The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is one of the most iconic westerns of all time. Directed by the legendary Sergio Leone, elevated by Ennio Morricone’s searing soundtrack and starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach, it has become a regular feature of greatest-ever movie lists. And yet, behind the scenes, there were many incidents that may come as a surprise to even die-hard fans.
40. The bridge was originally blown up with no cameras rolling
Some scenes are difficult to capture twice — even more so when an expensive prop is demolished in the process. But imagine that happening without so much as a single camera rolling. That is exactly what happened during the ‘first take’ of the iconic bridge scene in the movie. Due to a mix-up, the original bridge was destroyed and a crewman sacked as a result. Happily, the Spanish army helped rebuild the bridge, the crewman was rehired and Leone captured the sequence he was looking for.
39. Language was a problem
The movie’s director was Italian. The main stars were American. Most of the extras were Italian and Spanish and the movie was shot in Spain. The result was a whole host of language barriers that were mighty difficult to overcome. Director Leone could barely speak English, while stars Eastwood and Van Cleef had no Italian. Eli Wallach, however, was able to converse with his director through French, a common language the two shared.
38. Ennio Morricone didn’t want the trumpet
Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack is one of the most iconic aspects to the entire movie. But for the film’s signature tune, the composer didn’t want the trumpet that has become a central instrument to the piece. That was director Leone’s idea. Fortunately, Morricone relented, and the rest, as they say, is history.
37. Who was the main star?
Most would identify Clint Eastwood as the main star of the film. The legendary actor is the eponymous ‘Good’ and has certainly gone on to enjoy the most celebrated career of the film’s three main stars. Even so, it’s Wallach’s ‘Ugly’ — aka Tuco — that has the most screen time. And it’s Wallach who many would say has the most memorable lines.
36. Wallach narrowly avoided serious injury on a horse
Wallach gave his all in his portrayal of Tuco. In fact, while filming the opening scene in which Tuco is shot down from a noose by Eastwood, Wallach was very nearly seriously injured. His horse bolted at the sound of the gunshot and sprinted off for almost a mile. All along, Wallach was astride the horse with his hands tied. He had to cling on for dear life using only his knees as grip.
35. Eastwood’s poncho was designed to add bulk, and may have been a bit smelly
Eastwood’s character in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, not to mention in two sister films A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, is instantly recognizable due to one item of clothing: his iconic poncho. Eastwood first wore the poncho in A Fistful of Dollars when Leone decided he needed to add bulk to his star’s lanky frame. And it was never washed throughout the course of the three films.
34. Eastwood and Wallach got close
Stars Eastwood and Wallach became firm friends. Yet the pair got closer than they ever could have imagined when they ended up sleeping in the same bed upon Wallach’s arrival in Madrid. There were no hotel rooms available, so Eastwood invited his fellow actor to join him while staying at a friend’s house — where they had to share the same bed. Anne Jackson, Wallach’s wife, later quipped that her husband was proud of the fact he was the only man to have ever slept with Eastwood.
33. The cemetery was restored by fans
The graveyard in the movie is the setting of one of the film’s most important scenes. Known as ‘Sad Hill Cemetery’, it was originally built just for the film in Mirandilla Valley in Burgos, Spain. It was left to fall into decline but hardcore fans of the film later formed the ‘Asociación Cultural Sad Hill’ and restored it. Participants could even prepare their very own graves.
32. Those pistol grips were familiar
Blondie’s pistol grips in the movie are pretty memorable. The gun handle features a silver rattlesnake. And if you think you may have seen those grips before, you’re probably right. Eastwood rose to fame playing Rowdy Yates in the T.V. series Rawhide. And Yates secures that pistol with the rattlesnake grips from a gunslinger in one particular episode. He subsequently carries the gun for the rest of the series.
31. The movie’s soundtrack was a huge success
The movie’s soundtrack is iconic, to say the least, and it proved a huge success for Morricone. After entering the Billboard album chart, it remained there for over a year. It went ‘gold’ in the United States — representing more than 500,000 copies sold — and went on to sell more than three million copies worldwide.
30. Van Cleef wasn’t happy with everything he was requested to do
In one scene, Van Cleef’s ‘Angel Eyes’ slaps Rada Rassimov’s ‘Maria’. Van Cleef wasn’t impressed. “There are very few principles I have in life. One of them is I don’t kick dogs, and the other one is I don’t slap women in movies,” the actor said. As a result, a stunt double had to be used, with Van Cleef’s face intercut.
29. The movie’s original title changed more than once
Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of the movie is its title. People have heard of the movie even if they’ve never actually seen it. Yet Leone originally had “The Magnificent Rogues” in mind, or even “The Two Magnificent Tramps”. American executives suggested “River of Dollars” and even “The Man With No Name”. Luckily, all of those alternatives were rejected.
