, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is more than just a full stop on a trilogy. Director Sergio Leone had no plans for a third film, instead he wanted to make a point about war and violence. Screenwriters Luciano Vincenzoni and Age & Scarpelli wanted to show the absurdity of war and Leone took things a step further. He said:
I had read somewhere that 120,000 people died in Southern camps such as Andersonville. I was not ignorant of the fact that there were camps in the North. You always get to hear about the shameful behavior of the losers, never the winners.
Leone based many of the shots in the film on archival photographs of Civil War photographer Mathew Brady in order to infuse the film with the rich texture that only comes with research and a knowledge of semiotics.
Eli Wallach signed on after seeing a couple of minutes of Leone's earlier films
Leone initially wanted to hire Gian Maria Volontè, a famous Italian actor, to plays El Toco, aka "The Bad." When Volontè passed Leone turned to Wallach, an actor most famous for his role in The Magnificent Seven who had no desire to be in a western directed by an Italian. That all changed when he sat down in a screening room to watch one of the Dollars films. Within just a few minutes he told the projectionist to stop the film. He was in.
Clint Eastwood made a percentage of the profits
By 1966, Clint Eastwood had already made a lot of westerns. With A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More he was cemented as a legitimate film star even though the films had yet to be released in America, so when Leone and the producers came to him with the third film he balked. He'd spent years on the TV series Rawhide, what did he need with ANOTHER western on his filmography? It’s not like he wasn’t going to star in another one, he just wanted more money and he totally deserved it.
Eastwood held out until he was paid $250,000 and 10 percent of the profits from the North American market. The deal was smart but it rubbed Leone the wrong way. He didn’t like being strong armed by someone that he felt like he built a world with. If he and Eastwood had words about it they did so privately.
Wallach nearly bit the dust on set
Wallach was seriously unlucky on the set of The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. During the scene where he's about to be hanged while sitting on top of a horse Eastwood was meant to fire a gun and a small explosive would be set off that severed the rope. Easy enough. It turns out that horses don't love it when loud noises crack out of nowhere. When the explosion went off the horse started running and took Wallach with it while his hands were still tied.
In another scene Wallach was asked to lay down near a speeding train so audiences wouldn't see a stunt double taking his place. No big deal he said. However, after the first take he noticed that a metal step sped by his head and missed decapitating him by a few inches.
The final deadly indignity occurred off camera. In the scene where Tuco discovers the hidden gold in the cemetery he hits the bag with a shovel and it splits open. This is achieved by applying acid to the bags of gold. Movie magic, right? Unfortunately the acid was kept in a bottle of lemon flavored soda that Wallach enjoyed and in between set ups he took a sip of straight acid, nearly ripping apart his insides.
There’s a real corpse in the movie
In the ‘60s people were dying to be in Sergio Leone movies, well, they were appearing in them whether they were dead or not. When Tuco and blondie come across a horse carriage full of corpses before finding out about the gold buried in the cemetery one of the bodies is real, supposedly. According to rumor one of the bodies belongs to a Spanish actress who wanted to act “even in death.” Not only is that commitment to the craft, but it’s a way to make the scene all the more real even if it is kind of gruesome. Or maybe this is just one of those cinematic rumors that’s gotten out of hand.
A crowdfunded campaign restored the graveyard from the movie
Even today it’s rare that a film set is left standing once there’s a picture wrap, but it pretty much never happened in the 1960s in Spain. The film ends with an iconic shootout in a graveyard between Clint Eastwood’s Blondie, Angel Eyes, and Tuco. Angel Eyes bites the dust and Tuco is left lying on his half of the loot that the men were searching for throughout the movie.
Once the picture wrapped the graveyard was forgotten and it fell into disrepair, but in 2017 a crowdfunding project made up of donors all over Europe and America took part in a renovation project to bring the et back to its former glory. A documentary about their efforts called Sad Hill Unearthed was filmed by director Guillermo de Oliveira, the film followed the crowdfunding project as well as the backbreaking project to give the set new life.
The famous "wah wah" is sung by an actual person
You know this wildly popular song even if you haven’t seen the movie. Ennio Morricone’s famous “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly” theme is one of the more memorable pieces of film score ever recorded - it’s right up there with the two notes from Jaws and the ear splitting violins from Psycho. The song, with its ethereal “wah wah wah” sounds like it’s being playing on some mythical instrument, but it’s actually a combination of Alessandro Alessandroni’s voice, a harmonica, and a large flute. Morricone’s score is one of many by the composer that’s takes a film to another level.
One set had to be rebuilt after an accidental explosion
Filmed in Spain, the production crew weren’t super worried about the sets being structurally sound or, you know, whether or not they were flammable. While speaking about the film Clint Eastwood explained that the producers didn’t put a lot of thought into the film because it was a story about Americans so many of the people on the film didn’t exactly give the production its all. He said:
They would care if you were doing a story about Spaniards and about Spain. Then they’d scrutinize you very tough, but the fact that you’re doing a western that’s supposed to be laid in southwest America or Mexico, they couldn’t care less what your story or subject is.
In one instance a bridge had to be built twice because the Spanish military explosive specialist onset wasn’t paying attention and blew up a part of the set before the cameras were rolling.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly never won any rewards
The most surprising thing about The Good, The Bad, The Ugly is that in its time it never swept awards season. Upon its release the film received negative criticism because of the over the top violence in the film, proving that critics at the time didn’t understand what they were seeing. The film was a financial success and even without gaining recognition from the critics at the time it’s gone on to inspire everyone from Quentin Tarantino to Robert Rodriguez. Today, you don’t have to look far for a reference to this film in film or television.