‘The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly’s Production Was An Explosive Mess


If one were to make a list of the best Westerns of all time, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly would be at the top. The Spaghetti Western, the third in director Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, finds three men (the titular good, the bad, and the ugly) competing against one another to find a buried stash of Confederate gold. Clint Eastwood, aka “Blondie,” the good, is steely perfection. Lee Van Cleef, the bad, delivers a villain well-deserving of his black hat, while Eli Wallach, the ugly, steals the show with a performance that’s equal parts funny, devious, and, well, ugly (in fact, Eastwood almost passed on the film over concerns that Wallach would upstage him). All three stars and the director would all live to see the film’s release in 1966. It may sound funny to say, but the truth is that with the events that occurred during filming, a number of which were dangerous, being alive became a goal unto itself.

Clint Eastwood Wasn’t Sold on ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’

Eastwood’s iconic “The Man With No Name” character found success with his first two collaborations with Leone, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, so Leone started developing The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, certain that Eastwood would be game for a third installment… only Eastwood wasn’t. He reportedly took issue with the script, how Leone had split the story between the three characters, and, as alluded to previously, how Wallach’s character received more screen time and better lines. Finally, negotiations with the actor resulted in him donning the poncho once more, with Eastwood settling for a $250,000 payday, 10 percent of profits made in the U.S., and a Ferrari 275 GTB.

Now on board, Eastwood and Wallach flew to Madrid together, only to find all the hotels in the area were booked up. Eastwood, thankfully, had lodging at a friend’s house and invited Wallach to stay there as well (the two ended up needing to share the same bed, prompting Wallach’s wife Anne Jackson to quip that Wallach could boast about being the only man to sleep with Eastwood, as per The Express). Wallach did have one advantage, though: he knew French, and as such could speak directly to Leone. Not that Eastwood and Van Cleef couldn’t, but since they only knew English and Leone only understood Italian and French, they had to communicate through Leone’s translator.

Sergio Leone Was a Perfectionist While Filming ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’

Like any film, once filming began on The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly there were a few issues on set, some merely annoying while others almost cost lives (so, maybe not like any film). Leone was an obsessive perfectionist, and during filming he insisted on multiple takes of scenes from different angles, exhausting the actors. Eastwood, especially, grew increasingly irritated with having to repeat scenes over and over. Not due to exhaustion, mind you, but for a different reason: smoking cigars. According to The Express, despite a cigar being present in a majority of Blondie’s screen time, Eastwood hated them, and would tell the director, “You’d better get it this time, because I’m going to throw up.”


The infamous bridge scene was another issue during filming and the most costly one at that. The scene sees Tuco and Blondie blowing up a bridge that leads to where they believe the gold lies. For the scene, Leone had hired hundreds of countrymen to play Civil War soldiers, and to get the shot he wanted, everything was planned to perfection. So when the time was right, Leone would yell “Vaya,” prompting the explosions team to blow up the bridge real good. As Leone waited for the lighting to be just right, a crew member happened to yell (you guessed it) “Vaya” in order to get some actors in place. Assuming that to be the go-ahead, the bridge got blown up prematurely. Worse, it didn’t even get caught on film. The bridge had to be rebuilt at a significant cost, but Leone did get his shot the second round.

Eli Wallach Almost Died Three Times While Filming the Spaghetti Western

Some sources make an unconfirmed claim that when the bridge gets blown up, a piece of rock shrapnel, approximately fist-sized, hits a sandbag next to Eastwood’s head, coming within 2 feet of ending his life. To that, Eli Wallach essentially said, “hold my beer” and evaded death during filming not once, not twice, but three times in total, as recounted in The Express. Number one: a film technician put a bottle of acid next to Wallach’s soda bottle, and when Wallach went to grab a sip he picked up the wrong bottle and drank from it, narrowly avoiding being poisoned. Number two: when Tuco is chained to a body, he goes to sever the links by placing them on a railroad track as a train goes by. Neither the crew nor Wallach was aware that each boxcar had heavy iron steps that stuck out by one foot, so if Wallach had stood up at the wrong time he would have lost his head. Literally. Number three: Tuco is sitting on a horse, a noose around his neck and his hands tied around his back. The sound of a gun shot inadvertently scared the horse, sending it running at full speed for a mile, leaving Wallach to hold on for dear life using only his knees.

As you see, making it through the filming of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly alive really was a challenge, but the only thing that really died was Eastwood’s relationship with Leone, as the two never worked together again after Eastwood’s experiences during filming. The resulting film, however, stands as an all-time classic. It’s inspired many filmmakers, the likes of Martin Scorsese, Sam Raimi, and mostly Quentin Tarantino, whose passion for the film can be seen through his own work, perhaps none more obvious than the Mexican standoff that concludes Reservoir Dogs. The end doesn’t necessarily justify the means, of course, so let’s just say we’re thankful that everyone escaped The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly more or less unscathed.

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