28. Only five actors spoke English in the movie, and all were dubbed
Due to the multicultural nature of the cast, only five actors in the entire production actually spoke English, including the movie’s three main stars. But it wasn’t a problem. As was the style with Italian movies at the time, the dialogue would be added post-production. So, all the dialog you hear was in fact later dubbed in. Eastwood et al.
27. Eastwood cheated death while filming
Eastwood had a narrow escape during filming. As Blondie and Tuco take cover behind sandbags during an explosion, a rock can be seen striking the bag right next to Eastwood’s head. That was a pure accident and would have resulted in serious injury — perhaps even death — if it had struck the actor. Thankfully it didn’t.
26. Eastwood had very specific demands
Although not an A-list star at the time of filming, Eastwood still had movie star demands. He wouldn’t commit to the movie unless he received $250,000 and the bonus of a Ferrari. After an initial stand-off, Leone relented and Eastwood finally signed on the dotted line. Only then could filming begin.
25. Eastwood didn’t like cigars
Blondie is often seen puffing on a cigar during the movie, yet this was not Eastwood’s idea. In fact, the actor hated smoking and was annoyed by Leone’s insistence to retake scenes in which a cigar was dangling from his mouth. “You’d better get it this time, because I’m going to throw up,” Eastwood reportedly shouted at his director according to Eli Wallach.
24. Charles Bronson was earmarked for a role
Director Sergio Leone had firmly set his sights on actor Charles Bronson for a role in the film. Bronson was established as a star of the genre through T.V. roles in The Travels of Jamie McPheeters and Have Gun – Will Travel. He had also appeared in movies such as Guns of Diablo and The Great Escape. However, Bronson was already busy filming another iconic movie — The Dirty Dozen — so couldn’t take up Leone’s offer.
23. ‘The Good’ wasn’t all that good
Clint Eastwood’s character ‘Blondie’ is ‘The Good’ of the title. Yet during the course of the film, Blondie kills no fewer than 11 men. Eli Wallach’s ‘The Ugly’ sees off six while Lee Van Cleef’s ‘The Bad’ ‘only’ kills three. It seems ‘The Good’ really wasn’t that good after all.
22. There are some historical inaccuracies
Almost inevitably for a period piece there are a couple of historical faux pas in the movie. Most significantly, the film’s story features the use of dynamite: a material that hadn’t even been developed at the time of the American Civil War — which serves as the backdrop for the movie. And then there was Van Cleef’s pipe which has a visible feature that wouldn’t be invented for a few more years yet.
21. The set is now a theme park
Most of the movie’s ‘town’ scenes are shot on the very same set. Created by designer Carlo Simi, it was the same set that was used in For a Few Dollars More in which it was named ‘El Paso’. These days you can visit it as a western-style amusement park called ‘Mini Hollywood’ in Almeria, Spain. It would be a cool place to pretend to be Clint Eastwood, no doubt.
20. Wallach was chased by a dog through the cemetery, unscripted
Towards the end of the movie Wallach runs through a vast cemetery. Yet the look of fear on the actor’s face may very well have been real, as a dog seemingly came out of nowhere to pursue him. That same dog can actually be viewed briefly at the very beginning of that same scene.
19. Wallach drank acid on set
Poor Eli Wallach ended up with nasty blisters inside his mouth after drinking acid on set. The acid was on hand to be used to help the bags filled with gold rip open more easily. Yet some bright spark had the idea to store it in a lemonade bottle. Wallach unwittingly took a slug and got a nasty shock. Fortunately, some milk limited the damage.
18. Where’s the dialog?
Famously, there is no dialog for a significant part of the opening of the movie. But did you know that not one line is uttered in the first 10 and a half minutes of the film? No wonder the film’s suspense and use of music are so powerful if they can hold our attention for that long.
17. Eastwood wasn’t happy with the script
Eastwood was supposed to be the star of the movie, but that honor may well be held by Wallach. In playing Tuco, Wallach not only gets more screen time than Eastwood’s Blondie, but he’s also hands down the funniest character on screen. Unsurprisingly, Eastwood thought he would get upstaged. And maybe he was.
16. Wallach almost lost his head
Poor Eli Wallach almost came a cropper during the scene in which Tuco cuts his handcuffs off with the wheels of a speeding train. Director Leone insisted the actor perform the stunt himself, but Wallach was very nearly decapitated by an overhanging step-rail. And that’s the very same take that you see in the movie.
15. Wallach was convinced to star after watching two minutes of Leone movies
Wallach was initially reticent before taking on the role of Tuco. The prospect of a ‘spaghetti’ western — directed by an Italian — didn’t really appeal to the actor. But watching a mere two minutes apiece of A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More had him convinced. And it’s a good thing it did because Wallach’s performance really is a star turn.
14. One of the most popular lines was ad libbed
One of the most oft-quoted lines from the movie was just an off-the-cuff quip from Wallach. “When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk!” So says Tuco after shooting a character who has the drop on him but pauses to brag about his skills with a gun. But it wasn’t scripted, and it had all the cast and crew in stitches. Wallach hadn’t even meant it as a joke.
