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The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly: Behind-The-Scenes Of The Best Western In Film History

Entertainment | February 29, 2020

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 film is an indictment of war

Clint Eastwood, Serena Canevari, Tonino Delli Colli, and Sergio Leone. Source: United Artists/IMDB

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.

Clint Eastwood made a percentage of the profits

source: United Artists

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. 

There’s a real corpse in the movie

source: United Artists

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

source: United Artists

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

source: United Artists

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

source: United Artists

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

source: United Artists

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.

Tags: Clint Eastwood | Eli Wallach | Lee Van Cleef | Movies In The 1960s | Sergio Leone | Spaghetti Western | The Good The Bad And The Ugly | Westerns

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.