13. The movie was never really planned
Despite its popularity, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was never a long-held idea in Leone’s mind. As legend has it he came up with the concept rather randomly during a meeting with U.S. movie executives. In trying to sell A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More for American distribution, Leone pitched the idea of his next movie off the cuff. It’s safe to say the money men liked what they heard.
12. The Spanish army played a pivotal role
Director Sergio Leone must have been grateful for the presence of the Spanish army by the time filming wrapped. Not only did around 1,500 troops appear as extras in the movie but they assisted in creating the sets, including the bridge that is blown up in the film. A captain in the army was even given the honor of pressing the detonator.
11. The cemetery is the focus of another movie
The graveyard that is the scene of the famous face-off towards the end of the movie is known as ‘Sad Hill Cemetery’. It was purpose built for the film, but later went to ruin. However, many years later it was lovingly restored by fans of the film, and events surrounding that restoration are covered in 2017 documentary Sad Hill Unearthed.
10. Eastwood and Wallach’s respective heights caused problems
Clint Eastwood is a tall man: around 6’ 3 in height. Wallach – who passed away in 2014 – was around 5’ 7 tall. That difference caused director Leone some headaches. At times the Italian struggled to get both leading actors into the same frame. Yet no one can doubt the screen chemistry between the two actors once Leone did.
9. Eastwood had quite enough of Leone by the time filming wrapped
It’s fair to say that Eastwood had reached the end of his tether with his director by the time filming wrapped. Leone was famously a perfectionist and this clearly got under Eastwood’s skin. The two never worked together again, although Leone did approach the actor to feature in his 1968 hit Once Upon a Time in the West. Eastwood declined.
8. One song in the movie has proved a hit with other artists
Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to the movie is iconic. Yet one of the film’s songs — “The Ecstasy of Gold” — has proved more enduring than others. It has been used in films and T.V. shows, while it has been covered or sampled by a multitude of artists including Metallica, The Ramones, Yo-Yo Ma and even Jay Z.
7. Wallach couldn’t use a holster
Eli Wallach’s character Tuco famously uses a lanyard instead of a holster to carry his gun in the movie. But that was never originally scripted. Things only turned out that way because Wallach couldn’t holster it without looking at what he was doing, somewhat eroding the authenticity of a supposed gunslinger. The lanyard was a compromise.
6. Leone originally didn’t want Van Cleef for the movie
The three stars of the movie are bona fide legends of the screen. Yet Lee Van Cleef, who plays ‘Angel Eyes’, was not director Leone’s first choice for the role. The Italian wanted Charles Bronson instead, but the actor was busy. One reason Leone wasn’t keen on Van Cleef for the part was because the actor had featured in Leone’s For a Few Dollars More as a good guy. It’s fair to say ‘Angel Eyes’ is anything but in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, so it was quite the turnaround in characterization for a Van Cleef/Leone role.
5. The American trailer has the characters confused
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is ostensibly an Italian movie, so much so that the original name of the film is Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo. Translated, that means ‘The Good, the Ugly and the Bad’. So, when Italian trailers were made for the film, that is the order in which the characters were introduced. When the trailer was simply dubbed into English for the American trailer, the order of the character introductions was therefore mixed up. Wallach is therefore ‘the Bad’ in the trailer, which is, of course, wrong.
4. The movie is actually a prequel to the two other Eastwood spaghetti westerns
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the third film made as part of Sergio Leone’s western series, known in America as ‘The Man With No Name’ or ‘Dollars’ trilogy. The film was made and released last — in 1966 — but takes place first chronologically as it is set during the American Civil War. A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965) both take place after that conflict. Leone never actually intended for the three films to be connected: that was a marketing ploy by U.S. distributors United Artists.
3. A sequel was mooted, but ultimately canned
Although The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is an unofficial prequel to A Fistful of Dollars, Leone intended it as a stand-alone movie. As such, due to the popularity of the film, a sequel was discussed. Steps were made in preparation and Clint Eastwood even suggested he would narrate the movie, which, according to Eli Wallach, would have seen Tuco chase Blondie’s grandson to secure the first film’s gold. Ultimately director Leone decided he didn’t want his characters used again.
2. The movie made Eastwood a star
As strange as it may seem now, Clint Eastwood was far from a star in the U.S. when he made The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Although known for his role in T.V. series Rawhide, Eastwood was struggling to breakthrough on the big screen. His role in the movie, along with A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, catapulted him to fame. Yet those two films hit big abroad before they ever did in the States. In fact, it was only because of their popularity in Europe that the three films were released in America in the same year: 1967. That was the 12-month period that made Eastwood a Hollywood icon.
1. The movie was panned by critics
Upon its release, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly received lukewarm reviews. And that’s being kind. “It must be the most expensive, pious and repellent movie in the history of its peculiar genre,” wrote Renata Adler of The New York Times. Yet over time the movie, along with its two sister movies A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More have become established classics. It’s funny how the passage of time can change opinions.